AFTER A WEEK of (reported) training ground turmoil, Villas-Boas's Chelsea couldn't find peace on the football pitch, drawing 1-1 against Championship side Birmingham. The troubled water running under Stamford Bridge would have been even deeper if not for the Sturridge equalizer that has kept the Blues afloat in their hunt for another FA Cup glory. Here's a second-by-second look at the build-up to the goal.
[60:30] Meireles receives a pass from the right (Ivanovic) and plays the ball forward to Ramires in a central position; Drogba moves into the space at the D.
[60:33] Ramires passes centrally to Drogba; the pass is intercepted and cleared.
[60:36] Birmingham forward gets on the ball but Luiz wins tackle and carries the ball forward.
[60:44] Luiz dribbles past one Birmingham player and moves to the left side.
There are two things to note here. First, Chelsea tried to attack down the center of the pitch and failed: partly because Birmingham packed the middle and partly because Ramires is not Xavi – the Brazilian can run like the wind but threading passes through tight space is not his specialty. This is a problem the Blues has had all season and will continue to have unless a creative midfielder (other than Mata) finds his way into the starting eleven.
Second, Luiz was vital to this build-up both in defense (winning the tackle) and in attack (moving with the ball forward and restarting the attack). This probably doesn’t come as a surprise since the Brazilian has been very solid in recent games. The pictures above don’t do justice to the comfort (and the confidence) Luiz has with the ball at his feet; he calmly dribbled forward and avoided a tackle from a Birmingham player with a simple turn. This is not the end of Luiz’s involvement in this build-up.
[60:46] Luiz passes forward to Bertrand on the left flank.
[60:48] Bertrand taps the ball back to Luiz; Ramires moves closer to the left from the center.
[60:50] Luiz passes to Kalou and runs forward down the left dragging a Birmingham player with him.
[60:52] Kalou finds Ramires with a horizontal pass.
[60:54] Ramires speeds past one opponent.
Since Birmingham’s counter attack was stopped quickly, there were plenty of bodies left in their defensive areas. Again, Luiz was vital in trying to work the ball on the left side of the pitch which was pretty crowded at the time.
We have seen how Ramires lost possession in Frame 2 while trying to make a central pass forward. Now, the midfielder made up for it by “dribbling” past an opponent after receiving the ball from Kalou: it was important in opening up the space for himself to make the pass to Mata.
Despite his Brazilian background, there is more speed than trickery in Ramires’ feet and that is exactly what he used to get past his opponents. Awhile ago, there was a statistical piece by WhoScored.Com which revealed that Ramires was the top dribbler in all of Europe. It was totally unexpected. But it makes complete sense when we think of what is considered a dribble (i.e. running past an opponent who’s in the way) and how Ramires actually “dribbles” past his markers (i.e. by accelerating very quickly).
Anyway, I digress. Back to the build-up.
[60:58] Mata takes one touch and passes quickly to Ivanovic on the right flank; Sturridge moves into the box from the right; Drogba and Kalou rush into the back post.
[61:02] Ivanovic crosses.
[61:04] Sturridge scores from a free header.
The two crosses – from Mata to Ivanovic and from Ivanovic to Sturridge – deservedly are the stars of this goal but the importance of the build up from the left is highlighted in Frame 9. There were 9 Birmingham players back to defend this Chelsea attack but 6 of them were pulled disproportionately towards the left because of the movements and passes by Luiz, Kalou, Bertrand and Ramires on that side of the pitch. As a result, Mata was left with a ton of space to receive and quickly unleash Ivanovic on the right wing.
And of course, Mata deserves a lot of credit for the quality and the quickness of the pass to Ivanovic. If the pass was inaccurate, this chance would have disappeared. If the pass was slower, Ivanovic would not have time to execute this excellent cross.
Two quick notes before we talk about the Ivanovic cross. First, Sturridge saw Mata’s pass to Ivanovic and he began moving into the box. It was a good off-the-ball movement from the young striker/winger; it showed good instinct. Second, the presence of Kalou and Drogba was also important to this goal. The two Ivoirians occupied two Birmingham defenders and posed extra aerial threat in the box.
Whenever the Ivanovic or Bosingwa debate comes up for Chelsea's right fullback position, we often make this distinction between the two -- Ivanovic is a better defensive option while Bosingwa is a more attacking alternative. It is true that Bosingwa likes to go forward often and take on defenders but his crossing is terrible. Ivanovic is a more defensively conservative choice but he can put in some delicious cross when he gets the chance (remember this cross for Lampard's goal against Blackburn?).
That is exactly what the Serbian did in this attacking move. His cross was inch-perfect for the unmarked Sturridge to glance the ball into the far corner. Sure Sturridge should be praised for the goal but the quality of Ivanovic's cross combined with Birmingham's poor marking, the winger has had a fairly simply task on his hand (or his head). For me, Ivanovic is an automatic starter as the right fullback against Napoli.
THIS WAS A well-worked goal, made possible by quick transition from left to right and quality crossing.
Side note: If you want to know how Birmingham scored their goal against Chelsea, go read Breaking down the Birmingham goal by Stephen Schmidt (We Ain't Got No History).
Carefree, wherever you may be...