More Possession = More Control = Disciplined Football. Really??

What a week it’s been for us Chelsea fans! A giant step towards the Premier League title with a win over Manchester United, Eden Hazard scoring the winner and a performance that went exactly according to plan.

United had 71% of the possession at Stamford Bridge, and it wasn’t too long before the critics arrived in drones to give us stick. How can we park the bus at home, they asked? “Jose Mourinho may win the title, but he’ll never win hearts”, seems to be doing the rounds a lot nowadays as well.

I have even had conversations with Chelsea fans who seem to think that this is not the right kind of football for a club aiming to be champions. I always have and will always disagree.

We haven’t been at our best for some time now. But, in that run, we haven’t lost a single game. That says a lot, really! Against United, we had our two best strikers out injured and were playing a 37 year-old up front. It’s hardly an excuse, but Didier Drogba is no Diego Costa. Circumstances force teams to play a certain way, and making it tick and winning games despite everything are marks of true Champions.

Let’s look at it this way – Is there a ‘right way’ to play the game of football? Does the rule book state that having more possession will be determinant between who wins and loses? The way people go on about possession, you would think that Manchester United should have been crowned champions at Stamford Bridge.

Parking the Bus Vs Disciplined Football

Now there’s a lot of difference between parking the bus and disciplined football. Parking the bus, which West Ham United did when they visited the Bridge last year, means a side shows no intention of winning the match at all. They defended deep, had every man in their own half, and cleared at the first opportunity. Parking the bus is what we did in the second leg at the Nou Camp in 2012 UEFA Champions League, not what we did on Saturday.

It’s quite simple and you would think that more people would get it. For one, I can’t understand Arsenal fans criticizing us. Afterall, it’s taken Arsene Wenger a decade to realise how to do it. The Gunners’ performance at the Etihad Stadium this season was absolutely magnificent, as they maintained their shape and discipline and hit with menace on the counter-attack.

And despite all that has been said, I felt Chelsea controlled the game on Saturday. United were brilliant, but in the end, were not able to carve out more than two-clear opportunities in the entire game. One for Wayne Rooney in the opening stages of the match, and one for Radamel Falcao in the second half.

We let them have the ball in midfield, but once they got into our final third, we were impenetrable. This is not the first time we have done this since Mourinho’s return either. This season, even though our defence has been really sloppy at times, we have more often than not, never looked like conceding at all. Against Arsenal at the Bridge in October, we didn’t see much of the ball in the second half, but looked as safe as houses at the back. And when we did win possession, a simple ball over the top put Diego Costa through to score our second goal and kill the game.

Disciplined football is about doing exactly what you want to do when you have the ball, and making the opposition do exactly what you want them to when you don’t. It’s about remaining compact, keeping your shape and knowing exactly where every individual will be and what he will be doing.

United may feel aggrieved to come away with nothing from the game, but this is a ploy we have used in the past several times to our advantage. And had Didier Drogba been able to hold the ball up like he did a decade ago, we would have won that game by a bigger margin. We would have seen much more of the ball too. A lot of it is down to circumstance, and having the right players at the right places.

Jose Mourinho is a pragmatist and the shrewdest manager by far in the Premier League. He has come under a lot of unfair criticism in the past for not playing attractive football. We are second highest scorers in the league and have more than both United and Arsenal. This same Chelsea side was tearing apart every opposition in the first half of the season. Back then, these critics were nowhere to be found.

I remember a quote by Mourinho 10 years ago, which holds frighteningly true now as well. We were coming under a lot of stick for playing unattractive football, and the Special One responded with this:

“Tell, in England, which team plays better than Chelsea? Arsenal? Yeah? Better than us, huh? Ten points behind…..”

It’s about time people understood the tactics used by Mourinho and started differentiating it from defensive football. It hardly matters if others like watching us play or not. Graeme Souness said in his post-match analysis with Sky Sports that the Chelsea fans wouldn’t have enjoyed the United game, but to be honest, I loved the way we played. The assuredness of every passage of play was inconspicuous to most eyes, but it helped us control every movement and every pass. Marouane Fellaini didn’t get a kick thanks to another monstrous performance from Kurt Zouma, while the wingers weren’t allowed to get the ball onto their stronger foots to cross.

And like it or not, you’re going to see a lot of this from Chelsea in the coming years, as we enter our phase of glory with our Portuguese jewel at the helm.

If I haven’t been convincing enough, then, well, stuff it:
‘Champions of England, we know what we are.’

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Edited By: Harshal Ahire

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