Since I am currently on holiday with my family, I hadn’t planned to do a second match review this week. However I caught the replay of yesterday’s Chelsea-Bolton match, and thought I’d at least give the starting formation and a few thoughts.
– This matchup of Bolton’s 4-4-2 and Chelsea’s 4-3-3 leads to the typical 3-on-2 central midfield matchup, where the two CM’s (in this case, Stuart Holden and Fabrice Muamba) would be outmanned by the three CM’s in the 4-3-3 (Frank Lampard, Ramires, and Michael Essien). This is misleading, though. Throughout much of the match, Frank Lampard was well-advanced into the attacking quadrant, nearly leading Chelsea’s formation to be a 4-2-3-1 a la Arsenal. I’m not sure if this was Carlo Ancelotti’s attempt to generate scoring, but the announcers remarked at the effectiveness of Holden and Muamba, and I think this is partly because of the shape of Ancelotti’s midfield as much as the workrate of the two Bolton center midfielders.
– Bolton’s defense was predicated on a high line, trying to force advanced forwards Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka offside as much as possible. This was very effective in the first half. Chelsea started the game without much verve or focus, especially moving forward. That changed after halftime. One problem with trapping offsides is that it takes discipline on the backline. Another is that the assistant isn’t perfect, and could miss a call. On Chelsea’s goal, one, the other, or both were a factor. As Essien made a gifted run through the midfield in the 61st minute, Drogba fell behind Zat Knight and Gary Cahill. Unfortunately for Bolton, right back Sam Ricketts reacted to a false break by left wing Florent Malouda, and had not held the high line. Regardless of this error, it was not completely clear whether Drogba remained onside. The linesman ruled him legal. Drogba gathered the through pass, delivered it in front of a streaking Malouda, and the Frenchman drove home the deciding goal.
– As Bolton began to tire, especially the midfield, they still had an opportunity to squeeze an away point from Chelsea. The Blues never looked particularly comfortable offensively, but the Trotters’ direct, aerial attack was ineffective throughout the endgame. Owen Coyle removed Matthew Taylor (78th minute) and Stuart Holden (82nd minute) in the final stages. From the Taylor substitution, Bolton completed 23 of 47 passes, less than 50 percent. They could not maintain any kind of forward momentum to get quality chances in the final third.
– Finally, to add to the previous point, the aerial attack is predicated on the strength of the forwards winning challenges. In the second half, Bolton were 2 for 9 in offensive half aerial challenges. Add to this the poor results from passing in open play, and they had little opportunity to challenge Petr Cech in the last 15 minutes of play. Their best opportunity in the 77th minute, when Sam Ricketts crossed a ball into the area and Holden headed a ball on net. Cech swatted the shot over the bar.
This victory for Chelsea should definitely quell some of the unease that has been caused by their recent play. Bolton has been a successful side throughout the first half of the campaign. This Chelsea team still looks like a much different squad than stormed the early part of the fixture list. This is a result they can use to build confidence towards a run at the leaders.
For Bolton, this match showcased the depth issues that may begin to crop up as this busy period continues. Rodrigo was decent against Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda, but the loss of Chung-Yong Lee to the Asian Cup will not be easy to weather. As the fixtures come fast, Coyle will need to manage fitness versus results to hold their position near a European spot in the table.