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Ruthless Chelsea expose predictable Bolton

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 11:13 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Bolton's renaissance under manager Owen Coyle has come at a time when his Chelsea counterpart Carlo Ancelotti seems to have been losing his grip on his side's title ambitions.

But the pair would have walked away from a chilly night at the Reebok on Monday thinking their teams are heading in different directions.

The 4-0 victory was perhaps a generous scoreline for the Londoners, but after a fine goal from Didier Drogba to set them on their way, they rarely looked troubled as they maintained a remarkable record at Bolton which has resulted in them winning eight games on the bounce without conceding a goal.

"I think we've turned the corner," said Ancelotti afterwards. "We are playing good football with a good attitude and a good mentality. I think we are coming back to fight for everything."

It was the first time Chelsea have won three consecutive games since a run which began in October but Coyle accepted his team, who had only lost once at the Reebok this season, were punished for its mistakes.

"Gretar Steinsson had a poor touch and was punished severely for the first goal," Coyle stated. "The second goal came from a corner which was not cleared and we paid a heavy price for bad decision making - the third goal our skipper [Kevin Davies] passed the ball to them.

"They got the bounce of the ball, it didn't go for us tonight, but to give up our terrific home record tonight is something we're disappointed with."

Bolton are fourth in the Premier League for long passes attempted


It is just over a year since the Scot joined Bolton from Burnley and while he has been credited with bringing more entertaining football to the Reebok after the years under Gary Megson and Sam Allardyce, the result would have been disappointing given that he has also made them harder to beat.

Statistics show that Bolton have only reduced the percentage of their long passing (35 yards and over) by a small amount from 22% under Megson last season to about 18% with Coyle. They are the fourth in Premier League for long passes attempted, behind Birmingham, Blackpool and West Brom.

But more revealing is that in the first half of last season - when Megson was still in charge - Bolton were conceding an average of two league goals a game. Following Coyle's appointment that figure dropped to 1.55 goals a game.

That also coincided with a drop in goals scored for Bolton (0.8 goals per game), which suggests that the Scot's priority was defensive solidity, but this season they have restored this to an average of 1.4 league goals a game with strikers Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies grabbing 16 between them. 

The quality of some of those strikes, including Elmander's effort against Wolves, Stuart Holden's sucker punch against Blackburn and Mark Davies's superb team goal against Blackpool show that it is not only statistically where Bolton have improved.

Mark Davies's ball-carrying from central midfield has been an apt portrayal of Coyle's shift in style. But against Chelsea he started on the bench with the more combative Fabrice Muamba alongside Holden.

That enabled Bolton to press Chelsea high up the pitch and they carved out several first-half openings when they got the ball wide to Martin Petrov who created headed chances for Kevin Davies and Matt Taylor.

But Chelsea weathered that storm and with Drogba's 33-yard strike on 11 minutes piercing Bolton's early optimism, Ancelotti's side became more comfortable soaking up the pressure and hitting Bolton on the break. 

One of the key reasons they were able to do this was because they had John Mikel Obi back in the side after an injury-hit period.

With full-backs Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa encouraged to get forward, the Nigerian often acts as Chelsea's third defender in addition to their centre-backs, and as a result they are less likely to concede goals.

So perhaps it has come as no surprise that his absence in recent weeks has coincided with the team's dip in form. 

Michael Essien, who has been out of sorts, and fellow midfielder Ramires, who is still getting to grips with the English game, have attempted to perform Mikel's role but they have not quite matched the 23-year-old in providing defensive protection. The other thing that Mikel provides is an easy pass out of defence.

Chelsea's defeat by Arsenal at the Emirates over the Christmas period provided a stark example of Mikel's worth when Ancelotti took him off at half-time, only to see the Gunners pinch the ball in exactly the kind of space he usually occupies and score twice in the 3-1 victory.

Chelsea do not mind if Cole and Bosingwa get forward. They know that if opponents attack their defence down the flanks, the aerial presence of centre-backs John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are more than capable of dealing with any crosses.

So if teams are to make an inroad into Chelsea's rearguard, they need to be able to mix their play, combining attacks from the wings and through the middle.

Average positions for Bolton's players in the game against Chelsea on Monday show they generally played far wider than Wolves, who beat Ancelotti's side 1-0 on 5 January.

Bolton tended to play in wider areas than Wolves

Mark Davies's introduction in the second half provided Bolton with a chance to vary their raids and he introduced fluidity to their midfield play almost instantly, combining with Elmander for a one-two that the midfielder just failed to get on the end of.

The only problem was that by then Bolton were 3-0 down but it would have been interesting to see if the former Wolves player could have made an impact had he been brought on earlier.

Bolton's evolution from a supposed long-ball team to a slicker outfit might have been dispelled by statistics but their success this season has come from an ability to blend the short and long, making them less predictable.

Unfortunately, a ruthless Chelsea display did not give them the chance.

You can also send your ideas for future analysis to me on Twitter


  • Comment number 1.

    Didn't watch the match, so I can't talk about Chelsea's performance. I did predict a 2-1 win for Chelsea, though. This 4-0 is really impressive, given that Spurs lost 4-2 there, while United got a lucky (?) draw.

  • Comment number 2.

    Glad someone has the sense to point out how important Mikel is to Chelsea.

    Hopefully Ancelotti will be daft enough to put him back on the bench when Lampard returns.

  • Comment number 3.

    Not a surprise Arsenal are the least team to have attempted Long passes.

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice analysis.
    I dcn't understand why people make such a big deal of the long ball played in a game. Football needs variety and, if applied cleverly, long ball can be a killer in a match. I remember long balls that have been admired in an Arsenal match. The difference is they were played by Barcelona.

  • Comment number 5.

    Next Mancini wants to talk about "long ball, long ball, long ball" Stoke City someone should show him this table.

    As a long time Stoke fan, I've never let anything get under my skin, but his ramblings are hard to take.

  • Comment number 6.

    As a neutral who watched the game last night, I'm not sure to what extent it can be seen as Chelsea being back and that it was due to tactics - from what I saw Bolton were absolutely awful. A lot of their passing was slopping, they failed to test Cech, crossing was poor, set pieces poor and there defending was poor and questions had to be asked about the keeping.

