Mourinho’s Tactical Flexibility Ensures that Chelsea Win the League at a Canter

mourinhoLove him or loathe him; there can be no doubt that Jose Mourinho knows better than any other manager how to win silverware. Chelsea’s narrow 1-0 win over Crystal Palace ensured an eighth league trophy since the 2002-03 season and his third for the Blues in five seasons.
Whilst Chelsea were ruthlessly efficient towards the end of the season and frequently spectacular in the first half, the raw data reveals what a remarkable season it’s been for the Blues. In 52 competitive matches played, Chelsea were beaten only three times; twice in the league at Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur and most surprisingly against Bradford City in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.
In their 36 league games Chelsea have trailed their opponents for a total of only 171 minutes. They’ve held top spot longer than any team in Premier League history and achieved this using only 22 players in an entire league campaign. Eight of the squad have appeared in 30 or more league games, with John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic playing every minute of every game. If fatigue has set in during the second half of the season it should be no surprise.
Chelsea’s season can be split into two halves, with an expansive attacking style adopted until the heavy defeat at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day; followed by an altogether more pragmatic and cautious approach during the second half of the season, the 5-0 away win at Swansea in mid-January being the exception.
Chelsea’s margin of victory in 11 of their first 20 league games was by two or more goals, whilst from games 21 to 36 Chelsea won with a two goal margin only three times.

When looking more closely at the 36 league games played, the data from the SportsMatrix database reveals that Chelsea’s attacking build-up play varied little throughout the season. From game 21 onwards, a slightly higher percentage of Chelsea’s attacking build-up play came via short passing moves, with same percentage (50%) of high quality passes delivered throughout the whole season. Chelsea averaged 1.1 goals per game in the first 20 games from passing moves and 1.3 goals per game in games 21 to 32.
Two areas of attacking play where Chelsea were less effective in the second half of the season came from individual plays and set pieces. In the first 20 games of the season almost a quarter of Chelsea’s individual pieces of skill were rated as being dangerous, resulting in five goals. In the second half of the season this figure fell to 17%, with Chelsea scoring only once from an individual play.
The difference in the effectiveness of Chelsea’s set pieces was even more marked. In games 1 to 20 a quarter of Chelsea’s set plays were rated as being dangerous, with nine goals scored directly from set pieces. In the next 16 games, 21% of set pieces were rated as being dangerous, with two goals scored directly from set plays.
Whilst Chelsea found it harder to score in the second half of the season, few teams were able to match them defensively, despite their opponents reaching more medium and high level scoring chances and having more on-target shots in games 21 to 36.
Chelsea conceded almost a goal a game (19) in the first 20 games, with half coming from opposition passing moves. Between games 21 and 36 Chelsea conceded nine goals, at an average of 0.6 goals per game, with only one goal coming via passing moves. 12 of the 19 goals conceded in the first 20 games came from good opposition build-up play. From games 21 to 36 Chelsea conceded only three times to good build-up play.
In the second half of the season, despite reaching more advanced attacking areas and attempting more shots on goal, opposition teams found Chelsea’s defence to be at its obdurate best, with Courtois and Cech saving almost three on-target shots per game, compared to two in the first half of the season and the blue wall blocking 3.2 goal bound shots per game, compared to 2.5 in the first half of the season.
Perhaps their one area of defensive vulnerability came from crosses – both from open play and from set pieces – with five goals conceded in the last 16 games, compared to four conceded in the opening 20 league games of the season.
With suspensions, injury and fatigue taking the edge off Chelsea’s attacking play as the season progressed, Jose Mourinho proved once again why he is the Premier League’s outstanding manager; modifying his team’s style of play, yet ensuring that they remain just as effective, but with the focus on defensive solidity and ruthless efficiency in attack.

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