Copenhagen 0-2 Chelsea: 4-4-2 v 4-4-2

February 23, 2011

The starting line-ups

Chelsea eased past a disappointing Copenhagen side with two goals from Nicolas Anelka.

Ståle Solbakken changed his side from the formation that had served him well in the group stages – using two strikers with Jesper Gronkjaer played out on the left, rather than just off the frontman.

Carlo Ancelotti left out Didier Drogba and brought in Anelka and Fernando Torres.

Copenhagen put up a good fight in the group stages, drawing at home to Barcelona and progressing ahead of Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos, becoming the first Danish side ever to qualify for this phase of the European Cup.

Therefore, Solbakken’s decision to move to a 4-4-2 was surprising, and frankly, the wrong choice. Copenhagen are not a great side, but they are far better than they showed here. There were various reasons why Copenhagen’s tactics were wrong for this match.

1) It meant the formations were ‘matched’

Both sides played 4-4-2, which created a series of individual battles across the pitch. Chelsea are simply a better team than Copenhagen – not one of the Copenhagen players would get into the Chelsea side, and therefore when the contest was reduced to 1 v 1 battles, Chelsea were obviously on top. Copenhagen needed to dominate a particular area of the pitch in order to cause Chelsea problems, preferably the midfield zone, if not, at the back.

2) It meant an open game

On a similar note, as observed numerous times on ZM before, 2 v 2 battle in the centre of midfield (rather than 3 v 3 or 3 v 2) creates a free-flowing, open game. That generally favours the better technical side, which was always likely to be Chelsea.

3) Chelsea got away without a true holding player

Chelsea’s move to a more obvious 4-4-2 system means they’re now playing a formation they’re unfamiliar with. They are used to three – or even four – central midfielders, always with a holding player like Claude Makelele or Jon Obi Mikel sweeping up behind the two more advanced midfielders. Frank Lampard and Mikel Essien didn’t really gel as a duo in a 4-4-2, and frequently got caught too high up the pitch, leaving space between the lines. If Gronkjaer had been playing as a central playmaker rather than as a winger, he would have thrived in that space – or alternatively, he would have forced Essien or Lampard to drop deeper, opening up space for one of Copenhagen’s holding players.

4) Dame N’Doye played off another striker, meaning his pace in behind wasn’t an option

As Chelsea’s season-turning defeat to Sunderland at Stamford Bridge showed, Chelsea are vulnerable to pace in behind the defence, especially when Branislav Ivanovic is paired with John Terry. In N’Doye, Copenhagen have a player with explosive pace and power - see how he dominated the game against the (admittedly outrageously slow) Gilberto Silva in the group phase. In this game, however, he was forced to come deep and collect the ball, leaving Cesar Santin upfront. Santin is also a quick player but lacks the strength N’Doye has, and was removed at half-time. The one time N’Doye ran past the Chelsea defence with the ball, he was brought down by Terry, showing how much the Chelsea backline may have struggled with him further up the pitch.

Copenhagen were more of a goal threat after the half-time switch to their 'old' system

5) The energetic start exposed Copenhagen’s poor fitness levels

Having not played a competitive game for around three months, Copenhagen’s frantic pressing at the start of the game was a huge surprise – the players clearly tired towards the end of the game as a result.


None of this should take away from a good Chelsea performance – you can only beat the side put in front of you – but Chelsea won the game easily without having to do anything special.

Their shape was more of a 4-4-2 than we saw at the weekend, with the two strikers staying in central positions and Malouda slightly deeper (although still more advanced than Ramires, who tucked in).

The victory should be treated with caution when assessing the formation – the central midfield duo didn’t look particularly comfortable without the ball, but they both got forward to good effect, as the chalkboard shows.

Lampard and Essien's passing

Anelka and Torres’ relationship was a little more positive – they combined well a couple of times and both had plenty of attempts on goal:

Torres and Anelka's shooting


Solbakken’s half-time decision to remove Santin, bring on Martin Vingaard and push Jesper Gronkjaer forward into his central position was an admission that he got his tactics wrong from the start. Copenhagen were better in the second half, but the fatigue from their pressing set in early.

Chelsea are now in a commanding position. Their display was professional rather than spectacular – they got the two goals and then were happy with that scoreline. The Torres-Anelka combination was encouraging, and will surely get another run out in Chelsea’s next game – against Manchester United.

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