    The only one of the starting line up who seemed to play pretty well, was Zat Knight - not a person I'd have thought would! Mark Davies was a breath of fresh air when he came on.

    Goals 1 and 3 came directly from Bolton giving the ball away under little pressure (goal 3 especially poor from Davies, who turned around in disgust rather than chasing back) and goal 2 seemed to come from what should have been a difficult angle following a poor block from Cahill - seemed to be facing the wrong way.

    I have to say I don't really remember Mikel being outstanding, like I say Bolton could hardly pass

  • Comment number 7.

    jon obi mikel. the kid is not good enough, can't believe he deserves any praise at all. positionally all over the place, reckless in the tackle and a poor standard of passing. Shame as he has the attributes to be decent but has never managed to pull it off. The chelsea midfield is all about essien...

  • Comment number 8.

    Interesting to note that Villa are so low on the long passes table, given how many people were screaming that Houllier would turn them into Liverpool Mk.II, boot it up to Heskey and hope.

    As a Spurs fan, I really hope Chelsea aren't starting to turn things around, or that if they do it all falls apart over the next couple of weeks for Man City.

    Another good tactical blog, I'm really enjoying these. Looking forward to the next one.

  • Comment number 9.

    I would like to know when these stats were done? And as well how many passes each team have made in total to date?

  • Comment number 10.

    Long ball this, short ball that. Surely, the only ball that matters is a good ball, whatever length that may be.

    Also, if you are looking at stats to show tactics and how attractive a team is, then you're probably barking up the wrong alley.

    Firstly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Secondly, the stats show the number of 'long' passes, but not how many passes in total are played. I think it said in The Times yesterday that Chelsea have completed more passes than any other team this season. That being the case, it is likely that they have therefore had more long passes, all other things being equal.

    As for Mikel, I think he is a good player. His discipline positionally is very valuable. Also, he commits offences now much less than when he first arrived.

    If Essien has been less than impressive this season, I would say it is because he is trying to do too much in trying to cover for Ramires, while Ramires gets up to speed. The disruption whereby each of the first choice midfield three have been out at various times for different reasons does not help either!

    Finally, #6 mtrenners 'failed to test Cech'? That is simply wrong.

  • Comment number 11.

    Everyone seeming to love the tactics blog! Keep them coming!

    Would be nice to see the number of passes/completed passes too!

  • Comment number 12.

    The fact is this win will do wonders for the Chelsea morale. No matter whether Bolton had a poor game, going there and leaving 4-0 winners is not an every day thing.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting that Stoke are 5th from the bottom in lowest long ball passes being attempted league.

    I think such unfair criticism gets put onto Stoke and not put on Birmingham. They rarely score goals. They rarely concede either, However they are as much as a long ball as Stoke are. Even more infact but I've never seen anyone describe Bham as a long ball team.

    Birmingham only escape this criticism because they are one of those annoying teams who scramble the ball in the goal in the 93rd minute to make the score 1-1.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm speculating here, but given that I believe Stoke are still yet to have more than 50% possession in a Premier League match, perhaps the reason they are so low on the list is due to not having the ball to make passes.

    Not disparaging the team's tactics; just offering an explanation of the apparent anomaly.

  • Comment number 15.

    Essien,man of the match by far.Ramires had a good game too.If Lampard had played like the way Essien did,I could bet that this blog would have had a different heading,"Good old Frankie leads ruthless Chelsea".Then,they will start comparing him with "God knows who".
    Least,i forget,Mikel was not outstanding!!!!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    I had a feeling Phil McNulty's comparison of Bolton to Real Madrid was ever so slightly astray.

    Surprised to see a big tough guy like Kevin Davies wearing gloves.

  • Comment number 17.

    Mark Davies' introduction really was a breath of fresh air. Bolton seem to roll over against Chelsea and I'm not quite sure why, but he looked quite threatening - wish he had started.

    Anyone else thinks it is really odd to see a youngster in a Chelsea shirt - maybe its just because Josh M looks about 15!

    I think that Chelsea will finish 3rd this season - I don't think they'll beat Man U at OT and that could prove the difference between them and Arsenal.

    Arsneal do play beautiful football, no doubt about it.

  • Comment number 18.

    "a generous scoreline for the londoners" watching the game i was expecting to see 6-0, bolton where very lucky not to concede more they played aufully, once the first goal was in i was certain of victory just looking at there scrappy passsing and how frustrated they got so early on in the match, oncee maloudas goal went in they as good as gave up and it was a question of how many goals we would bang past them, chelsea in many ways showed mercy by taking it easy after the 3rd goal had they pressed for more it could have been an even more humiliating scoreline for bolton but really there performance was humiliating enough, by the 70th minute the stadium was clearing out.

  • Comment number 19.

    A long pass can mean a pass played over a distance on the floor as well as in the sky. So these stats can be fundamentally a little bit misleading.

  • Comment number 20.

    The reason stoke is so low on the list is because half their passes (or plays) is made of Delap throwing the ball into the opposition's box!!!

    Those should be counted as long passes too :-)))

  • Comment number 21.

    #19 cgg2033

    As I said earlier, an accurate pass is the best one, regardless of length.

  • Comment number 22.

    I welcome this more detailed look at tactics; lets have some more. For too long we have had over paid ex pro's sitting on sofas offering cliches rather than true analysis. Having said that I am not clear from reading the blog as to what Chelsea did differently last night compared to during the poor results over the last two months.
    Re long balls. Another factor is that a clearance can be deemed a long pass. Consequently those teams under the most defensive pressure are forced into the most clearances. The long ball table tells us no more than those teams at the top are struggling and little about their tactics.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi, Spurs fan here.

    From your table of 'long passes over 35 yards', Spurs are quite high up there, obviously with Crouch being a big reason, but quite suprised to see us up there to be honest!!

