A LATE GOAL from Clint Dempsey delivered a huge blow to Chelsea's top-four inspirations as the Blues dropped two vital points in a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage. The away side took the lead before half-time through a Frank Lampard penalty -- the midfielder's 150th Premier League goal. However, Dempsey's header deflected off of Cahill and found the back of the net at the 82th minute. It was a fair result for a pretty even game.
Formations and Selections
Chelsea started with a 4-2-3-1 formation. A total of six changes were made to the team that took the pitch against Wigan two days before: Drogba, Mata, Malouda, Sturridge, Essien and Luiz made way for Torres, Lampard, Kalou, Ramires, Mikel and Cahill. All six players who came into the starting eleven have 5 days rest since the return leg against Benfica. Lampard partnered Mikel in the central midfield while Meireles played in the advance position behind Torres.
Fulham made only two changes to the team started against Bolton in their 3-0 away win. Frei and Murphy replaced Ruiz and Kacaniklic. In the absence of a proper striker, Dempsey continued in attack with Dembele in support from an attacking midfield position. Frei and Duff provided the width while Diarra and Murphy held the central midfield in a roughly 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 shape.
Meireles "in the Hole"
|Chart 1. Passes Received by Meireles (Fulham) vs Mata (Wigan)|
With Mata taking a break, Meireles was used in the attacking midfield role while Lampard and Mikel form the double pivot. Di Matteo has tried this against Man City and it didn't work too well. Even though the team kept the shape well in the opening stages, it fell apart as the game went on. In stead of pushing up high to support Torres, Meireles kept falling back into his right midfield role. Chart 1 compares the passes Meireles received in this game with those Mata received in the Wigan (H) game. It clearly shows how far forward Mata was in his role as the attacking midfielder. Meanwhile, Lampard pushed forward aggressively on the left, leaving Mikel alone in the deep zone. So, the initial 4-2-3-1 gradually shifted to a 4-3-3 with an inverted midfield triangle.
Was this a problem in the midfield? Not exactly. Since Fulham had one advance midfielder (Dembele) and two central midfielders (Murphy and Diarra), the midfield triangles actually fit each other like a glove. However, this meant that Torres was pretty isolated up top on his own, especially with both Kalou and Ramires tracking back opposition fullbacks like wingers in a traditional 4-4-2.
|Chart 2. Passes Received by Dempsey|
As mentioned above, Mikel was often left as the sole midfield shield ahead of Chelsea back four when Lampard pushed forward from the left. This was not a problem when Mikel had only Dembele to deal with. However, Dempsey, the main striker, kept dropping deep into midfield (as shown in Chart 2) to help out Dembele. Mikel got outnumbered two to one on a couple of occasions, particularly on the breaks.
In retrospect, pairing up Mikel and Meireles in midfield and pushing Lampard forward into the attacking midfield role might have had a better result.
Ramires Quiet on the Right
|Chart 3. Passes by Ramires and Kalou|
Ramires has been used effectively on both left and right wings under di Matteo. But this was an odd performance by the Brazilian. Although he did an OK job tracking back, he offered very little to the attack. His passing was off, and on several occasions, he got caught in possessions. Kalou on the other flank had a better game overall (also, he won the penalty) as Chelsea's attack came mainly from the left. In fact, Chelsea's top three passers in the attacking third were Kalou (19/21), Bertrand (15/19) and Lampard (13/18) -- all of them played on the left side.
However, it would not be fair to talk about this without mention the quality of opposition on each flank. Kalou and Bertrand had an easier time dealing with Duff and Kelly on their flank. Ramires and Ivanovic, on the other side, had their hands full with Frei and Riise bombing forward every chance they got. Riise, especially, had an outstanding game.
Fulham's Good Defensive Game
|Chart 4. Interceptions and Tackles by Fulham|
Of course, it is understandable that we want to blame our players for not getting the right results but we should recognize that the opposition had a solid defensive game too. Fulham won a total of 20 interceptions scattered all over the pitch. They made 25 tackles and 20 were successful. (Chelsea, on the side note, won 16 interceptions (mostly in Chelsea's half) and 12 tackles.) With each interception and tackles won, they were able to counter quickly with Dembele playing a major role.
Substitutions and Non-substitutions
When Mata came on for Meireles at the 70th minute, Chelsea were still leading 1-0 but Fulham were starting to crank up the pressure. I think this was a good substitution. Meireles had played the full 90 minutes against Wigan and he had a yellow card. Plus, Chelsea could use an attacking option to capitalize from counter attacks.
However, both Lampard and Mikel were showing signs of fatigue at this point. Chelsea had Malouda, Drogba, Turnbull, Romeu, Bosingwa and Sturridge. It would have been appropriate to bring on Romeu in place of either Lampard or Mikel to freshen the midfield. But there was no such substitution. The final change came after Fulham had equalized -- Drogba came on for Ramires.
The Dempsey Goal
|Picture 1. Dempsey Goal|
Aside from what it does to hope of finishing top-four, this Dempsey goal was really frustrating for two reasons. One, it was yet another late goal. I'm not going to say more. If you want to know why bad late goals have hurt Chelsea this season, read this post on WAGNH. Two, a warning shot was fired right before the goal and the defense still managed to ignore it. From the corner that came right before the goal, Aaron Hughes got a free header which was brilliantly saved by Cech. That should have woken up the sleepy defense. But no.
Fulham punished Chelsea immediately with a well-worked set-piece goal. Before the cross came in, Dempsey and Etuhu (red dot) started a run from the penalty spot. As the corner was taken, Dempsey retreated a few steps back to get a little bit of space. Meanwhile, Etuhu pushed forward and acted as a shield between Chelsea defenders and Dempsey who got himself a free header. With a little bit of luck through deflection, the ball ended up in Chelsea's net.
Lampard. 150 league goals. Wow!
Carefree, wherever you may be...