Tactical Battles That Will Shape Chelsea's Clash with Schalke

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Tactical Battles That Will Shape Chelsea's Clash with Schalke
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Chelsea go into their Champions League clash with Schalke on Wednesday knowing that anything other than victory could harm their chances of progressing to the latter stages of the competition.

And Jose Mourinho's men will need to be on top form after seeing their nine-game unbeaten run come to an abrupt end, following the 2-0 shock defeat to Newcastle on Saturday.

They come up against the German side who have hit a slump after being plagued by injuries, with key players missing since the start of the campaign.

But Jens Keller's men still stand a good chance of qualifying from Group E with six points from their first three games and will take Basel's surprise 2-1 win over the Premier League giants back in September as motivation for believing victory is possible.

It should be a close encounter, with tensions running high and a sense of apprehension inevitable throughout the game for both sides as they seek to qualify.

And today, I take a look at some of the key tactical battles in the match.

 

Julian Draxler vs. Branislav Ivanovic

Lars Baron/Getty Images

The German starlet, courted by Chelsea for well over a year now, per Goal.com, was one of the few shining lights two weeks ago for Die Konigsblauen in Gelsenkirchen when Chelsea secured a comfortable 3-0 away win.

It's hard to believe Draxler is still only 20 years old, given his level of maturity shown in his performances in a Schalke shirt. His influence on the team is incredible, with Keller relying on the promising youngster to become the creative hub for the German outfit. Draxler operates anywhere behind the striker, equally adept cutting in from the wing as he is going through the middle, and his movement and creativity will be a danger for Chelsea.

With that in mind, it may be sensible for Mourinho to deploy a holding midfielder to ensure Draxler's influence is limited to a minimal amount. The alternative is to place the ever-reliant Serbian defender Ivanovic at right-back and ensure he tracks Draxler's runs.

His defensive positioning is usually sound, and the 29-year-old will have the important task of stopping the playmaker from linking up with the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng. Stop Draxler, and it's likely Chelsea will overcome Schalke.

 

Mourinho vs. Keller

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Tactics and mind games are what separate Mourinho from the rest of European football's managers. But lately, they haven't quite been going to plan.

Time and time again, we've seen the Portuguese tactician changing his setup in a bid to alter the team's fortunes. Switching from their conventional 4-2-3-1 setup to a bold 3-5-2 helps the team attack more in the late stages of the game, but it represents a problem for Mourinho. Why does he have to keep changing his formation during the game?

Seemingly, the 4-2-3-1 is becoming fairly predictable to play against. And, if Schalke are able to limit the attacking trio of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata or Oscar, not to mention Willian and Andre Schurrle, it becomes quite simple to break down. Mourinho may therefore decide to go with a slightly more adventurous 4-3-3 to give the side a more potent attacking threat.

Keller will have studied Basel's victory and taken from the game just how important the counter attack is against Chelsea. As the Blues pour forward, it's imperative to then win the ball high up the pitch and break away with pace and intensity. This is what Basel did, and combining this with Chelsea's poor showing, it helped them to victory.

The young German coach will need to utilise young star Draxler in the free role, allowing him to drop into pockets of space which will draw out either Chelsea's centre backs or holding midfielders. This will then allow Boateng to drift around as a false nine, picking up the ball from deep and trying to bring others into play.

Getting the tactics right from the off is key to both managers, especially for Mourinho, with the 50-year-old needing to prove the team has the ability to bounce back.

 

4-2-3-1 vs. 4-5-1

Scott Heavey/Getty Images

If Mourinho does opt to stay with his trusted 4-2-3-1 setup, the team may struggle to create clear-cut chances in front of Schalke's deep-lying defence.

Essentially, Keller will look to grab a point at least from Stamford Bridge, and as a result, the team could be set up as a 4-5-1 when defending, and a 4-2-3-1 for attacking.

It could represent a challenge for Mourinho, opting to stay with the double pivot. After all, having two midfielders against a possible three or four does not spell good news for Chelsea, and the energy that Schalke play with may frustrate the West London club.

With Fernando Torres out injured, Samuel Eto'o is expected to deputise in attack, but there lies a problem. For Chelsea, the former tends to drop deep and receive the ball into feet, bringing in other members of the team into play. The latter plays on the shoulder of the last defender and, against a side with a deep line, Eto'o could find himself isolated up top.

A change in tactics could help solve the problems Chelsea face at present. 

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