    Do you have stats on long pass/short pass ratio? or long pass over total number of passes? I'd like to know as well, cos it could just be a defensive team play square balls across their defence hence lots of short passes or just a team that doesn't gain enough possession to pass much at all, but they usually resort to long balls.... just a thought!


  • Comment number 24.

    @ 14,

    You'll be surprised but look at it and you'll see that there have been matches (plural) where Stoke had had majority of possession.

    Loving possession is an obsession. I mu,ch prefer United's game, taking advantage of the full width of the pitch, attacking with intend to score, than Arsenal's toothless pass-the-ball-until-it-sleeps approach.

  • Comment number 25.

    #22 SitkaSi

    Having said that I am not clear from reading the blog as to what Chelsea did differently last night compared to during the poor results over the last two months.
    Quite simply, they took more of the chances that came their way.

    Chelsea's possession, chances created and shots on target has not really changed in the last few months.

    So, was Drogba more affected by malaria than we realised or was he simply out of form? Why was Malouda started so much when he was struggling for form? Should Ancelotti have changed things more up front to stop the rot sooner?

  • Comment number 26.

    25. At 2:34pm on 25 Jan 2011, MrBlueBurns wrote

    Too scared to play the youngsters and drop the big names?

  • Comment number 27.

    I take it these kind of boring blogs are all we have got to look forward to now that 606 will be no more

  • Comment number 28.

    I agree. The blog content is ok on the whole, Its just the format of it is shiit. Much easier to engage in a debate with someone over on 606.

  • Comment number 29.

    #26 Mr Chelsea

    Possibly/probably yes. However, I think it is a mistake for Ancelotti to have stuck with a mis-firing front line for so long.

    I guess it's a bit of short termism, even for a manager that should have quite a bit of capital from his double winning debut season.

    I guess that top four is something of a raison d'etre at the moment, particularly if we are going to experience a transition for a season or two.

  • Comment number 30.

    What a poor blog this is today. Rather than a blog about tactic's, what we have actually got is a sort of mixed match report with minimal comment on Boltons style of play. The only comment about Chelsea's style of play was a personnel change with the re-introduction of Mikel, (the comments on which I find absurd).

    He played on 14th Nov when Chelsea were beaten 3-0 at home to Sunderland.
    He played on 20th Nov when Chelsea lost to Birmingham.
    He was an unused sub on 23rd Nov when Chelsea beat MSK Zilnia at home.
    He played on 28th Nov, (was subbed off), when Chelsea failed to beat Newcastle away.
    Mikel played on 4th Dec when Chelsea failed to beat Everton at home.
    He was an unused sub on 8th Dec when Chelsea lost away to Marseille with a very inexperienced team featuring Ferreira, (useless), Van Aanholt, Bruma & MeEachran.
    Mikel played on 12th Dec, (was subbed off at half-time) as Chelsea drew away to Spurs.
    Mikel played on 27th Dec, (was again subbed off at half-time), as Arsenal demolished Chelsea.
    He was missing from the squad on 29th Dec when Chelsea beat Bolton 1-0
    He was missing from the squad on 2nd Jan when Chelsea drew 3-3 against Villa.
    He was missing from the squad on 5th Jan when Chelsea lost 1-0 at Wolves.
    He was missing from the squad on 9th Jan when Chelsea thumped Ipswich 7-0.
    He was an unused sub on 15th Jan as Chelsea beat Blackburn 2-0.
    He played on 24th Jan, (was subbed off on 72 mins) as Chelsea beat Bolton 4-0 away.

    So even if we ignore the lack of tactics being discussed in what had previously looked like it was going to be a decent addition to the BBC Sport blogs, you cannot even get the basics right when it comes to stuff like this.

    Far from...


    One of the key reasons they were able to do this was because they had John Mikel Obi back in the side after an injury-hit period.

    With full-backs Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa encouraged to get forward, the Nigerian often acts as Chelsea's third defender in addition to their centre-backs, and as a result they are less likely to concede goals.

    So perhaps it has come as no surprise that his absence in recent weeks has coincided with the team's dip in form.


    It is actually true that with him in the team, Chelsea have been performing at possibly their poorest level for years and in fact was not part of the team that achieved recent victories against Bolton, Blackburn & Ipswich, (and also fought back from 2 goals down entertaining Villa).

    The reason that he was substituted twice at half-time before his period of "injury", (if that's what you want to call it), is that he was performing at an appalling level. His passing was simply ridiculous and he seemed incapable of even finding a team-mate while not under pressure.

    A more rounded view might be that Chelsea's return to some semblance of form is that Chelsea have been able to field 2 player able to play at centre-half, (Ivanoviv & JT), rather than Ferreira, (who is not even capable of playing at right-back), and the reintroduction of Fat Frank who can at least pass the ball to a team-mate, (even though he is struggling to regain match fitness).

    Chelsea's revival is all about JT playing through the pain, and Fat Frank returning early from injury. It has absolutely nothing to do with Mikel being in the squad and I would suggest that another poor perfoarmace from him is only round the corner and he wull again be dragged off at half-time.

    The conclusions drawn in this blog seem to be very very very pootly thought out indeed.

  • Comment number 31.


    Regardless of the conclusions you seem to draw, in a somewhat personal fashion I might add, from Mikel in the team, the half time substitutions are really just evidence that if you're chasing the game then a holding midfielder is a luxury compared to having another forward on the pitch.

    I personally think that Mikel comes in for stick that is just not deserved. If his basic skills are enough to allow Bosingwa and Cole to get forward and do damage then he is playing his role in the team.

    I will repeat, it is forwards not taking their chances that has been Chelsea's problem in the last couple of months. Their defensive record is still the joint best in the league.

    So, if Mikel can't take any credit, presumably he can't take any criticism either?

  • Comment number 32.

    'rich lockett'. Although Stoke are pretty low in the table, it says nothing about the percentage of short:long passes, it might be that every single one of your passes were long balls, but you don't get as much time on the ball as the teams around you.

    I'm just pointing out that that table does nothing to defend your team, or admonish/defend any team because it's one, poor, statistic from many.

  • Comment number 33.


    Yes you are completely correct that if he is not in the team at all then he cannot take the credit for good performances.

