Premier League Tactical Analysis: Wigan Athletic vs. Chelsea
Chelsea's season of expectation got off to a rocky start. Despite grabbing three points at the DW Stadium, they did so in uncertain circumstances.
Roberto Martinez's unorthodox three-at-the-back system caused Roberto Di Matteo's 4-2-3-1 all sorts of problems, and Chelsea failed to control the game as they would have liked.
Here's how both teams lined up on Sunday afternoon:
*Wigan used three central defenders and two wing-backs, Chelsea used two holding midfielders and an interchanging midfield three.
Martinez continues to use an intriguing system that rarely receives the attention it should. Three central defenders is a bold move—especially by a team continually threatened by relegation—but except for an early hiccup, it looked solid once more.
Maynor Figueroa played left wing-back in place of the injured Jean Beausejour, while Emmerson Boyce was impressive on the right.
Wigan's confusingly named midfield duo James McCarthy and James McArthur were energetic, fluid and dominant. Shaun Maloney, playing in a left-wing spot, was actually the playmaker in the team, so to have him come off early was a blow.
Roberto Di Matteo opted for the fashionable 4-2-3-1. Eden Hazard played on the right side of the "three," Juan Mata through the middle and Ryan Bertrand on the left.
Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel were tasked with sitting deep in a setup that is typically built to control.
Except Chelsea didn't even try to control the game—after a blistering start, they counterattacked for 84 minutes.
How to beat 3 at the back
To be fair to Di Matteo, counterattacking is the best method available to overcome a three-man defence. Any system using wing-backs can build sustained pressure and look dominant, but it's forever threatened by a pacey turnover.
That's exactly what happened for the first goal. Four passes in 10 seconds saw Branislav Ivanovic steaming toward goal and no mistake was made with the finish.
While relying exclusively on the counter saw Chelsea through the game with a clean sheet and a win, it was risky to say the least when several other strategies were available.
There's no doubt Di Matteo had the personnel at his disposal to control this game from start to finish, but he allowed Martinez's side to dictate the pace.
Wigan's game plan
McCarthy completed 46 passes, McArthur managed 60 while Mikel completed 49 for Chelsea. It's not often you see these two teams matched for possession and passing.
The team was clearly set out to control proceedings, and the two-goal deficit suffered early didn't hinder them or alter their belief in the system at all.
Figueroa was the focal point of most attacks, as he stayed wide to the touchline and reeled in 54 passes to himself. Ivanovic was the target, clearly, and had the crosses been accurate, Petr Cech could have had a tough day.
Food for though
Chelsea have the players and potential to challenge for the title this season, but not if they play like that. It's tough to criticise a 2-0 win away from home on the opening day, but this was far from the assured performance we expected.
Only one debut was given, and a further one more from the bench, so this team is already gelled to the point where they can walk out and play coherent football.
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