Early Doors

Tactics Bored: Chelsea’s masterplan revealed

The world of tactics and statistical analysis got very, very touchy yesterday when The Guardian ran a When Saturday Comes article on the web.

The ‘writer’ who decided to have a pop was clearly acting from a position of real insecurity over his talent, and as well as that he was obviously worried because tactics and analysis is the future of prose.

Nobody can offer insight like the tactic bods, nobody can deconstruct a game into less than the sum of its parts like we can. It’s safe to say that anyone sniping and mocking this kind of work is a very sad, bitter and lonely individual who deserves nothing but pity.

Meanwhile, the latest round of Premier League games were critical to the title race. For some inexplicable reason, Liverpool have fallen from the title challenge despite buying Mamadou Sakho, terrible for the last two years, and Kolo Toure, terrible for the last three years.

As well as that, Brendan Rodgers' perspicacious understanding of tactics - false wingers in the seven-and-a-half role, Luis Suarez between the lines, tucked in round the corner as a reverse winger - promised much, only for the club to draw 1-1 with West Brom.

However, it came down on Monday to Manchester City and Chelsea, who along with Arsenal are now contesting the Premier League title race. It was tactically fascinating, as most low-scoring games are.


The key battles in the match between Manchester City and Chelsea were the midfielders against the midfielders, the strikers against the centre-backs, the strikers against the goalkeepers and the wide players against the full-backs.

As you can see in the diagram below, the wingers would move left, right, forwards and backwards, and sometimes diagonally. Also aping that movement were the strikers, midfielders, centre-backs, full-backs and goalkeepers. By moving towards or away from players, or towards some players but away from others, and by moving towards or away from the ball but at the same time towards and away from various players better than Manchester City did, Chelsea were able to score one goal.

Because they moved towards and away from the ball and players less well than Chelsea, Manchester City scored no goals. This is not an easy thing to get a hold of, so the diagram below describes the full range of movements by the players on the pitch last night.


John Terry last night remarked that it was ‘typical Mourinho’ for him to have spent a couple of days with his team working on the weaknesses of the opposition. For Manchester City, those weaknesses are fairly obvious: Martin Demichelis and Joe Hart.

The problem with Martin Demichelis and Joe Hart is that they are Martin Demichelis and Joe Hart, respectively. To target those weaknesses - by attacking them rather than simply defending against their quality - was smart. But that’s not what John Terry was talking about:

No, as the diagram above demonstrates, Mourinho - known somewhat disparagingly by some Barcelona supporters as “The Translator” due to his work under Bobby Robson and then Louis van Gaal - had researched how Alan Pardew had earlier goaded Manuel Pellegrini in the season, by saying to him, “Shut your noise, you f***ing old c***.” Mourinho took that, used his linguistic skills and translated it into Spanish to make the insult even more cutting. When things got stressed, he could rile Pellegrini by whispering, “Callate la boca, g*********, viejito de m*****.” Typical Mourinho.


From Newcastle managers and swearing, we move on to swearing ex-Newcastle managers. Although Joe Kinnear was under pressure from Pardew and the Newcastle hierarchy for effecting just two signings, and loan signings at that, in his time as director of football, it was in fact a heated tactical argument between Pardew and Kinnear that resulted in him tendering his resignation.

Kinnear had, rightly, wanted to move Jonas Gutierrez, now at Norwich, into the middle of the pitch to become a central winger - predicted by tactics experts a couple of years earlier as the next big tactical trend - but Pardew wanted to use potential signing Clement Grenier as a kind of inverted libero, as predicted by another tactics expert slightly more recently.

This argument built as the two men would swap especially-commissioned heatmaps and statistical analyses of the two ideas, showing that the conversion rate and expG would be highest if their own plan was used. Of course, once expG is referenced in an argument, things can get extremely emotional extremely quickly, and that was the trigger for the total breakdown of the relationship, when Kinnear cc’d this heatmap onto everyone at Newcastle, including Pardew:

And as we all can tell, Kinnear had made his position untenable.

Alexander Netherton - @lxndrnthrtn