    Mikel may have had a decent game yesterday, (in comparison to his recent level of performance), but that's not what the blog said.

    The blog said that his reintroduction, (after a period of injury), was a key reason why they were able to soak up pressure.

    If this were in fact the case, then why were Chelsea not able to soak up pressure in other recent games that he has played in.

    Of the above list lets have a look at the "with" Mikel and "without" Mikel games.

    With Mikel.


    Without Mikel.

    Lost (Played Ferreira at centre-half and a number of youngsters)

    Now you do the comparison and tell me that you agree with the opening post and not my conclusions.

    The fact remains that the return of JT and Fat Frank are the resons for a slight return to form.

    It staggers me that anyone can see anything else.

  • Comment number 34.

    Lots of questioning of long ball game, quite a few attempts to support the Arsenal approach of a passing game, but not one mentioned that mastering one approach only is not the solution. How many times have we seen Arsenal unable to open up stubborn, good defenses?

    With regard to Chelsea and their slump in form (should I dare call it 'recent'?), Chelsea have created chances, during that period. Just, they didn't take them. Did we see last night a team gaining confidence back?

  • Comment number 35.

    33 Jimbokav1971
    The fact remains that the return of JT and Fat Frank are the resons for a slight return to form.

    It staggers me that anyone can see anything else.
    In respect of this comment, Chelsea have been creating as many chances as ever almost without exception during this bad period.

    JT? Three goals shipped to each of Arsenal, Villa and Sunderland. Did JT play in all three?

    Lampard has made a difference in that I think Ramires is still getting used to the game here and Essien has had to try and cover alot. Result? Neither look good!

    To my mind, the fact remains that the return to scoring form of the strikers is the reason for a slight return to form.

    It staggers me that anyone can see anything else. :-)

    Returning to Mikel though, I'd like to see just how many goals were shipped in the games you mention if we compare Mikel being there to him not being there.

  • Comment number 36.

    From your table of 'long passes over 35 yards', Spurs are quite high up there, obviously with Crouch being a big reason, but quite suprised to see us up there to be honest!!


    Is it not because you play counter attack football and cross field balls to allow lennon to utilise his pace would be a good way to go? A cross field pass is surely a long pass too and beckham could often ping off 60 yard passes but no one would call him a long ball player...

    Arsenal would have few as they have no targets to hit and play possession football so they aren't as likely to spray the ball around but it doesn't make their style more attractive. The best footballing team in england are man utd as they can attack with beauty and grace but they can also DEFEND which is just as important in my eyes. That is what makes barcelona so brilliant to watch, they are as good without the ball as they are with it.

  • Comment number 37.


    Something I missed was your comment about Chelsea having a good defensive record and a larger part of recent problems being related to a lack of goals scored, (for whatever reason).

    I would agree with this, and only the selection of Ferreira in any position shows a weak defence. That they have such a good record speaks volumes about the other defenders, and also the midfieders, (of course whom Mikel is one). Mikels issue is with his use of the ball, more than his defensive abilities, that is the problem, and of course this impacts on attack more so than defence.

    That Chelsea fans have also become accustomed to such accomplished displays in that position from the likes of Makelele, (phenomenal), and Essien, (who seems like he can do anything and play anywhere), obviously leads to poor comparisons when speaking of Mikel, (which might seem kind of harsh).

    From my point of view, it is not that these players had a better technical ability, (I think they did but that's irrelevant), it's that they were smarter. Makelele in particular was simply amazing in that position and it was he that showed what could be achieved with real tactical nous and positional awareness, (the areas other than passing where Mikel seems to particularly struggle).

    If you take Ferreira out of your squad, (and never see him again), and then add in a Makelele in his pomp, then all your recent issues would be gone. I really think it is as simle as that.

  • Comment number 38.

    "and then add in a Makelele in his pomp,"

    Good morning :)
    If you see many Makelele's about, tell me, to recommend one to SAF too :)

  • Comment number 39.

    To me, there's a distinction between playing 'the long ball game' and making long passes. The long ball game is hoofing the ball from the up field into certain zones of the pitch, hoping someone will get their head on it (my classic example, Leeds with Lee Chapman back in the day!).

    Long passing is a deliberate pass aimed for a specific player and can be every bit as good to watch as short intricate stuff (think Glenn Hoddle, Beckham, even Rooney hits a great left to right long ball fairly often). So I don't necessarily think you can judge on these numbers alone (I certainly think Bolton have played much better football this year, except maybe last night...).

    Also totally agree with #34, there does seem to be am assumption that the short intricate game is 'the best' football but I certainly think that teams benefit from mixing long and short passing to keep the opposition guessing. I'll even encourage the occasional long ball assault when my teams losing in the last 5 mins!

  • Comment number 40.

    Jimbokav1971 your blog seems as poorly thought as the blog you’re criticising.
    You said:
    “A more rounded view might be that Chelsea's return to some semblance of form is that Chelsea have been able to field 2 player able to play at centre-half, (Ivanoviv & JT), rather than Ferreira, (who is not even capable of playing at right-back), and the reintroduction of Fat Frank who can at least pass the ball to a team-mate, (even though he is struggling to regain match fitness).”
    First, if you are right how do you explain that many of the games that Chelsea played poorly and dropped points Ivanovic and JT played centre half?
    Second, the routing of Bolton was without Frank so it’s not clear the sense in which Frank’s coming back into the team can be attributed to Chelsea’s revival/performance.
    You also said:
    “It is actually true that with him (Mikel) in the team, Chelsea have been performing at possibly their poorest level for years and in fact was not part of the team that achieved recent victories against Bolton, Blackburn & Ipswich, (and also fought back from 2 goals down entertaining Villa).”
    This comment leaves much to be desired. Chelsea won the double last year and Mikel played in almost all their games (with Essien being injured for most of the season). If Mikel is that bad and him being in the team is part of the reason for Chelsea’s poor performance then I don’t understand why Chelsea performed well last year with him in the team. Simple logic will tell you that he is not the problem with the team. During Chelsea’s poor run almost everyone in the team played badly—and not just Mikel.
    A more rounded view of Chelsea’s poor results and recent revival is this:
    (a) The sacking of Ray Wilkins; (b) injury and lack of fitness of key players (c) the dip in confidence because of throwing away points/the poor run. As for (a) Malouda said it all. He’s the only player that has openly acknowledged that Wilkin’s sack hit them very hard. And as for (c), it is self-explanatory-- a poor performance/run at anything one does, as we all know from experience, implants in one self-doubt and self-belief in performance, perpetuates the lack of confidence, and replicates the poor performance/run.

