In what is undoubtedly the match of the Premier League weekend, 3rd place Chelsea host Champions Manchester United. When the two teams met at Old Trafford in the second game of the season, they played out a cautious 0-0 draw. Following that draw, the teams have enjoyed vastly different fortunes. Chelsea may be in 3rd place but are only 2 points behind leaders Arsenal and very much in the race for the League itself. United, on the other hand, are having a real season of transition with them struggling in 7th place 5 points off 4th place.
Add to that the fact that Chelsea have just spent some more of owner Roman Abramovich’s money in re-signing midfielder Nemanja Matic from Benfica. Was the signing of Matic just an example of Mourinho spending money because he can or is it because they are in need of such a midfielder? Add to this to the current uncertainty surrounding last season’s player of the season, Juan Mata who looks certain to exit Chelsea’s ‘open door’. Is Mourinho right in opening the door to Mata or should he be rushing to slam it shut?
Before we begin, it is important to note that the players and formation mentioned below might not be the ones adopted by Mourinho for Sunday’s crunch game. We looked at all of Chelsea’s passing moves and in particular who made the passes and who received them. With that out of the way, let’s begin by looking at an average Chelsea attack that starts off at the back with Petr Cech. Over the course of the season thus far Cech has made use of a long ball pass to reach Fernando Torres sparingly as Chelsea much prefer to build up from the back. The most common route begins with Cech passing the ball to his right sided defenders, to whom he passes almost double the amount that he does to the left sided defenders.
Now this is where it gets interesting, even though Cech clearly prefers the right, the rest of the players prefer the left! Cahill moves the ball left to John Terry who in turn passes it further to the left. From there, the ball moves forward towards Frank Lampard. Once he has the ball, Lampard, generally, passes it up towards either Hazard or Oscar, who, in turn pass it to Hazard.
So once we know where the attacks begin, how effective are they? When it comes to passes that break the first defensive line of their opponents, the most effective player is Frank Lampard, with almost half of his passes going to Hazard. Hazard actually receives the most number of passes in this situation out of all his teammates. As for passes that break the second line of defence, Oscar is the top deliverer in the team as the ball continues to move towards the centre and left of the field. Interestingly, Juan Mata is the second best Chelsea player in this regard.
In fact, Mata is also involved in most of Chelsea’s attempts at creating a chance on goal, when he plays that is, with 6.1 such attempts per game. Despite this, however, he actually only manages to convert those attempts in 17% of the time – lower than any other Chelsea player! Torres, on the other hand, enjoys a success rate of 47% from his attempts with Hazard also close on doubling Mata’s rate with a 32% success rate.
To recap and what can be seen clearer in the action heat map below, that most of Chelsea’s attacks begin on the right and as they progress up the field, they move the ball towards the center and left.
Now Matic, being a left footed midfielder, will seemingly slot into the position currently filled by Frank Lampard who is undoubtedly in the twilight of his trophy laden career. Whilst he may not offer the same late runs into the box that have become a trademark of Lampard’s game, Mourinho is preparing for the future. As for Mata, his performances thus far have been far from convincing and on this alone, you can understand why Mourinho has left the door open. That being said, Mata’s lack of form could also be put down to the fact that he plays so irregularly and even when picked, is often substituted and does not see out the full 90 minutes. Given the opportunity of a long run in the team, we may see a change in his stats.
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