CHELSEA TOOK A sizable step towards advancing to the semi-finals of the Champions League after beating Benfica 1-0 in Portugal. Second half strike from Kalou made sure that Chelsea won this game with an all-important away goal. It was a goal scored from a quick counter attack with Ramires and Torres involved heavily. Let's look closely how this goal came about.
Ramires Wins the Ball
|Picture 1. Ramires Gets the Ball|
[73:57] Ramires wins the ball.
At this point in the game, Benfica were on the ascendance; the home side were dominating possession and pushing forward for the break through goal. Chelsea sat back to defend deep and looked to break forward from counter attack. In Picture 1, Benfica attacked from the left but some solid marking from Luiz forced them into error. Ramires picked up a stray back-pass around the edge of the Chelsea box. The Brazilian midfielder began to dribble down Chelsea's right.
The Decisive Moment
|Picture 2. Ramires Bombs Forward|
[74:01] Ramires slows down slightly before busting forward with full speed.
Ramires didn't get away from his initial marker right away. He was tracked and closed down pretty quickly. This was the decisive moment of this build-up. Ramires had two options: (1) pass the ball back to Mikel in the center or (2) beat his marker. Option 1 is safer but it essentially kills the counter attack. It will slow the movement of Chelsea's attack down allowing Benfica defenders to get back into position. Option 2 has higher risk and higher reward. If Ramires were to lose possession when trying to beat his marker, Chelsea would again be on the back foot, this time with less defensive players. The Brazilian chose Option 2 and pulled it off brilliantly. As Ramires passed the halfway line, there were five Benfica players defending four advancing Chelsea attackers.
Torres Shows Strength and Pace
|Picture 3. Torres Shows Strength and Pace|
[74:04] Ramires initial central pass to Torres fails.
[74:06] Ramires tries another pass to Torres; this time down the flank.
[74:07] Torres holds of a challenge and busts forward.
If you think of this whole build-up overall, the fact that Ramires' initial central pass to Torres unsuccessfully hit the leg of the Benfica defender is a tiny detail -- something of no consequence since Ramires getting the ball back right away. But I think it is an important detail if you are trying to understand how Chelsea's attack works at the moment.
Since Ramires beat the first defender in Picture 2, Torres had been making a diagonal run towards the right flank. When Ramires made that initial pass, he probably thought that Torres was going hold his run and stay central, after all that pass was aimed centrally. This misunderstanding between Ramires and Torres is almost identical to the little instance between Mata and Torres during the Birmingham game in the FA Cup. Mata, just like Ramires, was down the right flank while Torres was making a diagonal run to the same wide area; Mata made a lobbed pass to central area thinking that's where Torres was, but in reality, the striker was down the right. Possession lost. These misunderstandings highlights the mismatch between Torres' eagerness to move wide and his teammates' default assumption that the Spaniard will stay central.
In this particular case, I think Torres was right in trying to give close support to Ramires -- you can't expect the Brazilian to beat another player in the same build-up. Anyhow, Ramires retained possession as his initial pass bounced back off of the Benfica player. The Brazilian then made a straight forward pass down the flank for Torres to run onto. The Spaniard showed strength in holding off a challenge from the Benfica defender and broke forward with speed. While all this was taking place, the goalscorer Kalou (black star) was making a forward run down the center.
|Picture 4. Kalou Scores|
[74:11] Torres crosses.
[74:12] Kalou scores.
Let's talk about the cross from Torres first. With two Benfica directly between him and Kalou, Torres has a couple of passing option -- (1) make a lobbed pass for Kalou to head, (2) make a cut-back pass hoping Kalou can check back and shoot, or (3) slip a pass across the goal for Kalou to attack. The third was probably the best choice considering (a) Kalou had missed a header in this game and (b) a cut-back would put more bodies between Kalou and the goal. The pass itself was hit with the perfect power (not too hard, not too soft) at a decent height.
This was a tap-in goal but it was not a simple finish for Kalou, especially because he initially pulled back possibly for a cut-back pass. You can see in Picture 4 that he was leaning backward as the ball left Torres' foot. But he readjusted himself quickly and got to the ball at the right moment.
FROM THE MOMENT Ramires won the ball in Chelsea's half, it took a total of 15 seconds to score this goal and only two passes were involved in the build-up. A typical counter attacking goal.
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