  • Comment number 41.

    Just re Mikel also, although he has definitely improved in discipline (both positional and behavioural) since he signed but I have to say, I do not think he would be playing as many games for a Chelsea side as strong as it has been over the last few years. I do suspect that Ramires, Lampard and Essien would all be playing in front of him if/when fit and in form (not convinced by Ramires yet but I also think you have to give a player time to settle in Prem, Malouda being a good example).

  • Comment number 42.

  • Comment number 43.


    Just for the record, I have only analysed Premier League games and my figures say that in the 23 games Chelsea have played this season, their win percentage is slightly better with Mikel in the side.

    More importantly, which is what I was trying to illustrate, his inclusion in the team is more of a defensive benefit to the Blues. They concede 0.8 goals a game with him in the team and one goal a game without him.

    Also, you are right, I am not saying that his inclusion is the only reason Chelsea were impressive last night. That was more to do with their ruthless finishing from some poor Bolton defending at times. Tactics don't always win games but they can offer clues. Thanks for your thorough analysis though!

  • Comment number 44.

    Gents - for what it's worth, I'd say Mikel played as well as anyone last night. As was often said of Makele the DM role goes relatively unnoticed but is such a valuable asset - it was easier to praise Makele as he was a 'major' signing. Mikel just doesn't appear popular (outside of knowledgable Chelsea fans) so it's easier for the general concensus to be he's 'nothing special'. I take exception to whoever mentioned his wreckless tackling - I struggle to remember one since he got sent off at OT in Grant's first match and that decision still divides opinion!

    Lastly - Drogba was not MOTM (Terry IMO). His control was still poor, no real pace of old and a little clumsy at times. I hope he's on the mend but other than the goal he was at best OK.

    Ref. Bolton - they started by trying to be too aggressive and knock us out of our stride - a few personal battles (Taylor on Cole) didn't go their way and once we got ahead they forgot plan A which is the attractive football Coyle seemed to have instilled before last night.

  • Comment number 45.


    Yeah, fair dues on post #35. In my defence, I am comparing JT's performances with Ibananovic to thise of Ferreira and Ivanovic, but point taken.

    And yeah of course you are right about the strikers, but I think Chelsea's poor use of the ball in midfield has accentuated this.


    1. I am suggesting that playing an injured JT with Ivanovic is an improvement on playing a fully fit Ferreira with Ivanovic, (or anyone for that matter).

    2. I am not saying that Mikel is a por player. I am saying that he has been playing very poorly, (not quite the same thing I think you would agree). He was better last season, but still one of the poorest regular performers to my mind, (not that that is an issue in a double-winning team).

    Yes I would completely agree with your 3rd point. It is NOT all down to Mikel at all. In fact I was not suggesting that it was. I was simply refusing to agree with the suggestion that the original poster put forward that Chelseas recent improval was down to Mikel.

    I think he is a reasonable squad player. Just one who for some reason is playing particularly poorly recently.

    His strengths are in the style of the defensive midfielder and in a team short of the technical ability of Fat Frank, (injured), Ballack and Deco sold, (no I was not a fan of Ballack but that's by the by), his inadequacies have been highlighted.

    My comment was simply in response to the opening post which says.....


    So perhaps it has come as no surprise that his absence in recent weeks has coincided with the team's dip in form.


    The stats would seem to prove that this is not the case.

  • Comment number 46.

    We were super all around the park. I admit that the stunning Drogba goal did calm a few fluttery nerves beforehand but after that flew in, we never looked in danger. Cech made a few vital saves, from Matty Taylor especially but we just kept putting them away and we could have had more if we wanted them. Brilliant celebration for Ramires' goal which shows the harmony in the dressing room. Mikel should have received MOTM but it was a collective team effort. This, I hope, will give us belief to push on and grab an unlikely title victory but anything can happen and we still play United twice and Manchester City and Tottenham at home. David Luiz is set to come in and he will give an added dimension and boost to our experienced squad.
    Come on the Chels!

  • Comment number 47.


    I don't know who you support (though clearly not Chelsea) but your reasoned input has been interesting.

    Alistair M - BBC Sport

    If the difference in win percentage and goals conceded rate are so slim with or without Mikel, is his contribution last night, and his contribution this season overall, really that telling?

    As I've said, was Chelsea's possession or chances on goal stats last night that different to those in any number of games that have drawn or lost recently?

  • Comment number 48.

    Alistair M - BBC Sport

    Can you do another Rio Ferdy impression and upload the video on here? Thanks.

  • Comment number 49.

    When Scholes plays a 45 yard pass right on the button to open up a defense is that good or bad? When VDS send a kick to the feet of Berba or Rooney resulting is a goal is that good or bad? So these "long ball" stats are a bit silly.

  • Comment number 50.

    Alistair M.

    So you are judging the teams performance with Mikel in the team only on the goals conceded stat? That seems more than a little half-baked doesn't it.

    Might I suggest though, that as he did not play against Villa, (3 goals), and was taken off at half-time against Arsenal, (2 goals), then the results can be easily skewed with only a relative small number of games.

    Chelsea have conceded a total of only 19 league goals this season.

    Perhaps a more valid statistical analysis would be of the games that Ferreira has played compared to those that he hasn't.

    Now any analysis that supports those stats would I am sure be greeted with approval from me. Oh pleeeeeeeease do that one. Please please please please please.



    I am a Spurs fan, (but not a typical one).

    Lastly, I think all this short ball/long ball stuff is a load of old baloney. It is about good balls and bad balls.

  • Comment number 51.

