CHELSEA’S SEASON GOT off to a winning start as the Blues (donning the robotic black kits) beat Wigan 2-0 at the DW stadium. Two early goals from Ivanovic and Lampard (PK) made sure that the away team came away with the three points despite not putting in a dominant performance.
The debutant Hazard, who started as the central attacking midfielder behind Torres, had his hands (well, technically feet) in both goals – setting up Ivanovic for the first and winning the penalty for Lampard to convert. Wigan’s new signing Ivan Ramis though had a tough start to his Wigan career as he bore the majority of the responsibility for both goals – being turned by Hazard for the first (not so much shame in that really) and giving away the penalty by fouling Hazard for the second.
Wigan pretty much controlled much of the rest of the game and searched for goals. They especially had some good chances in the second half, but ultimately came out empty-handed. Some thoughts and analysis on this game after the jump.
Early Goals Set the Tone
Here’s an obvious statement: “Scoring goals is good, especially if you can do it early.” Barring the danger of complacency, finding the net in the dawn of the game comes with these advantages. First, well, you are ahead on the ultimate measure of success on the pitch aka goals. Second, it calms any nerves that you may have coming into the game – no pressure. And third, it makes your opponent predictable – they have no choice but to come out and play.
In this fixture last season, Wigan defended strongly for the entire first half with 5 men in defense and looked break quickly on counter attacks. This put pressure on Chelsea to attack and be wary of Wigan’s breaks. Such option was rudely taken off the table as soon as Ivanovic scored within the first 2 minutes of the game. Now, Wigan had to be proactive -- attack, go forward, and look for goals. Chelsea, meanwhile, could sit tight with the reliable two banks of four and pounce on counter attacks. This was largely how the game turned out to be: Wigan attacking; Chelsea reacting.
Exploiting the Space Behind the Wing-back
The great thing about playing a 3-4-3 with flying wing-backs is that you always have numbers on the flanks in attack. And the bad thing about playing a 3-4-3 with flying wing-backs is that you leave a ton of space behind them on your wide defensive areas. Usually one of the outer center-backs provides covers for his out-of-position wing-back, but that was not what Ramis did when Chelsea broke down the center with Hazard with Ivanovic flying down the right flank. The new Wigan defender got sucked in toward Hazard; and when he was turned rather smartly by the Belgian, Ivanovic’s path to the Wigan goal was as clear as a deserted hall way.
Hazard (for the turn and the pass) and Ivanovic (for the run and the composed finish) rightly get a ton of credit for the goal. But it was also impressive that Chelsea could win the ball and deliver it quickly to Hazard through the center. Fernando Torres, who had a quiet first half, also pulled away two center-backs with his run down the center. A very solid goal overall.
Bertrand, Moses and the Flanks
Ramires was expected to be in the starting eleven for this game but when he was absent through a sudden illness, Di Matteo opted for Bertrand as the defensive left winger. This had a significant impact on the game because Victor Moses, Wigan’s most dangerous player, started the game on that side of the pitch. The advantage of playing a 3-4-3 with flying wing-back (Boyce) in support of a winger (Moses) on that flank was eliminated by the defensive presence of Bertrand just ahead of Cole – the youngster tracking Boyce closely and covering Cole when needed. Aside from that one fierce shot from a tight angle, Moses had a quiet first half. But that changed after the break.
In the second half, Moses moved to the other side of the pitch where defensively tame Mata and Ivanovic, who had got a knock in the first half, resided. There he had more freedom and less defensive pressure. Moses made and received more passes in the second half (on Chelsea’s right) than he did in the first half (on Chelsea’s left). I distinctly remember one occasion where Moses dodged Ivanovic’s tackle, and then went on to beat Mata, who was supposed to cover Ivanovic, by simply jogging past the Spaniard. Overall, the Chelsea transfer target looked very threatening in attack.
With Wigan putting on the pressure for the majority of the game, Chelsea’s defense had to be on good form in order to keep a clean sheet. It was not a superb performance in the back but it was solid. Wigan had the ball a lot in the wide areas, but Chelsea’s defense – mainly Terry, Luiz and Ivanovic -- did a good job of clearing away the crosses. The Chelsea back four made 8 successful tackles out of 9 attempts. You never know what you are going to get with Luiz sometimes, but today, he was pretty calm and reliable; plus, he made a total of 7 interceptions helping break up Wigan’s attack with speed and intelligence.
The Men in the Hole
Chelsea currently have a number of players who can play “in the hole” (i.e. the attacking midfield role behind the main striker) and three tried out for the role today. Hazard started the game in that position while Mata stayed on the right wing. The Belgian was pretty impressive – setting up Ivanovic for the first goal from that position. Mata would also play there for a few minutes here and there as Hazard switched positions with him. The Spaniard played a bit deeper than Hazard and his distribution was better. And Oscar would come on for Hazard at the 64th minute and also play in that pocket of space behind Torres. He, also, didn’t look out of place – getting on to Torres’ flick-on, putting the Wigan defense in reverse gear, and creating chances with intelligent passes. Out of the three, Hazard would probably come out on top because of his contribution to the goal but he’s not too far ahead of the other two. It is quite unbelievable that Chelsea have all these players who can – not just perform but – shine in that role.
DI MATTEO INSISTED that there won’t be any radical changes to the style of his team despite the signing of creative players like Hazard and Oscar. He kept his words today at the DW stadium as his team played reactive football against Wigan’s proactive approach. But having scored two early goals, Chelsea could afford to contain and counter, and their efficiency in attack – 6 shots taken (all from inside the box), 4 on target, 2 goals – secured the first victory of this season. Whether or not they can consistently play a more proactive game when the circumstances are different is a question yet to be answered.
Carefree, wherever you may be...