StatsTalk: Evolution of Mourinho’s Midfield
In the previous article of the series, we talked broadly about how things have slowly been turning around in terms of how Chelsea play the beautiful game. There has been an improvement in terms of the aesthetic aspect of the style adopted by the Blues. As we discussed, there have been some key changes made by Mourinho that have inculcated the new style. It is time to look at one these aspects closely.
The major points of change in the title winning campaign from the season prior to that were the strike force as well as the midfield behind it. Nemanja Matic had been good since his mid-season arrival back at the Bridge but his contribution garnered the limelight once Fabregas became blue and partnered the imposing Serb in one of the best midfield pairs of the league. As a result many things changed, starting with the amount of involvement with the first team that John Obi Mikel and Ramires received. Both are hard working, loyal Blues for years now, but they were not good enough at times. Thus the reduction in their status was justified.
Here’s how this change impacted Chelsea’s performance between 2013-14, Mourinho first season back in charge and his title winning campaign of 2014-15:
Having seen his team lose the title to Manchester City’s vibrant attacking game and even finishing behind
Liverpool Luis Surez in the points table, Mourinho knew what he wanted. All this despite beating every other team within the top four. Although it is hard to imagine Mourinho doing something because of the way his opposition played, the final table numbers must have been the real motivation.
The arrival of Fabregas and his pairing with Matic in the center of the field created a midfield that was shielding its defence supremely, as well as being breathtakingly creative. Let’s break down the above statistics for a clearer picture on a per game basis.
With John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Frank Lampard being played in the midfield, Chelsea were a good team but not on a level comparable to the eye watering tiki-taka that some love while others loath. As things transpired Fabregas and Matic became the lynchpins of the midfield and a big number was added to the total number of passes Chelsea made in every game.
2013-14 witnessed Chelsea pass the ball around a good 470 times in each game. A good number but still short of 500 per game, a hallmark of great times. As things came to be in the title winning campaign, Chelsea surpassed that feat by a good margin. The Blues made 514 passes on average in every game. This certainly made them look better. Besides, it definitely helped get the best out of players like Hazard, Oscar, Costa as well as Fabregas.
In fact, not just Fabregas, but Matic himself has an eye for some great passes over the course of the game once he is in the mood. This had not been possible with the previous year’s players and was definitely a consequence of Mourinho’s tinkering with the squad that finished third a year before.
While the pass completion rate in both the seasons remained almost the same, the total successful passes increased directly in proportion to the increased number of passes being attempted by the players. The team benefited from a new approach where in the players were expected to keep more of the possession and find their team mates in shorter range.
The possession game of Chelsea might not have been as good as Van Gaal’s but they remained unbeaten against any top four side. A total of 430 passes were being exchanged per game between Chelsea players as opposed to the previous season’s 391. This made it harder for the opposition to keep the ball and gave them less time to plan and execute their moves. On the other hand, Chelsea kept the ball more strongly and attacked with it when they liked to do so.
Average Pass Length:
All the great passing sides play a short passing game. In the Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal in 2005, Wenger said this of Chelsea’s style of play:
“I’m not here to judge Chelsea’s game, they play their game and we play ours. I just feel that Drogba gave us a hard time on the long balls, but that’s not a criticism.”
If someone went back to him last november and reminded him of the comments he made after the aforementioned game, he would shake his head and deny ever saying so.
The pass length has not shortened by a mile but has been significant enough to mention. Besides, it may be an indication of things to come.
Assists per Game:
There is a simple fact about assists, they translate into goals. The more they are, the better the score card looks. If Fabregas wrecked havoc with his through balls, it was appreciated only because they were turned into goals by the front three of Chelsea. On most occasions his understanding with Costa had been telepathic regarding the positioning and precision of the assists. The assist numbers increased 50% for every game. Which could have translated into more goals for the team.
As it stands, there is room for Oscar and Willian to improve. Only the almighty knows what Cuadrado would contribute to the team but within them the potential is there for a significant increase in the number of assists still. Chelsea have remained a good goal-scoring side and would do well to remain more consistently attractively creative next season. The onus once again is on the new generation of midfielders post Super Frank.
Eden Hazard is yet to realize his full potential and has long term commitment to the club, which only bodes well for these numbers to improve further. If anyone saw the second half against Arsenal, it is easy to realize that Chelsea played more the Wenger style of game than Wenger’s team himself. The loss might have been bitter but it has laid the marker for the arrival of a new philosophy at Chelsea.
In the next continuation of the series, we will analyze the evolution of the defence.
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