    "A cross field pass is surely a long pass too and beckham could often ping off 60 yard passes but no one would call him a long ball player"


    Sorry to pick on the one comment that has little to do with the discussion, but Beckham is as much a long-ball player as there is.

  • Comment number 52.

    49. At 4:39pm on 25 Jan 2011, dinojong wrote:

    I don't think they are silly, they just don't tell the whole picture. For instance I expected Arsenal to be exactly where they are in that table. They have no target men and apart from goal kicks very rarely punt it upfield. They also very rarely spring quick counter attacking moves or switch play with any regularity.

    I also expected Man Utd to be where they are. They have a more complete diverse game to Arsenal in that they can play it short and sharp to create chances (Giggs goal at the weekend for example) or knock it long/switch play. I think if you take these stats into account with other factors that you know about the teams it does make for interesting reading.

  • Comment number 53.


    I think the telling contribution with Mikel is that he gives a platform for others to build on and provides freedom for them to attack without worrying too much about defensive responsibilities. The fact that he contributes to better results or goals conceded is a welcome addition.

    I may be wrong, but it strikes me that he is only midfielder who knows exactly what his job is in this role. Ramires and Essien can do it too, but perhaps not as well? Do the full-backs gamble as much?

    As for the debate on long and short passes, you know what they say about statistics but I agree good balls can be short or long, I just thought it would make interesting viewing! I also have figures for the percentage of passes that are long (35 yards-plus) for each team.

    The top three for Premier League games are: Stoke (19.85%), Blackburn (19.05%), Bolton (18.66%).

    The bottom three are Chelsea (10.64%), Manchester City (9.79%) and Arsenal (7.18%).

  • Comment number 54.

    Well Alistair, if you can get a few Chelsea fans to say that Mikel's recent form has been good, (rather than that he was just good last night), then I might agree a little more with you.

    As it is, I think he has been poor and Chelsea have actually been better without him.

    I have been looking for some stats that might back me up but with only limited success.

    88.5% - John Obi Mikel has completed 88.5% of passes in the PL this term, down from 89.8% last season. Drop. @DannyTheJourno 2:21 PM Jan 19th via web

    3 - Salomon Kalou has scored the most goals as a sub in the PL this season. Super @RoshanShetty 2:21 PM Jan 19th via web

    36 - Didier Drogba has fired in the most shots on target in the PL this season. Power @keel_avfc123 2:21 PM Jan 19th via web

    83.7% - Chelsea have completed the highest ratio of passes (excl. crosses) in the Premier League this season. Crab. @dave91087 19 January 2011 14:36:32 via web

    631 - Frank Lampard has created the most chances in the Premier League since August 2003. Salad. @Mr_Ingz 19 January 2011 14:38:33 via web

    28 - Chelsea have already dropped as many Premier League points this season as they did in the whole of 2009-10. Lagging. 10:04 AM Jan 6th via web

    9 - Chelsea have now kept just one clean sheet in their last nine Premier League games. Sieve. 7:54 PM Jan 5th via Echofon

    1 - Chelsea have not scored more than once in a Premier League game since October. Task. 2:43 PM Jan 2nd via web

    34 - This is Chelsea’s lowest points tally after 19 Premier League games since 2001/02 (30 points). Struggle. 1:02 PM Jan 2nd via web

    There is some decent stuff there amid the garbage.

    Interesting that Mikel's pass % is down on last year, (then again in a team not doing as well that is to be expected).

    More surprising that Drogba has had the most shots on target in the Premiership. Maybe that says as much about other strikers in other teams as it does him.

  • Comment number 55.

    Ah the favorite subject here in England, the long ball "snickers". I'm not going to shoot down the long ball, even though I prefer shorter tica-taca type passing. There are two basic types of long balls, the type that is planned out and aimed with plenty of time, and the type that basically happens by accident because of a defender nervously clearing his lines.
    The planned long ball can cause some damage, but it's a terrible habit to get into, and there shouldn't be more than 6 per game. The reason being that even a planned long ball is like the role of a dice, your never guaranteed a clean pass, and depending on the passer your more often to miss the mark than reach it. Even the passes that are completed are not always a danger to the other team. Even balls directly over the middle landing at the feet of a striker don't always translate into a goal because the striker has to have his head turned back, body moving forward, and has the task of controlling the ball to shoot, or one-timing it.
    The accidental type of long ball, the type you see the most in the EPL, always has a negative behind it. A team that has to resort to these types of passes usually are under pressure in their defensive zone, have defenders that are uncomfortable with the ball at their feet and try to get rid of it as soon as they can, or it's a team with an ineffective midfield that doesn't move well to receive passes in transition. These passes are usually never planned on, but they can happen to any team any game, you just have to avoid them, because rarely to they ever help your team, they're more likely to hurt it.

  • Comment number 56.

    The best passer of a long ball was Glenn Hoddle. When it is hit half the length of the pitch into the path of a colleague, it is great football. When it's hit and hope, then it is poor football. Spurs are quite high, but Huddlestone can hit long crossfield passes on to a sixpence, you'd be a fool not to use this skill.

  • Comment number 57.

    Chelsea this chelsea that...

    It just goes to show you that sometimes, the same game played by different teams means the difference between champions and relegation.

    Case and point
    Mid table obscurity leaps out

    West Ham 1309
    Manchester United 1294

    And no that doesn't mean Liverpool or Everton are getting better, just that their attempts are not complete.

    I have money on West Ham avoiding relegation.. Watch this space..

  • Comment number 58.

    I personally am so-so about Mikel but I agree with Alistair that he is important to the way Chelsea play. I also disagree with Jimbo about his passing ability. He has one of the highest pass completion ratings in the PL because he plays a lot of simple passes. His job is simple, take up positions to break up opponent attacks or at least slow them down, win the ball, give it to someone else. Stay back when the full backs attack, push up slightly when Chelsea attack so that if the move breaks down, he is in a position to make the first tackle. He does this very well and generally helps the balance. My grouse with him is his immobility. He doesn't hustle to get back as quickly as he should (imo) and sometimes after making a tackle, if he doesn't win it, he doesn't try to come back. Still I daresay that while he wasn't blameless in Chelsea's poor run, he was hardly the cause and as such I don't think he has much to do with their seeming resurgence either.

