Chelsea: Defence their best form of attack

Jose Mourinho impressively halted Liverpool’s eleven-game winning streak in the league at the weekend with a solid defensive display that has become the hallmark of the London side this season.

Already boasting the meanest defence in the league, Chelsea entered a frenzied Anfield knowing that a home victory could all but wrap up the title, albeit not mathematically. And with one eye on their second leg Champions League Semi-Final showdown with Atlético Madrid, Mourinho fielded what looked like an understrength lineup at first glance.

But injuries to John Terry, Petr Cech, Eden Hazard and a suspension to driving midfielder Ramires forced the Portuguese’s hand with the second string names of Tomas Kalas, Mark Schwarzer and Obi Mikel making the starting XI, and led many to believe the game,and indeed title, was a formality.

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As I had previously alluded to in my piece about the three title challengers’ respective vulnerabilities, Liverpool’s shaky defence let themselves down once more, this time a complacent mis-control and subsequent slip from the usually ultra dependable Steven Gerrard let Ba in just before half time.

Chelsea produced a resolute performance in the second half with Schwarzer being called into action on multiple occasions, saving impressively from Joe Allen and Luis Suarez in particular.

But as the Reds were forced to push further forward, former hero Fernando Torres latched onto a Willian throughball with Simon Mignolet the only obstacle from the halfway line. There were shades of the Nou Camp and that Semi-Final when Torres rounded Valdes to secure victory and a Champions League final place. This time the Spaniard unselfishly squared it to Willian who subsequently put the game beyond doubt.

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Mourinho’s impassioned touchline celebration seemed a climactic release after weeks of stoic, calculated and often provocative press conferences and signalled his belief that Chelsea aren’t out of this quite yet, even if Sunday’s results mean the title is now back in Man City’s hands once more.

That the Chelsea manager couldn’t play any of his regular back five in their most regular starting positions made this effort even more admirable. With Cahill rested and Terry out, Branislav Ivanovic played centrally, while Team of the Year candidate Cesar Azpilcueta reverted to a more traditional right back berth allowing Ashley Cole to reassume the left back slot the Spaniard has kept from him all season.

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So many disruptions would usually lead to inevitable communication breakdowns, especially with players garnering only limited game time being thrust into such a crucial game. But they stood defiant; creating a solid platform for their counter attacking strategy to be perfectly executed. Nemanja Matic also played a key role in absorbing the one-man redemption mission Gerrard had embarked upon since his fateful first half mis-control, and looked assured bringing the ball forward as a catalyst for multiple breakaway attacks.

Although the title is still very much out of Chelsea’s hands, Jose Mourinho has once again shown he knows how to flex a tactical muscle when required. If he could increase the potency of his strike force this summer, they could be an incredibly formidable outfit next season – a team truly built from the back.

Read Man Utd: Directors must share the blame

 

Mourinho photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald

 

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