A struggling Chelsea entertains an in-form Crystal Palace in what could be one of the matches of this weekend. Chelsea goes into this match without their talismanic skipper and with an adjustment to their front three following the arrival of Pedro from Barcelona earlier this month.
John Terry is close to irreplaceable in the Chelsea team. Their Premier League win last season was mainly down to a spine of 4 players that were almost always available. Very rare suspensions to their key players and an almost injury free season for Courtouis, Terry, Matic and Willian – the most important 4 in Mourinho’s tactics – contributed heavily to last term’s successes. Terry is not only the team’s captain, he is a natural leader, pushes his teammates to their limits, gets them out of trouble time and time again, organises the defence, makes players like Cahil look world class defenders and of course contributes his fair share of goals. His importance to Mourinho’s team is signified by him playing every minute of last season’s campaign despite his advancing age.
What happens with Pedro on the Wing
Willian is the most underrated player in Chelsea’s team. He is the ultimate Mourinho-type player in that he offers an incredible work rate and tremendous tactical flexibility. Mourinho gives an all out attacking license to Hazard and expects Azpelecueta to be conservative in his forward ventures so that opponents do not exploit the gaps behind Hazard. On the other flank Ivanovic is given license to roam and attack – leaving a lot of space behind him for Willian to cover. He is also instrumental when his team is trying to reover the ball – generally dropping as deep as Matic to act as a second DM, something that Fabregas is incapable of doing. As impressive as Matic is, it is an impossible task for one player to be responsible for breaking up opposition plays if the other 4 midfielders are on attacking duties. Willian’s engine allows Mourinho to utilise him as a secondary DM. Not only does he contribute to his team’s defensive duties, his blistering pace allows him to bring the ball forward with lightning speed when his team is under the cosh, resulting in a number of very successful counter attacks.
The West Brom game indicated that Mourinho is planning on replacing Willian with Pedro on the right wing, with Willian playing through the middle in the number 10 role – the question he needs to answer now is, who will be providing the defensive support in Willian’s absence, especially cover for Ivanovic? Or will he opt for dropping one of Fabregas or Willian for Ramires?
What should Pardew do?
Alan Pardew has the perfect team to hurt Mourinho. He has a choice between three really pacey and tricky wingers in Puncheon, Zaha and Bolasie – this season he has been favouring the first pair over the latter. He also plays with midfield trio of Mc Arthur (ball retrieval), Cabaye (distribution) and Sako (attacking midfielder).
Pardew should focus on Chelsea’s right flank by giving clear instruction to Zaha to exploit the spaces behind Pedro and Ivanovic. He also has another blessing in disguise in Sako. A left winger by trade, Sako should focus on supporting Zaha in attacking Ivanovic by providing overlaps and run-ins on the left side. In Cabaye they also possess a player that is capable of picking the wingers run perfectly from a deep lying midfield position. Azpilicueta’s flank is too solid defensively to even attempt to break down – none of the 7 goals that Chelsea conceded this season have come from Azpilicueta’s flank. Puncheon’s focus should be to stretch the Chelsea line to open up gaps between Cahil and Zouma for Murray to get on the end of the left wing crosses. He should also provide midfield support to help with ball retrieval.