The game of football is often decided by details explored by the winning team or discarded by the losing team. Certainly nobody wants to lose, but the result of a game surely tells how well the teams involved gave attention to details. Such details could be on how the team defend, attack, handles opposition pressing and pressure, adherence to the rules of the game, and even the mentality of the team. These details bring about the defining moments in games. But nothing kills a team more than its weak links. Malcolm Gladwell gives examples of both weak link and strong link in his Revisionist History podcast train. He explains how soccer is a weak link and basketball is a strong link sport. Studies show that if a team wants to win a game of soccer, they should upgrade the worst players on the team. In the game of soccer, Gladwell says, “You will never see one person dribble the soccer ball from one end of the field to another.” A lot of players have to touch the ball to make a goal. If one does not upgrade the weakest links on the team, they will drag the rest of the team down. In soccer, the worst players on a team are the most important. On the other hand, Gladwell also states that basketball is a strong link sport. A strong link is like professional basketball because studies show that if people want to win basketball games, you should upgrade the top one to two players on the team. Basketball is a star playing game. For example, Lebron James does not need anyone else to touch the ball if he wants to win. A basketball team doesn’t get that much better if upgrading the weak links, it’s more of a one person sport.
Chelsea’s game against Arsenal last weekend badly exposed the weak links of both teams – defensive frailty. For the Gunners, defensive frailty has always been their greatest undoing in previous seasons, and so it was no surprise to see them flounder. For Chelsea, our biggest strength has been our defensive solidity. We are often hard to break down – very compact, physically strong and astute. It was alarmingly shocking for fans to see our defence dissected and torn apart in 15 first half minutes by an Arsenal team that is believed to be far from being as good as other genuine rivals in the top six. The fact that the Gunners clawed their way back on level terms was enough to show we need to improve defensively. We surely and quickly need to upgrade our weak links through tactical reconsiderations.
Here are 3 ways to solve our defensive issues:
GIVE PROTECTION TO THE FULL BACKS:
Chelsea’s attacking style under Sarri surely needs the attacking contributions of our full backs – overlapping into wide channels alongside the wingers to create additional width and overload the flanks of opposition teams. This stretches the width of the pitch and stretches attacking play, thereby causing the opposition defense line to play deep and flat. To our advantage, we have more players in the box as the midfield players can take goal scoring positions in the final third; thus increasing our chances of scoring. But if the opposition team launches a counterattack, this will be real problem for us like we saw against Arsenal. The opposition will look to get the ball into the wide channel spaces left by the fullbacks causing the midfield and defense to panic and lose shape. To keep our attacking threat and still be defensively astute, two midfield players should be instructed to take up strict tactical positions close to the fullback areas to give them protection. And when attacking, our defence lines drops a little bit deep to be able to read the attacking plan of the opposition team and be prepared to kill it.
RECONSIDER HIGHLINE DEFENSIVE PLAY:
Sarri’s call for up-field pressing by the team means Chelsea will play with highline defense. This means attacking play starts from the defenders which makes Sarri-ball more possible as other outfield players take up good positions. But the danger of this is that any error by the defenders is likely costly. More so, the space between the defenders and the goalkeeper could be exploited by teams with pace and skillful players in attack. The best thing is to get back to the art of basic defending. The defenders could keep a highline but not too far away from goal. They should be urged to make quick interplay with the midfielders and then retreat to cover up spaces left behind. They should time their occasional surge up-field as they supply passes for transitional play. This way they are not caught out of position, prone to errors or even exploited by attacking players from opposition teams.
CREATE A BLUEPRINT FOR DISCILPINED FULL BACK ATTACKING PLAY:
During Jose Mourinho’s reign as Chelsea boss, the tactical blueprint for solid defensive play was disciplined attacking play by the fullbacks. This is how it works. First, the fullbacks are not allowed to cross the halfway line of the pitch in normal play. But if the team attack is launched on the right side, then the right fullback joins the attack, while the left fullback joins the defence to create a back three, and vice versa. This way, there is limited danger of getting caught at the back.