Corinthians 1-0 Chelsea: Corinthians disrupt Chelsea’s passing and pinch a scrappy goal

December 16, 2012

The starting line-ups

Corinthians lifted the World Club Cup after a typical 1-0 win.

Tite left out his number ten, Douglas, and instead selected Jorge Henrique to play a disciplined role on the right.

Rafael Benitez moved David Luiz to centre-back with Branislav Ivanovic going to right-back. Frank Lampard and Ramires started in the middle, and Victor Moses was chosen over than Oscar.

Chelsea had their chances – particularly late on – but overall Tite’s strategy was effective, particularly in a negative, spoiling sense.


On the rare occasions European and South American club sides face each other in a competitive match, the pace of the match is always important. Corinthians may be one of the more ‘European’ sides their region has to offer, but a notable feature of this match was how they tried to slow the match down.

Chelsea had thrashed Monterrey in midweek because the Mexican side were simply unable to cope with a Premier League tempo – they had given Juan Mata (in particular) and the rest of Chelsea’s attackers too much time in midfield, and Benitez’s side simply battered them in a 10-minute spell of speed shortly after half-time.

Here, it was clear Corinthians ‘won’ the battle of the tempo, turning it into a slow, patient match. There were two parts to their approach – with and without the ball. In possession, when there was no opportunity to counter-attack, they simply held onto the ball for long periods, and Chelsea moved back into a solid defensive shape, not pressing high up the pitch, and letting the likes of Paulinho and Ralf knock the ball around casually.

However, Corinthians were also clever without the ball. They didn’t press Chelsea’s centre-backs constantly, but lone striker Paolo Guerrero occupied David Luiz to prevent him moving forward on the ball, and Gary Cahill was left free. His passing lacked incision and contributed to Chelsea’s slow passing, while in midfield Corinthians got into positions to press near the halfway line, preventing forward passes being played into Ramires and Frank Lampard.

Juan Mata was sometimes left in too much space, and Corinthians weren’t particularly compact, but Chelsea lacked a mdifielder with space (or ball-playing ability to find him). As a result, their passing was unambitious and sideways, and they didn’t pick up the tempo until the final few minutes.


Chelsea were in a straightforward 4-2-3-1, but Corinthians played an unusual modification of that system – although as explained here by Roberticus, it’s not unusual for them. On the right, Henrique stayed in position and offered Alessandro defensive support, which was crucial considering how dangerous Chelsea were down that flank against Monterrey. But on the other side, Corinthians were very fluid. Normally, in a 4-2-3-1 like this, you’d expect Emerson to drop back and be part of the second bank of four. But instead, he stayed high up in a position to counter-attack – often Guerrero’s closest support – and Danilo shuffled over to the left, despite nominally being a central midfielder.

That fluidity was why Benitez started Moses rather than Oscar – a natural winger to take advantage of one-versus-one situations against the left-back, and Corinthians’ fluidity down that side was another reason Chelsea needed to play quickly. If their transitions were swift, they’d be able to exploit Corinthians’ lack of defensive shape, but if they played slowly, Corinthians could get Danilo back into position. The Brazilian side committed a few tactical fouls when Chelsea looked set to launch counter-attacks, underlining how scared they were of this approach.

At other points, seemingly when Chelsea had long spells of possession, Danilo narrowed slightly and Emerson defended the left, with Corinthians becoming more 4-1-4-1, which made them look less vulnerable to Mata between the lines.

Although Corinthians weren’t playing good attacking football – Emerson’s decision-making on the counter-attack was poor – they were successfully stifling Chelsea’s passing, and the number of long balls Chelsea played towards Fernando Torres was amazing. Lampard was generally the man to play those passes, and although a few were accurate and Torres’ first touch was often very good, it was incredible that Chelsea were so readily bypassing their attacking band of three, the playmakers Corinthians would have been most worried by.

Second half

The longer the game went on, the more it seemed Corinthians were successfully frustrating Chelsea. Their attacking play barely improved in terms of quality, but they were seeing more possession in good areas of the pitch, and eventually forced a scrappy goal.

The real question from the second half was why Benitez persisted with his starting XI for so long. The logic in starting Moses was sound, but if Chelsea were unable to get the ball to him (some odd, narrow runs from Moses hardly helped, and made his role in the side pointless), it clearly wasn’t working. It was amazing that Oscar – a player who could have lifted the tempo of the game, and prompted some fluidity and counter-attacking from Chelsea – was only introduced at 1-0.

Benitez’s other two changes were also very late – Cesar Azpilicueta replaced Branislav Ivanovic to offer more thrust from right-back on 82 minutes, while Marko Marin replaced Hazard on 86 minutes. The changes were both (a) unadventurous and (b) very late, which makes Benitez’s decisions difficult to understand.


It may have been a negative, reactive performance from Tite’s side, but the approach unquestionably worked in favour of the South American champions. They had to ride their luck, and depended upon Chelsea missing a couple of decent opportunities, but the game was played at the tempo they wanted, and they prevented Chelsea’s attackers from having a significant influence on the game.

Did they do enough with the ball? Probably not. This won’t go down as a great example of how to attack a stronger side, but it was a fine demonstration of defensive football through clever positioning and pressing.

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