Tactics Talk: Chelsea’s victory at Everton should not go unnoticed
Sunday’s Premier League encounter between Everton and Chelsea brought together two managers who regularly squared up against each other between 2004 and 2010. David Moyes has enjoyed longevity in Merseyside, which only Sir Alex Ferguson can better, and will have fancied his chances against a Chelsea team finding their feet under new interim boss Rafa Benitez. His opponent won eight of the 14 Merseyside derbies he competed in while Liverpool boss and would have hoped to continue that good record on his first return to Goodison Park.
Key to Moyes’ success at Everton has been his trust in a small squad of players playing in a hard-working system. Rotating between one and two men up-front for the majority of this season, he opted for something different starting with Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith and Victor Anichebe in a front three. Tim Howard began in goal, behind a defence of Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines at right and left fullback joined by Sylvain Distin and Johnny Heitinga in the centre. Steven Pienaar led a three-man midfield, including Leon Osman and Thomas Hitzlsperger, which began their 2-1 win over Wigan on Boxing Day.
In the 11 games Benitez’ has managed since taking over, Chelsea have lost just nine goals; the Spaniard’s meticulous approach to defending looks to be paying off despite the absence of John Terry to injury. He made three changes to the side which won away at Norwich earlier in the week as John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Oscar went out and Frank Lampard, Eden Hazard and Ramires came in. Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole started in defence looking to get their third straight clean sheet in the league. David Luiz continued in the middle of the park alongside Lampard and behind the forward four of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Fernando Torres.
First half – Everton win individual battles
A key feature of the Everton style is focused on players winning their individual battles across the park. Their incredible work ethic is immediately noticeable, but when you closely scrutinise the Moyes selection, it suggests that the manager is always looking to target a specific area or a specific player on the park.
Injury and form has limited Victor Anichebe to just nine league appearances this term, but it’s no coincidence that Moyes brought the Nigerian in as soon as he was available after a two-month lay-off. Firstly, at West Ham over a week ago, the striker returned to the starting eleven against a physically and aerially imposing side where his strength in the air was needed. His goal also helped them to a 2-1 win. At home to Wigan, he maintained his place to prey on the aerial vulnerability of Ronnie Stam and on Sunday he was again selected. The rationale behind it was evident from the first minute.
Straight from kick-off a ball was played directly to Anichebe’s head and it took both Azpilicueta and Luiz to stop the forward winning the header. Just seconds later a deep Distin free kick went to exactly the same place. Azplicueta stands roughly five inches below Anichebe. Moyes had created his first individual battle on the park and this led to the first goal.
Jagielka’s cross to the back post allowed Anichebe to overpower his opponent and although his header hit the post, Steven Pienaar was on hand to smash the rebound in. Moyes 1 Benitez 0.
Everton set the tempo and Chelsea struggled to cope. Osman, Hitzlsperger and Pienaar appeared in control; the latter of which was a constant thorn in the side of Luiz.
Pienaar v Luiz, Naismith v Cole, Distin v Torres – all key individual battles which, for 43 minutes of the first half, Everton won. That was until Distin allowed Torres out of his sight.
Although the Spaniard failed to score directly, his recycling of the ball found Ramires and the midfielder’s cross was nodded in by Lampard. Key stat of the day: Chelsea have never lost in any of the games Lampard has scored this season.
There wasn’t quite a feeling of impending doom around Goodison Park, but the European champions looked galvanised right at the wrong time for Everton.
Second-Half – Chelsea midfield gets a grip
For Chelsea, the goal came at a perfect place in the game. They’d struggled for the majority of the first half failing to get their attacking players in to the match and were unable to get a grip of possession.
They out-passed, out-shot and out-fought Everton in the second half. Luiz steadily grew in to the game, as did Mata and Ramires supporting the hard-working Torres. Ending up with 52 per cent of the possession, it’s no wonder they got the goal that won the game through Lampard again.
This time, Mata found space on the edge of the box before hitting Hazard on the diagonal. The Belgian’s knockdown was partially cleared to the onrushing Mata, whose shot was rebounded in to the path of Lampard and, unsurprisingly, the midfielder scored.
Osman and Hitzlsperger will have disappointed Moyes on the goal. Both Chelsea midfielders were allowed to run off them to set up and score the goal. With players of such quality, Everton can’t be so sloppy defensively.
Credit to both managers for how they responded. Moyes brought on a trio of attacking substitutions while Benitez freshened up his attack with Moses and Oscar entering play. Jelavic hit the woodwork for the second time in the game and Torres had the best of the Chelsea chances, but the away side held on for a win which speaks volumes of the effect Benitez has had on his new team.
Under Di Matteo, Chelsea let in as many goals as they scored, but now they combine an efficiency in defence with a potency in attack. The Benitez effect is taking its toll.
Conclusion – Are Chelsea gradually being cured by the Benitez effect?
“We’re adapting to new ideas and the reaction of the players, for me, has been fantastic.”
Benitez summed up, post-match, how things changed in the game and how the club has changed in general.
Everton were unbeaten at home in 19 games so the Chelsea result should not go unnoticed. Moyes tested them with a strong attacking unit, intent on stifling their progress and taking advantage of any weakness, but Chelsea stood strong and showed why they are European champions.Tagged in: chelsea, Everton, football, Premier League, Tactics Talk
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