Valencia 1-1 Chelsea: Chelsea let the lead slip

September 28, 2011

The starting line-ups

An open game ended with a point apiece.

Unai Emery used the same outfield XI he fielded against Barca having rotated at the weekend, although there was a change in goal – Diego Alves came in.

Andre Villas-Boas went with the usual 4-3-3 – Florent Malouda started on the left, and Juan Mata drifted in from the right, with Frank Lampard restored to the midfield.

This was fairly evenly-balanced – Valencia were better in possession, but Chelsea probably had the better chances. Emery marginally got the better of the tactical battle in the first half, but a draw was a good reflection of the balance of play.

First half

A nervous start in the opening minutes for Valencia suggested that Chelsea would dominate early on, but after around ten minutes, Valencia settled down and started passing the ball nicely.

They had the better of the opening period, dominating possession and cleverly finding gaps between the lines, constructing some good passing moves. With Chelsea standing off the Valencia centre-backs and sitting in their own half, those gaps owed a lot to the nature of Chelsea’s formation.

Valencia attacking routes

Valencia had two main approaches. The first was similar to the first half against Valencia – they worked their left-hand side, and used Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu in tandem to stretch Chelsea. Mata, surprisingly starting on the right, played a little too narrow and also switched off when Valencia got Alba forward. Therefore, Jose Bosingwa was overloaded, and Mathieu was intelligent with his movement, coming inside to drag Bosingwa in, opening up space for Alba going forward.

The second involved Pablo Hernandez. With the midfields matched 3 v 3 and clear battles taking place, Hernandez took advantage of Frank Lampard being Chelsea’s furthest-forward midfielder, coming inside and acting almost as a ’second number ten’, along with Canales, who was usually watched by Jon Obi Mikel. Ashley Cole didn’t want to come too far into the middle, and Chelsea were surprisingly open between the lines, especially when Mikel got dragged to the right (which was partly because of the aforementioned Alba-Mathieu development).

Chelsea started well but increasingly sat back. They pushed their full-backs relatively high up the pitch, with Mikel sometimes dropping into the back. Malouda stayed wide, Mata came inside, but Chelsea’s best moments often came from Ramires bursting forward. It was peculiar that Villas-Boas played Mata on the right, considering Valencia’s threat down the left against Barcelona.

Second half

It didn’t happen straight away, but early in the second half, Chelsea switched Mata and Malouda. This was one of the key factors in the game – Mata was more comfortable on the left, less defensively-restricted, and able to come inside and influence the play from the centre of the pitch. Chelsea were more positive on the ball, far more effective in the final third and had numerous good opportunities. Malouda created the goal from his new right-sided position after simply dribbling past Alba on the outside.

The game had become more open, though, with Valencia rotating their midfield trio even more to try and get in behind Chelsea. Emery was the one who wanted the win, but he might have been better off keeping the status quo from the first half – the openness played into Chelsea’s hands.

Enery made three attack-minded changes, but their main threat came from simple balls over the top – as has been evident earlier on in this campaign, Villas-Boas wants his side to play high up the pitch, and the centre-backs don’t seem to have the pace to turn and sprint to balls played in behind. Valencia had four chances through a chip over the defence.

The new manager’s influence was clear as Chelsea tried to control the tempo of the game by keeping the ball, but errors in possession demonstrated that they’re still not used to this style of football. Valencia won the ball in midfield and constructed quick breaks down the flanks, with Pablo Piatti (on down the left) a major source of creativity. Sofiane Feghouli also had an impact, on for Hernandez – he worked both channels to provide overlaps when the ball was in midfield. On the balance of play their goal was not harsh on Chelsea, but the home side (literally) needed a helping hand – they still struggled to thread balls through for chances in open play.

Villas-Boas wasn’t quite sure how to use his bench, and his substitutions didn’t help close the game out. Kalou on for Lampard (regardless of the handball) hardly seems a move to shut out Valencia – Malouda moved into the centre and more gaps appeared for Valencia. Youngster Oriol Romeu, a holding midfielder who can keep the ball and break up play, would have been a more obvious option.

Conclusion

A game of various phases. Chelsea dominated at the beginning of both halves, but Valencia looked stronger for the majority of the game – their passing was quicker, though they did lack a final ball.

Managerial changes in the second half influenced the outcome – Emery pushing Valencia forward left his side a little prone to quick Chelsea attacks, but then Villas-Boas’ substitutions didn’t address Chelsea’s weakness at the back, and the continued high line was a real problem.

ZM is watching Bilbao’s next two games in Spain – back with weekend analysis on Monday

Valencia 1-1 Chelsea: Chelsea let the lead slip

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