|Stu Forster/Getty Images|
So far, 2012 has been good to Villas-Boas and Chelsea -- played two and won two. But the encounter with Sunderland, revived under Martin O'Neill, will not be an easy task. The Black Cats have now won 4 out of their last 6 league games under their new manager. During this impressive run, they have even beaten the league leaders Manchester City. In case you are wondering how they managed to do that, here are the scout notes from their 1-0 win over City.
Formations and Applications
With one eye on the midweek league game against Liverpool, Mancini started with Aguero and Silva on the bench. The formation is a pretty straight forward 4-3-3 with a inverted midfield triangle of De Jong, Toure and Barry. Dzeko led the attack with Nasri and Johnson on either flanks.
This City line up curiously resembles Chelsea's 4-3-3. Nasri on the left tends to drift into the central zone just as Mata does for Chelsea. Johnson on the right is an inverted winger who cuts onto his left to shoot just like Sturridge.
Injuries forced O'Neill to use his midfielders -- Colback and Gardner -- as fullbacks. The formation is a 4-4-1-1 shape with Vaughan and Cattermole anchoring the central midfield. Sunderland were in the defensive mode for most of the game with two banks of four while Sessegnon darted around center circle to pick up clearances and start counter attacks.
|Picture 1. Sunderland's Defensive Organization|
With nine men behind the ball, as in Picture 1, Sunderland made it difficult for City to play through the middle. Majority of City's attacks in the first half came from the wide areas, especially from the right with Johnson.
Barry and Toure in the central midfield have more strength and power than creativity. Thus, they contributed to the attacking plays only with their forward runs but not with their passing -- i.e. they were not able to make through balls and long balls that create chances directly.
This is the same kind of problem Chelsea has had recently. Oppositions defend with numbers and force the ball to the wide areas where the quality of crosses have been questionable. Furthermore, when the center channel is congested, the likes of Lampard, Meireles and Ramires have found it hard to create chances with key passes. Passing from both central areas and the wings will have to improve for Chelsea to create meaningful chances against Sunderland. Otherwise, we will have to wait for the visiting team to make mistakes in order to score goals.
City Changes from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1
In the second half, Mancini made an attacking change by bringing on Aguero for the redundant defensive midfielder De Jong. Their formation changed from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 with Barry and Toure as the two central midfielders while Aguero sat right behind Dzeko. Silva later came on for for Nasri on the left.
The changes, both tactical and personnel, worked. City had an extra man in the attacking areas because of the tactical move. And Silva was more effective than Nasri on the left flank. Both Aguero and Silva were handful to Sunderland's defense. In the first half, City had 9 goal attempts; in the second half, they had 18.
But the visitors couldn't find the back of the net for two reasons -- poor finishing (from both Dzeko and Aguero) and poor luck (Dzeko and Richards hit the crossbar, the latter from close range).
This is important for Chelsea because it is the kind of tactical change that Villas-Boas likes to make -- bringing on an attacker in place of a defensive or central midfielder and changing the formation from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. If Chelsea can't find the break through against Sunderland in the first half, we can expect the same kind of tactical move from the Portuguese. And it is good to know that the change worked against Sunderland, at least in terms of creating chances.
Playing without the Ball: A Sunderland Approach
O'Neill's team saw very little of the ball in this game. City had about 69% of the possession. Yaya Toure, for example, made more successful passes (80) than Cattermole, Vaughan and Sessegnon combined (72). Sunderland took a very direct approach when they have the ball. For instance, their keeper Mignolet made a total of 36 passes in this game: all but three landed in Man City's half. The obvious target was their front man Bendtner who successfully got on the end of seven of those long balls. Despite having much ball possession, Sunderland were able to create a couple of very good opportunities through counter attack.
|Picture 2. A Sunderland Counter Attack|
Picture 2 shows an instance early in the first half when Sunderland broke from a defensive corner. Skillful Sessegnon released Bendtner with a through ball. The "great" Dane would have scored if it wasn't for good goalkeeping from Hart. Although Sunderland didn't score from this (and a couple of other chances), they made it count at the end when Ji Dong-Won scored from another counter attack.
The best way to protect against counter attacking approach is to take advantage of one's possession and score goals at the other end. City's failure to find the break through goal pushed them into a position where they have to commit numbers into their attack, leaving them vulnerable to Sunderland's counter attack. If City has taken the lead earlier in the game, Sunderland can't play their counter-attacking game. Come Saturday, Chelsea will definitely have the upper hand in terms of possession but they will have to make it count by turning possession into chances and chances into goals.
Sunderland Defending Deep
|Sunderland's Defensive Statistics | Guardian Chalkboard ||
Finally, here are some charts indicating where Sunderland did their defending. The majority of their interceptions and ground tackles are won in and around the 18-yard box. This means that they were willing to sit back and let the opposition have the ball out the box. They make their defensive move only when opposition got close to the danger area. City, on the other hand, made majority of their interceptions and ground tackles around the center circle. And the "clearances" chart just show how much last ditch defending Sunderland had to do in this game.
Sunderland are going to make it difficult for Chelsea to create chances by defending in numbers and relying on counter attack to get ahead. The only way to solve this problem -- score when you get the chance. Easy for me to say, right? Oh, and by the way, the action in the technical areas with Villas-Boas and O'Neill waving, pointing, prancing and dancing around should be pretty entertaining too.
Carefree wherever you may be...