THE 2-1 DEFEAT TO Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday was a traumatic experience for me as a Chelsea fan. As we often do with these kinds of painful memories, I shoved it deep inside my unconscious mind, buried it, and avoided it. (Also, Zonal Marking wrote an analysis piece, which I'm in agreement with, about 3 hours after the game; I didn't feel like rehashing the same points he made.)
But like any haunting experiences that one fails to deal with, it has been hanging heavy in my mind like a dark rain cloud. I find myself not being able to move forward, to concentrate on the next game -- Manchester United. So, here I lie on this couch/blog, with you listening/reading as my therapist/reader, ready to cast my mind back to that stormy night in Ukraine.
(1) Early Goal
The last thing you want to do against a counter-attacking team is concede an early goal, and that's the first thing Chelsea did (a 3rd minute goal). Of course the early goal causes a psychological setback for the team, but it also forced Chelsea to commit more to attack, which played into Shakhtar's contain-and-counter approach -- and boy did they do that well, especially the "counter" part. Don't listen to a nobody-blogger like me. Listen to Petr Cech.
"I wouldn't say it was a shock if you knew this was a pure, counter-attacking team and we allowed them to score in the third minute. This had a huge impact in the game because when we had possession and lost it they had the chance to counter, to shoot, to finish. They have been doing really well and we gave them a huge lift in the third minute, then we saw them play with the confidence."That is a very concise and accurate summary of the game. Could Chelsea have done anything differently even with an early shot-in-the-foot?
(2) Reacting to the Early Goal
So the early goal pushed Chelsea to attack, but how forceful should they have been in pursuit of an equalizer? In the 12 games prior to this match, Chelsea has scored 32 goals -- that's 2.67 goals per game. With only 3 minutes gone, they had every reason to believe that they will score 2 goals, which if they don't concede another goal would have won the tie.
I guess I'm getting at the lack of patience after the early goal. If the Blues could settle down and control the game the way they did against Spurs in the first half -- i.e. play like it was at 0-0 (easier said than done, I know) -- the result could have been very different. To sum up, it sucked that they conceded an early goal, but they put themselves in more danger by attacking too aggressively afterwards.
(3) Contrast in Attack
The game was wide open; attacks went back and forth. But it was the home side that made the most of their chances, especially in the first half. Shakhtar's attack had the sharpness to register goal attempts with every attack they mounted. That sharpness was exactly what Chelsea's attack lacked. Despite numerous chances to deliver blows to Shakhtar's defense, the visitors failed to really threaten from their attack and often gave the ball away cheaply, which of course came back as a Shakhtar counter at the other end. It got better in the second half, but that was mainly because the home side withdrawn to their defensive third and tried to protect their lead.
(4) Simple Errors
Despite all the shortcomings of Chelsea's impotent attack and threat of the opposition's attacking sharpness, Chelsea could still have gotten a result (even a win!) if not for some very elementary defensive errors. I don't need to go into details about the two goals they conceded. Let's just say it is unacceptable to concede goals from throw-ins and that it is silly to be dribbling the ball when you are almost the last person ahead of your goal even if you are Eden Hazard, even if it is around the halfway line.
Of course, you will always have a lot of defensive errors when the game is this stretched -- four attackers constantly going against five or six defenders -- but Chelsea's set-piece defending in general was poor -- remember Oscar trying to chest the ball back into the six-yard box?
Frank Lampard got injured early on in the first half and Eden Hazard came on. Ramires dropped back to the central midfield alongside Mikel and Hazard joined Oscar and Mata in the attacking third. This wasn't a setback because Chelsea needed to pose more attacking threat -- Hazard made the most goal attempts of all the Chelsea players, 5 shots hit and 4 on on target -- and Ramires' energy was helpful in dealing with Shakhtar's pacey attack. Now, Lampard is going to be out for a couple of weeks leaving Mikel and Ramires responsible for the double pivot without solid backups. Where are Essien and Meireles when Chelsea need them? Yeah...
|GIF 1. Sturridge-Hazard link up play|
The only other substitution Roberto di Matteo made in the game was bringing on Daniel Sturridge for Fernando Torres. The Spanish striker wasn't having a bad game -- his movements and his involvement in buildup play were good -- but he wasn't having a great game either. Di Matteo wanted to maintain the attacking threat of Oscar-Hazard-Mata combo while trying to change something; thus, Sturridge on, Torres off.
The substitute had a positive impact on the game. Sturridge was at the heart of two great chances in the second half. First, he set up Hazard with a first-time pass (see GIF 1). The Belgium was through on goal but a good reaction-save from Pyatov denied the goal. Second, Sturridge's tricky turn on the right wing created the space for Ivanovic to bomb forward before crossing for Oscar to score. The young striker did not hesitate to pull the trigger when given the chance as well, which is a common criticism against Torres. Did Sturridge do enough to knock Torres out of the starting eleven against Manchester United? I don't know. But I think he did well enough to be contention, which I don't think was the case prior to this game.
DWELLING ON PAST FAILURES does not get you forward. On the other hand, unresolved issues from the past can make you stumble in the future. Chelsea needs a balance. They must learn from the mistakes in this game while trying to move on. Whether di Matteo inspire his team to reach this delicate balance is something to keep an eye on. For now, thanks for listening. I feel much better already.
Carefree, wherever you may be...