Football Focus, Everton-Chelsea: Mourinho’s men lack final product

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source:  Chelsea might have played conservatively in a 0-0 tie at Manchester United on Aug. 26, but manager José Mourinho’s team went for all three points against Everton on Saturday, even after going down a goal. Everton ended up winning, 1-0, but Chelsea clearly dominated the game.

Mourinho has shown a willingness to adapt to unique game situations as they present themselves, changing his team’s approach as the timeline progresses. On Saturday, that meant moving from a central-focused passing strategy in a 4-2-3-1 in the first half to a more width-based 3-5-2 when Chelsea chased the game late.

Partly as a result of Everton dropping in to defend a one-goal lead, Chelsea attempted and connected more passes in the attacking third in the second half, going 70 out of 101 compared to 37 out of 56 in the first 45 minutes.

Creating central overloads, wide isolation

Throughout the game, Chelsea won the midfield battle. It completed 228 of 255 passes in the middle third, compared to Everton’s 122 of 157. In the first half in particular, it concentrated its possession in the middle of the field.

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With Andre Schürrle pinching in from the right side, Chelsea had numerical superiority in the middle of the field at all times. Even when Everton withdrew its wingers to defend, it left space to complete short passes in the middle of the field. Chelsea used five or six players at a time to crowd out Everton’s 4-3-3 in the middle and find space to move the ball.

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In turn, that created isolation in wide areas that Chelsea was unable to really exploit in the first half. Eden Hazard stayed wider than Schürrle, and while Branislav Ivanović overlapped Schürrle, Ashley Cole played more conservatively. Even center backs John Terry and David Luiz picked their moments to go forward.

Comfortable defending vs. getting stretched

Defensively, Chelsea dropped into a disciplined 4-4-2 when Everton possessed the ball in its back half.

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Drawing a line of confrontation around the top half of the center circle, Chelsea always had numbers behind the ball when Everton looked to build slowly out of the back, which is manager Roberto Martínez’s preferred style. The danger came when Chelsea had the ball, threw numbers forward and got hit on the counter-attack.

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Again, only the center backs stayed home consistently (and even that depended on the situation). In this early instance above, both Cole and Ivanović have advanced, and John Obi Mikel and Ramires are too far away from the back line to effectively act as a shield.

The gaps between defenders are massive. The team is stretched. Ivanović and Cole recover in time to help Terry and David Luiz clear the danger, but Chelsea is perhaps only saved by the fact that Everton’s wingers are so far withdrawn to help the defensive cause.

Only right winger Steven Naismith and target man Nikica Jelavić are in dangerous positions when Everton wins the ball.

Falling flat in late-game 3-5-2

source:  Down a goal late in the game, tactics often go out the window, and teams start forcing long balls to get opponents on the back foot and create mistakes. However, although Chelsea’s approach changed when Fernando Torres entered and Cole exited the game in the 69th minute, it did not move to long-ball tactics per se.

The remaining defenders pinched in centrally, with David Luiz moving to the left side to allow Terry to anchor a back three. The Brazilian still found moments to get forward, and Mikel and Ramires dropped back to support a numerically smaller defensive line.

From that point, the idea was to get the ball wide in attack, with Ramires and Hazard now running the wings. Striker Samuel Eto’o pulled lower than Torres and worked his way from flank to flank to support movements.

After the 69th-minute sub, despite now having two center forwards, they received only one pass inside the penalty area between the two of them, and Chelsea completed none of its eight attempted crosses, with Everton blocking two. So while the focus in attack changed, the success rate did not.

Chelsea threatened all game long, passing well through the middle of the field and having opportunities to penetrate. But in the end, the final movement lacked.

José Mourinho: ‘If you don’t score a goal, what you create means nothing’

Mourinho summed it up in his post-game comments (via BBC):

If you don’t score a goal, what you create means nothing. It is a simple story. You have to put the ball in the net. Artistic football without goals is no good. We didn’t have killer instinct. … We didn’t deserve to lose because we were the best team, because we played the best football, dominated the whole game, because we had 21 shots and we risked everything we could. In that sense, it is fair to say we deserved to win the game. The other way to look at it is that a team that has 21 shots, some of them easy shots and easy situations to score and then don’t score, and makes a mistake in the last minute of the first half — maybe with that, I should say we deserve to lose.

Playing proper possession soccer is difficult, especially in the final third. The combination of team movement and individual brilliance needed to score goals in that type of system eludes most coaches in the world. Mourinho’s teams have proven to have that ability more times than not, but it usually takes more than four games in a season to be able to do it against top opposition.

Just as Tottenham Hotspur seemed to have found its spark last weekend, Chelsea will likely do the same. If possession is a patient game, waiting for the payoff to possession requires even more perseverance. Most managers don’t get time in the modern game, but as Mourinho has proven his worth, he will get the time to make it right.

And he will make it work.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.