  • Comment number 59.

    Well I have been searching fro somehwere that might give me the option to compare his passing ability stat-wise to other players of a similar ilk, (without success).

    The only stat I have found concerning Mikel is that is pass completion % is down on last season, (but as I said above in a team not performing as well that is not really a surprise).

    Perhaps someone else can provide some stats on the Mikel/Chelsea passing ability.

    If Mikels pass% is 88.5% and the Chelsea average is 83.7%, then that doesn't put him as much ahead of his team-mates as I would expect, (considering that his passes should often be little pops off to better placed players).

    It is hard to comment though without seeing the stats of the other Chelsea players, and possibly more importantly, players playing for other teams in similar positions, Lucas, Song, Carrick, Palacios, Viera, Barry, midfiled Toure, (God you could go all day listing Man City players). lol

    I know it also makes a difference what formation is being used, but it would be good to compare anyway.

  • Comment number 60.

    Chelsea are playing very good football recently.
    Chelsea poor form probably has now ended.

  • Comment number 61.

    pls any problems with Mikel should be directed at Jose Mourinho, he turned Mikel from an attacking midfield to a defensive midfield.

  • Comment number 62.

    Come on Chelsea, hurry up and get yourself in a position to beat jammy United to end their ridiculous winning streak :)

  • Comment number 63.

    I didn't watch that match. But I was not surprised at some of the comments below because I kept thinking how did that young man become so impressive. I mean some of the comments confirmed what I knew before about Mikel. Someone said he was still not impressive on the match. I mean he seems to do too much of "play safe". Like trying as much as possible to avoid making wrong passes that most of the time he passes too early with too few attempts at moving with the ball forward, which should add an attacking bite to any game. Sometimes, maybe many times, he passes back, when he could simply dribble which I know he could do. By doing this, you realize that most often he hardly gets injured (his recent injury not withstanding)and is therefore available for matches when the likes of Lampard, Essien, Ashley Cole, Malouda are easily injured. But anyway, reading the BBC article, I would probably agree with the article on some points. But I think he shouldn't be tagged as a midfielder at all, he is a defender. And he should improve on his heading (defensive or otherwise) skills. Carlos Ancelotti should know this.

  • Comment number 64.

    These tactical blogs are awesome- keep the coming.

    Surprised to see Stoke so low on the long ball rankings.

    The numbers don't tell the whole story though- there are very different kinds of 35 yard pass.

  • Comment number 65.

    From what I've seen of Bolton this season, they don't play as much of a short passing game as the media has made out (particularly after they scored that one-touch passing goal vs Blackpool). The numbers seem to confirm that, and it's no surprise to Stoke, Blackburn + Bolton at the top and Chelsea, Man City + Arsenal at the bottom.

    Regarding the long ball game, I think we have to differentiate between "long balls" and "long passes". In my eyes, a long ball is a speculative punt hit into a general defensive zone, usually aimed for the head of an attacker. Such balls are difficult to control and are easy to cut out, and in my view should be discouraged.

    In contrast a long pass is generally an accurate pass into space, usually into feet. A typical example would be a 60 yard crossfield pass, as we've become accustomed to from the likes of Scholes and Huddlestone. This is a valuable weapon on the counter-attack, or to feed widemen who are 1-on-1 with a fullback. Scholes has been hitting long diagonal passes for years and created many goals as a result, the most recent one from memory being the pass to Rooney leading up to Valencia's goal vs Chelsea in the Community Shield. Such passes don't necessarily have to be in the air either, Luka Modric played a brilliant 50 yard ground pass out to Hutton in the buildup to van der Vaart's 1st goal vs Villla a month back. Blackpool have also made good use of long diagonal passes out to the 2 wide forwards this season, a lot coming from the boot of Charlie Adam.

    I believe long passes are an important tool because they allow teams to move the ball into threatening positions and set up 1-on-1 situations before the opposition has a chance to regroup into 2 defensive lines. Long balls on the other hand should be actively discouraged IMO, they are an inefficient form of attack and simply invite pressure back onto the defence.

    I appreciate this doesn't relate much to the blog but I thought it was an interesting discussion within the comment section.

  • Comment number 66.


    Your statement that Frank Lampard is "easily injured", is a little disingenuous.

    He has made almost 500 league appearances, (playing more than 30 league games during 12 of the last 13 seasons).

    Even after being out for most of this season he is on course to play 20-25 league games.

    Does this suggest that he is easily injured?

    Jon Obi Mikel however, has only featured in 30 league matches in a season on one occasion, (2008/09).

  • Comment number 67.

    An important win for the men in blue. Congrats to goal scorers Drogba, Malouda, Anelka and Ramires. Carlo Ancelloti's men are getting their campaign back on track. Run for the top prize is gaining momentum.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 68.

    What's that Matty408 on about? Why do people post comments that are seasons out of date?

    As a Chelsea fan and regular watcher I've been as stunned as anyone by Mikel's progress this season. Admittedly in seasons gone by he could be described as being reckless and taking up dodgy positions but my God, this term, the boy's cracked it and has established himself (not unlike Alex Song) as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league.

    Ironic really that we bought Essien to take over from Makelele, but it was always Mikel who ended up being played in defensive mid. His performances this season were key elements of our defensive work as the blog rightly says. Frustrating as he may have been in seasons gone by, he is an integral part of Chelsea these days.

    Essien is however struggling to recapture his best bucaneering form, but given his pivotal roles in seasons gone by and his track record with injuries, we are all prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • Comment number 69.

    As others have commented on, anybody who has watched Mikel over the last few seasons has seen him grow accustomed to the role. It was obvious in previous seasons that he was being shoe-horned into the position of DM as we searched for a replacement for Makelele, when he seemed ill sitted for that role. Talented? yes. Disciplined? Not so much.

