Lupines lulled by Chelsea lions
As pleasant as it was to reconnect and reward Diego Costa with a humorously long ceremonial walk-off, the manner in which the game was won was significantly more enjoyable. Two three-nil wins on the trot, two clean sheets, two different formations, two essentially different squads, all while capitalised by six different goal scorers ought to bring joy to all of us. I had put emphasis in the Milan analysis about the potential synthesis of a fully utilised squad being a valuable asset, and Graham Potter continues to embrace that ideology.
The fact that the new manager has given a start to players lacking minutes is fantastic, that they produced is even better, and the attitude that will create amongst the camp will certainly continue to increase contention for starting spots and bring the best out of the lot. That sort of healthy but competitive environment is conducive to success, and establishing such a culture will benefit all involved if players remain happy with the situation. That Potter has seemingly achieved it so quickly is impressive, and long may it thrive in that locker room.
While it was certainly the makings of a back four, with an abundance of our attack focused on the right flank, the asymmetrical defending played a role once again. As Azpilicueta progressed forward relentlessly, Cucurella’s versatility was tasked while sliding further central into the back line to morph into essentially a back three. Both Trevoh Chalobah and Kalidou Koulibaly had tremendous cohesion as a centre back pairing and helped keep our opposition scoreless for the last 232 minutes and counting, doing so while in a unique and different setup than against Milan midweek. The amalgamation of a back 3 or 4 was perhaps more defined by roles and responsibilities than rooted positions. Even as Cucurella covered a more central position to cover for the progressive right flank, Jorginho was essentially the sole holding midfielder and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, having been revived as a deeper lying midfielder, was more transitional as a no. 8. While Loftus-Cheek and Jorginho repeatedly swapped sides (if indeed they would be considered the holding pair), Mason Mount would alter his positioning based on where Loftus-Cheek and Jorginho were located. The positioning was intricate, adjustable, and required intelligent players to get it right.
That right sided attack led to countless chances through virtually all playing down that flank, and the fluidity between them (and Mount as he drifted that way) was making marking them difficult – Wolves couldn’t sort out who should be picking up whom. Once again, on the occasions that the attack came down the left side, Christian Pulisic or Marc Cucurella took their attacks more centrally than down the touchline due to their relative isolation.
The attacking midfield held some specific construction, so while the ever-mobile Mount was drifting to either side to help with the attack and sometimes found himself wider than the wingers, Pulisic and Gallagher immediately returned to their starting positions after the attack broke down or once Mount’s movement dictated it. It seems that Potter has both encouraged offensive fluidity and endeavour while demanding a structural and defensively-responsible adherence to his specifically designed game plan.
For yet another match, we should be happy to see the number of shots that were obtained from inside the opposition box. The Analyst just wrote a piece about the effectiveness of Haaland being so directly resultant of his presence inside the penalty area, and if our chances continue to come not only at such a rate but from such a location, there is no doubt that we will continue to see positive results. The xG maps shot location and indeed overall xG have increased dramatically since Potter took over, but that has perhaps put a magnifying glass over all those chances created that are gone begging, especially in the first half.
We should duly note that even if our shots towards goal are not going perfectly, not just our shots against but specifically shots against on target have dropped significantly in the 4 games while Potter has been in charge. While only conceding 9 shots on target and a cumulative 2.57 xG from those shots conceded, which isn’t spectacular, there is a marked improvement from the last few games of the Tuchel tenure. In those last four with Tuchel, we conceded 18 shots on target which accumulated a total of…I kid you not…6.66 xG. Like what had happened upon Tuchel’s arrival, the defense has been shored up, but the offense has become a bit more lively and invasive into the opposition area, just perhaps without the ideal end product as of yet.
For all that invasiveness, the timing map and first half shot map tell two stories, and this was one problem that did seem consistent with the Tuchel era, an inability to finish off the chances we were getting. Our xG by the end of the first half did not exceed 1.0 and yet there were 15 attempted shots. The criticism I had of the Milan game was that our possession stats dipped, and I will get to that in a moment, but another glaring issue would be the poor finishing that was evident in the first half of this game. We must do better to compete in this league, with both our shots and shots on target being 10th and 11th respectively of all PL sides.
Thank goodness for Kai Havertz’s goal, despite the fact that he seemed to nearly not be on the ball at all prior to it. The goal comes more down to the tenacity of Mason Mount to keep the ball and attack alive after a corner in the dying embers of the first half all but seemed to be taking us to the break – his work rate and cross made the goal happen. Especially as it was the last touch of the first half and that Christian Pulisic killed any hope of Wolves scavenging a point from the match by doubling the lead shortly after the break, we can count our blessings.
I pointed out the issue with consistent possession we had against AC Milan in the last article, and that became true again – especially in the 45-60th minutes, where it dipped to an astonishingly low 28% and Wolves were dictating the game. Had Pulisic not taken his chance during those same minutes, those dips in possession could have haunted us. Game maintenance and management is something that this Potter side has yet to clearly demonstrate, and the fact that we are so often scoring late goals might be making that issue seem less worrying than it ought.
The second half Pulisic goal was a thing of pure beauty, but we know that Mount can thread a pass and that Pulisic can be a prolific finisher – we have seen both before, and let’s hope to see far more of each. The introduction of Armando Broja, which resulted in his first ever Chelsea goal, is something worth highlighting, specifically because of the style of play that is offered while Broja is on the pitch. It also seemed to put us in something of a 4-4-2 temporarily, with Broja on the left and Havertz on the right of the top line. Despite limited game time, Broja finished the game with 6 presses, two progressive carries (with only three touches overall), and, most importantly, a fantastic goal. His direct runs and attempts to get behind a back line are a joy to watch, and, if the hype is to be believed, he could have a future quite similar to Costa…
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Equally exciting was the debut for Carney Chukwuemeka, who showed exactly the sort of talent he’s been touted to possess. Again, Potter’s utilisation the entire breadth of this squad and seeing them succeed can only bring smiles to our faces.
We will continue to be fortunate with our schedule (the opponents, not the pacing) until November, which will see us play an entirely different Arsenal (against whom we have a miserable record of late), Manchester City, and a new-brand Newcastle prior to the oddly placed World Cup. These games need to continue to show progression and performances need to reflect that prior to those matches if we are to be truly prepared for them.
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