Chelsea 2-0 Marseille: Chelsea win relatively comfortably without playing well

September 28, 2010

The starting line-ups

Chelsea are onto six points after a victory over Marseille that was in doubt for longer than it should have been.

Carlo Ancelotti made two changes from the side that lost to Manchester City at the weekend. Ramires, who had a poor game, was left out in favour of Yuri Zhirkov, whilst Gael Kakuta was in for Didier Drogba, who is serving his traditional start-of-season Champions League suspension.

Marseille kept to their usual shape, a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 that sometimes looks like a 4-1-4-1 because of how deep Edouard Cisse plays. Didier Deschamps left out both Mathieu Valbuena and Andre Ayew, fielding Lois Remy and Brandao on the flanks. Gabriel Heinze started at left-back.

Chelsea went ahead before the game had even settled down, when Kakuta’s low corner was turned in at the near post by John Terry. It’s difficult to judge since the goal came so early, but it’s likely that this early strike would have changed Deschamps’ gameplan.

When we could assess the two line-ups, it was two basic 4-3-3s. Marseille’s wingers looked to get level with their central midfielders when they weren’t in possession, but they played higher up the pitch that many wingers who will come to Stamford Bridge this season. Although that was a sign of attacking intent, it meant they often played too high up the pitch to become involved in build-up play.

Chelsea lopsided

Chelsea’s system was slightly different from the one they used in the defeat to City, with Nicolas Anelka’s false nine role being an obvious difference from the system based around Didier Drogba’s physical threat. Florent Malouda also played a slightly different position, tucked in slightly rather than as an out-and-out winger, meaning he was the attacking player who saw most of the ball, with Marseille not quite knowing who should be picking him up.

Malouda’s centralish position was possible because of the width from further back – both from Ashley Cole, who got forward well, and from Yuri Zhirkov, who generally moved to that flank. On the other side, Kakuta was often deeper than Malouda – sometimes Chelsea defended with a four in midfield, sometimes it was a five. Malouda was slightly slow to regain his position, and since Charles Kabore didn’t see Malouda as a direct opponent, he was free to scamper forward, and often came up against Cole. Marseille didn’t use this overload on this side enough, however.

2-0 lead

The second goal was an Anelka penalty after a rather harsh handball decision, and Chelsea were 2-0 up without really playing particularly well.

Chelsea were more patient with their passing as the half drew on, with Jon Obi Mikel dropping very deep to get the ball, and calmly distributing it to the flanks. All four full-backs looked to get forward, with Gabriel Heinze ending up in central positions thanks to Brandao’s tendency to stay wide (although he and Remy switched wings at points). Still, the midfield battle was basically 3 v 3. Marseille struggled to create any decent chances – set-pieces and long shots from Benoit Cheyrou were their best bets.

Second half

Lucho Gonzalez moved higher up the pitch in the second half, and with him came the rest of the Marseille side, who pressed higher, closed down better and generally spent the majority of the period in Chelsea’s half. Lucho himself found plenty of space between the lines to orchestrate play but frequently chose the wrong pass – trying to play a straight killer ball when a simple sideways pass out wide to Kabore would have been more appropriate.

Equally, Chelsea didn’t get going and were sloppy with passing. Almost every player was guilty of misplaced balls, largely thanks to the increased pressure from the Marseille players. With Zhirkov and Michael Essien playing as the two ’shuttlers’ either side of Mikel, Chelsea looked uncomfortable retaining the ball in deep positions.


Marseille dominated the second half but again failed to create clear-cut chances, as set-pieces came to nothing. Deschamps made an attacking substitution by bringing on both Andre Ayew and Mathieu Valbuena as the French side looked to take the game to Chelsea.

Carlo Ancelotti responded by bringing on Ramires, who replaced Kakuta. This meant Zhirkov going out to the left, Malouda coming across to the right and drifting in – so Chelsea’s lopsidedness was transferred to the other flank, and Marseille then started to threaten down Chelsea’s right. Then came Daniel Sturridge, who played on the right and allowed Malouda back to the left, and after that move Chelsea regained control of the half. It was they who came closest to scoring, hitting the woodwork three times, but in the end they saw out the 2-0 well.


Little lessons to take in general, and with both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba injured, it’s hard to make too much of a judgement on Chelsea either. The most notable aspect of the game was how poor Chelsea’s passing was at the start of the second period, and it must be noted that they lack an experienced central midfielder with the ability to sit at the heart of the midfield and pass the ball calmly from side to side. This was a job that Michael Ballack did quite well last season, and Deco, whilst not showing his best football at Stamford Bridge, also provided a reliable passing option in the midfield. Chelsea saw the game out in the end, but this owed more to good defensive play from the back four rather than good ball retention.

Marseille were reasonably impressive despite rarely looking like taking anything from the game – lesser sides would have crumbled after conceding an early goal, and credit should go to Deschamps for a proactive strategy, since many sides would have tried to play exclusively on the counter-attack in this fixture – and in those circumstances, going 1-0 down is a complete disaster. His side seemed to be suffering from a simple lack of confidence in the final third – the forwards are all short of goals and Gonzalez is not playing as well as he could. There’s the makings of a very good side, but Marseille are already struggling to qualify.

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