    But rather than bitch about wanting a different role, he seems to have kept his head down and got on with it. I wouldn't say he was stunning in the position, and wonder if he might be more naturally suited to a more attacking role, but his performances have improved this season.

    I wouldn't have said that he was man of the match on Monday night, but then the DM role is often under-noticed and less spectacular than other positions, like the dirty work a number 8 gets up to in rugby, so it may simply have passed me by. But I certainly wouldn't have singled him out as others have done as being a liability - it seemed to me that Essien is the one in midfield struggling to impose himself on the game at the moment.

    From a Chelsea perspective, to be honest it's just nice to be winning games on the bounce again, and the three points is of more value than arguing about exactly what the cause of the slump or the turn around is.

  • Comment number 70.

    mikel is the defination of chelsea defence am jealous

  • Comment number 71.

    It baffles me that some people just cannot see a good player and admit to it...the reason behind this, i have yet to fully find out....Mikel was outstanding given that he just came back from a knee injury. Ancelloti took him off to protect him as he needs him fit for the rest of the season. If truly he's as ordinary as some claim, how come he was in the team and Ballack on the bench? Even when all midfielders are fit, he gets in the team - it isn't by luck, is it? Under Jose, he was a regular, under Scolari, he was a regular, under Hiddink, he was a regular, under Grant, he was a regular and under Ancelloti, he is a regular so therefore, where do you get all these irregular comments about him from? If simply you cant appreciate a player for any reasons known to you, then please do me a favour - shut it! Some fans follow and watch football and cant even interprete what's going on on the pitch talk less of tactics - it saddens me further. Mikel was converted from an attacking scoring midfielder to a defensive holding midfielder ( a role left by perhaps, the greatest guy to play the role, Makalele) and he has done tremendously well for a 23 yr old calm, committed and disciplined guy. Under Jose, in the champions league game against Valencia, he came on to change it round. Under normal circumstances, if he is not in the team, it shows (there must be a reason for that too). It will be insane and absurd to blame Chelsea's recent loss on him like some have tried to analyse poorly...With him in the middle, Lamps and Essien have greater freedom. Im not surprised by people's lack of foresight because Real Madrid made same mistake with Makalele (enough said). With the midlfield supremos back, defence back and Alex on his way and possible Luiz and hunger shown by the Drog, Anelka and Malouda and Kalou approaching fitness, watch the space...Chelsea have not given up just yet...

  • Comment number 72.


    I quite agree with your comment. I dont necessarily see the reason why we should try to put the blame of our recent dip in form on one player.
    Mikel did a good job in the defensive midfield yesterday but was woeful in that same position in the match against arsenal. I think that is natural about all players. U can't be at the top all the time. for example, rooney has been struggling for form recently and i wonder how he is managing to get a starting role ahead of the other striker in the team.

    You posted flawed statistic about the team performance during this season. Chelsea struggled this season because of lack of a world-class attacking midfielder in the team, especially when frank (not fat) is missing. Also, problem in the central defence. You can hardly blame the poor runs on the defensive midfield position.

    In my opinion, chelsea need to buy experienced attacking midfielder (probably two), even charlie adam wont be such a bad deal. Then, a central defender and a striker. Anelka and Drogba are already getting old.

  • Comment number 73.

    I think Jimbokav1971 has a personal grudge for Mikel because if you took all these detail to analyse how bad he is and yet found nothing good in him which all Chelsea previous and present manager tend to see then i think the feeling is personal and not football anymore.
    For those of you wondering why people makes comments that lack common sense well i must tell you that they are only repeating something Andy Gray has said in one of his programs because he's the one that started the "Mikel won't hurt a team drivel". He is a defensive midfielder, is job is to cover up for every man on the team when they make mistake, thats why any time he plays our defence tends to have that freedom in going forward to attack because they know he is there.
    When he makes mistake and we concede thats what people like Jimbokav1971 talk about all day but when he makes long passes like the one he gave anelka early this season they tend to say its a fluke.
    What i really want to know is Jimbokav1971 who do you really support? any team in the number one spot i guess..

  • Comment number 74.

    I really find it hard to understand how nothing has been said about Holden, plays centre mid for bolton. He was immense. Ive supported Chelsea for years and I can generally see him as a long term replacement for Lamps. Shocking that he didnt get a mention, as he was good again agaisnt us. If he does sign for Chelsea, YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST!

  • Comment number 75.

    Oh and as for Mikel. he passes the ball as good as anyone in the league and is good at keeping possesion. But he cant tackle or shot. has no pace either. squad player, but nothing more then that! Essien can play in that role, or even Ramires. Ramires although hasnt set himself the highest of standards, still shows much more promise then Mikel has in the 3/4 seasons he has been with us. We paid way too much money for him, Man utd comp + what ever we paid his old club came to something like 20mil... Maybe we could put him on loan to an english club and he could prove himself in a forward role. Coz as said before he cant tackle, and he was originally brought as an attacking mid.

  • Comment number 76.

    I don't think it's fair to say we paid too much for Mikel - at the time he looked like a player who would be worth a lot more than that. He counts as home-grown now, which will bump up his value domestically from the £10M I would expect if he was sold abroad. When we bought him, he was generally seen as the next big thing - it's our fault that we have changed his game into a position where you would not expect a heavy transfer fee - probably even less than a top-class keeper or defender.

    As for Ramires, there is no way he could play DM, he just isn't cut out for it, plus as we saw in the World Cup, he works best when making enterprising runs forward, so it's a wonder we don't play him on the wing - he would be better than Kalou (there's a guy we paid too much for), that's for sure.

  • Comment number 77.

    Agreed! Kalou needs to go!

  • Comment number 78.

    I think Mikel is underrated but he cant head the ball! HE also gets beaten too easily 1v1 round the penalty area, and i dread any teams counterattacking us because hes the one that stay back, and hes not quick enough to cover the ground

  • Comment number 79.

    Long pass analysis would make more sense if we knew how many were successful.

    There is a big difference between a hopeful punt and the kind of accurate long passes played by Liam Brady, Glen Hoddle or even Paul Scoles. Cutting out the long pass a la Arsenal makes the game very dull.


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