UEFA Champions League — Matchday 3 — Chelsea vs Roma — My Thoughts

Hello and welcome to Matchday 3 of the UEFA Champions League. Chelsea invite Roma to Stamford Bridge in what is expected to be a fierce battle.

Negatives

The defensive positioning of the team was poor from the get go. Conceding the lion’s share of possession to Roma, Chelsea had to defend deep and play on the counter through majority of the game. Unlike last season when Chelsea were happy to do this with Kante and Matic holding fort in front of the back 5, having to do this in the absence of both these players was a huge task. The 2 central midfielders who finished the game possessed different characteristics, but none of which associated to defending. This was evident with Roma’s constant pressure and frequent foray into danger areas. There was also an issue with Chelsea’s wing backs leaving too much gap between them and their nearest center back. With Chelsea playing a 3 man midfield, the team was very narrow leaving huge gaps on the wing for Roma to exploit. This resulted in Roma’s wingers, particularly Perotti getting into this space and causing constant chaos in the Chelsea defense.

Images via BT Sports

Both Bakayoko and Fabregas did little to press them from the front. Knowing that there are 5 outfield players behind them, these 2 should have been more adventurous and less cautious in their tackling and pressing. Take nothing away from Dzeko for an incredible strike, Fazio should not have had the time and space to pick out the main man. With Conte not wanting to risk Luiz (he was suffering from a minor calf injury since the middle of first half), Chelsea’s lack of squad depth was evident when he did not have any proper defense minded player to call upon from the bench. Despite Conte receiving a lot of criticism for taking Luiz off, I feel he was thinking about the tight run of fixtures and existing injuries while making that decision. The last thing Chelsea would want is another long term injury to one of their players.

Positives

Conte has been criticized in the past for his rigidity, but tonight he got the team selection and lineup spot on. He put the best 11 (considering all the injuries) in a solid 3–5–2 system. Towards the end of the first half and early in the second half, having seen Roma’s wingers enjoy a lot of space on the sides, Conte decided to bring in another wide player to counter this.

Having started with Morata and Hazard up top, he switched the system pushing Hazard to the left and brining in Pedro to the right. The change in system worked well in reducing the threat from their wingers.

Image via BT Sports

Morata is back! He looked sharp up front with good touches and hold up play. His movement was on the mark showing yet again his quality on and off the ball. Carrying the ball, running at and past defenders, he was a real handful for their center backs. The clear difference he brings to this Chelsea team was visible yet again. He is fast becoming one of the most important players in the squad in a very short period of time. His combination play with Hazard was brilliant. There was a hunger in his play that was absent from the Chelsea front men over the weekend. Hopefully he remains injury free for his sake and Chelsea’s sake.

Eden Hazard was criticized for his lack of involvement and effort in the weekend defeat at Crystal Palace. It looked as though he was saving himself for the big game. He was really good for the start. His link up play with Morata was an absolute joy to watch. Although there were a couple of occasions where he could have played Morata through instead took a shot himself, it just showed the confidence he was playing in. It was a really good finish for his first goal, anticipating and positioning himself perfectly. He capped off a brilliant performance with the equalizing goal salvaging a point from what seemed like a third straight defeat.

David Luiz in midfield. Just like the game at Spurs, he was a beast in the middle of the park. He closed down their creative midfielders and prevented their star players like Nainnggolan and Strootman to get too much on the ball. He had a drive about him that really pushed the rest of the team. He was winning second balls, trying to play it forward at every given opportunity. We all know his eye for goal from set pieces, the goal he scored from open play almost topped all his set piece goals. It was a supreme finish, curling a brilliant effort around the Roma defender into the bottom corner. The goalkeeper had absolutely no chance of saving that one. He was thoroughly disappointed when he taken off midway through the second half (just like any good player should be), but it is for his and team’s good on the longer run. I hope Conte sticks to the 3 man midfield going forward in most games.

Additional Mention:

Edin Dzeko, the former Manchester City man was solid in his hold up play and distribution throughout the game. He came to life in the second half and made it 2–2 scoring one of the goals of the competition with technique of the top draw. We all know about his ability in the air, he showed it yet again scoring Roma’s third. He almost clinched the winner late into the game.

Verdict:

Despite not winning the game from being 2–0 up, this is not the worst of draws to take. Roma played really well on the night and deserved at least a point. Considering Atletico failed to beat Qarabag, we are still on top of the group and favorites to stay there at the end of Matchday 6. The performance in patches was good. Even though we need to improve, it is better to make these mistakes and learn from them early in the competition. I have to agree with Conte’s comments at the end of the game though. He said and I quote “Even though we were 2–0 up, we did not have much control of the game”. Despite meaning it in a negative way, I would like to point out that we scored 3 goals with the 4 shots we had on target. This shows that slowly we are becoming the clinical Chelsea we saw last season. The key to this is of course keeping both Morata and Hazard match fit. Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!