In a match with three distinct phases, Chelsea were able to put their recent away troubles behind them and pick up three very important points against a Swansea side forced to play the bulk of the match with ten men after the interesting sending of Chico Flores after only sixteen minutes. The loss leaves Swansea on 33 points, just three points off the drop zone, while Chelsea is in a much more comfortable second place in the table and only two points off leaders, Liverpool.
Chelsea came into the match having won three out of five in the league but lost away to both Aston Villa and Crystal Palace. That would have given hope to Swansea, as would their recent draw against Arsenal and win against Norwich. All that became irrelevant when Phil Dowd sent-off Chico Flores for a second yellow card in the sixteenth minute for a poor challenge on Andre Schurrle. Match announcer David Pleat felt it was certainly a foul on Schurrle but not deserving of a yellow and that the harsh yellow and subsequent sending off would spoil the game. And it mostly did.
Swansea started off well in the opening minutes playing in a 2-4-1-3 possession-based formation that saw Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge stretching play out wide, Bony in the middle and Pablo Hernandez looking to play off him in advance of the other two midfielders, Jonjo Shelvey and Leon Britton, who were joined in the second line in advance of the centre-backs by Angel Rangel and Ben Davies, the two fullbacks for Swansea. Nathan Dyer made a run beyond Chelsea’s leftback, Cesar Azpilicueta, who slipped, and ran onto a through pass from Rangel and got a cross in. In the tenth minute, Shelvey got in behind the defense and crossed from left to right across goal but no Swansea player was there to meet it.
Swansea’s best chance came in the twelfth minute when Rangel crossed from a deepish position and found the head of Bony who knocked it on target and forced a save from Petr Cech. The early start from Swansea came to an abrupt end as the sending off forced them to sacrifice Hernandez for Jordi Amat to take over centre-back duties for Chico, and Chelsea began to pour numbers forward. Swansea’s defense was in a frenzy after Amat came on, as they could be seen pointing and shouting constantly to one another as they scrambled around to try keep Chelsea out. Chelsea took time to settle into the situation as well, early on Demba Ba received a pass in the area but was isolated and handled easily by Amat and Rangel. In the thirty-fourth minute Chelsea had a chance to counter but surprisingly when the ball was played out to Salah he had no support and the chance to counter went away.
Chelsea would settle down soon enough and started keeping possession and looking for gaps. They did not have to look too hard either, Swansea didn’t seem to change their defensive approach in their own half much from before the red to after, they were already sitting off Chelsea when defending in their own half in a 4-4-2 block and simply carried on in much the same manner after, albeit now in a 4-4-1. That is the most common way to set out when down to ten men, but Swansea were far from tight enough or deep enough to deny Chelsea entry into the area.
Bony was also guilty for not staying high enough. It is admirable he would keep dropping further and further back to help defend but all it did was invite John Terry and Gary Cahill further forward. The standard course of action for a lone striker when his side is down to ten is to stay in the centre circle and at least keep the opponent’s centre-backs out of the build-up, and then move wide in an attempt to receive clearances, hold the ball up and either get fouled or look to lay off and attempt a counter. Bony had to be the one player not to drop to help his teammates by giving them a target and a few seconds to push the line up and breathe again.
Wayne Routledge wound up being the most frequent outlet for Swansea’s defenders, receiving a pass 23 times (to Bony’s 18) and often received the ball in more advanced positions than Bony. Routledge was able to get in behind Ivanovic in the second half and receive a pass from Shelvey, who held up the ball well centrally, and dribbled deep into Chelsea’s half to have his shot blocked by a sliding Terry (his trailing arm to be more specific). When the match was still 0-0, Bony should have been looking to find that space behind Chelsea’s advancing fullbacks and let his wide players sit deeper.
At half-time, Mourinho brought on both Oscar and a second striker, Samuel Eto’o, for Schurrle and Ramires. Oscar sat centrally with Matic and Chelsea attacked in a 2-4-4 formation, this left every Swansea player aside from Bony with a direct opponent and Bony naturally had two direct opponents. Willian and Salah pushed up against Swansea’s fullbacks, both of their centre-backs had a striker to deal with and Swansea’s second bank of four had to deal with Chelsea’s fullbacks, with nothing to be concerned about other than pushing forward and the central midfield pairing.
Gary Monk’s options to respond to this were limited as he had already brought on his centre-back from the bench having had one sent-off, denying him the ability to easily switch to a back five. A back five could have given Swansea a spare man in the area and would have forced a three man midfield to stay compact and shuttle from side to side as Chelsea moved the ball around. Would that have freed Ivanovic and Azpilicueta up even more? Yes, but in less threatening areas out wide and created the valuable trade off of having a spare man in the box while down to ten men. Monk should have been desperate to create a spare man somewhere on the pitch to help his side defend. A three/five at the back is the ideal option when playing with eleven men against two strikers, certainly it’s worth employing down to ten. Neil Taylor, a left back, was available as a less than ideal option for this switch.
Aside from being too open when defending in their own half, Swansea also committed numbers forward somewhat foolishly when Chelsea had a throw from inside their own half. About ten minutes before going behind Swansea lightly pressed a Chelsea throw with three men, Chelsea had six players in this same area, easily kept possession and Swansea’s advanced players retreated back into their own half. In the sixty-eighth minute Chelsea again had a throw from their own half, only this time instead of simply keeping possession by passing back and letting Swansea drop, Chelsea took a forward throw to Matic who skipped forward and picked out Ba, isolated in a 1v1 with Ashley Williams, Ba’s slightly deflected shot went in and the points were all but Chelsea’s.
Swansea should never have put themselves in a situation to be caught out so easily, if they were going to press Chelsea they were going to have to throw everyone forward, keep a high line and put them under as much pressure as possible. A token press might appease the supporters but that is largely all it would do, Swansea had to choose boldly, either pack it in and take a never ending barrage of crosses and shots from range or get crazy and press and hope to create enough even numbered situations in tight areas to frustrate Chelsea. Swansea did neither of the two, they kept it interesting for a while, but the goal was always coming for Chelsea.
After the goal, the last phase was simply Chelsea relaxing, and on seventy-nine minutes Mourinho brought on John Obi Mikel for Ba and went back to a 4-2-3-1. They dropped off, happy to keep possession in their own half, didn’t concede too many fouls in areas that Swansea could threaten from, left no chances at all for Swansea to counter and attacked well enough that they could have probably added a second, except for some poor finishing from both Salah and Eto’o. It was both a perfect example from Mourinho of how to win a match, up a man, and a learning experience for Monk on how not to play with ten.
Mourinho flexed his tactical mind well, he changed his system twice, and Chelsea played a different formation in each of the game’s three phases. Swansea played essentially the same both in their approach and system, even with ten men, across each phase of the match. Pleat mentioned that Mourinho didn’t need to bring Mikel on and go back to 4-2-3-1 and that he was adding an insurance policy on top of an already very solid insurance policy. And he probably didn’t to but he had made the correct decisions throughout the match, made the perfect reactionary moves each time the situation changed and was simply finishing off clinically.