If there is one thing harder than winning titles, that is, well, holding on to them – and for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, that will not be an easy feat to perform next season. Expectations for 2015-16 are certainly high for The Blues, but competition for the title race this seasons will be stiff – probably a lot more than it was last time around.
Manchester United have solidified their central midfield with the signings of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manchester City have added vertigo to their attack with the addition of Raheem Sterling, and Arsenal already look a completely different team with Petr Cech beneath the posts. And that is not to mention Liverpool’s 7 new signings, which include the likes of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino.
Mourinho told The Telegraph a few weeks ago, that he doesn’t believe making major squad changes at this point would be helpful, as “for the players, it is very important to think that I am loyal to them”. However, he did make it clear that in order to compete next season, certain tweaks will be necessary – from within.
“We feel we have the tools to improve without [transfers]. The tools are ourselves. Can I coach better than last year? Can I make a better training plan? Can the players be better individually? Can the young players become better?”, he said.
And indeed, some of that has already begun to show. Pre-season games have made it evident that The Special One is reinforcing new tactical concepts on a Chelsea squad that progressively becomes more cohesive and comfortable within itself.
Here are a few of them:
“La Salida Lavolpiana”
“La Salida Lavolpiana” is Spanish for “La Volpe’s way out”, and when you look at it that way, it is pretty self-explanatory. The tactical variant is named after Argentine coach Ricardo La Volpe, who first implemented it with a series of Mexican Clubs during the 90’s, and eventually with Mexican National Team. It consists of a move in which the central midfielder drops in between the center-backs in order to build up play from the back line, while the fullbacks move wide and forward.
Chelsea implemented La Salida Lavolpiana in several games towards the end of last season, as well as in some pre-season matches – including the Community Shield match against Arsenal – in which, for the most part, it was Nemanja Matic falling back to add coherence to possession in Chelsea’s rear. The move is mostly associated with the possession-style soccer Mourinho has never been a fan of, but the Portuguese coach sees it as an important alternative for games in which Chelsea finds itself in control of the ball – which seem to be becoming more and more frequent
This should become even more predominant if Chelsea are eventually able to complete the signing of Everton’s technically gifted center-back John Stones
Dispossessions high up the flanks
Right after Mourinho’s return to Chelsea, the team seemed predominantly focused on dropping back as much as possible when they had to recover the ball; however, with the incorporation of Nemanja Matic, The Blues began to take more liberties in pressing higher up the pitch in order to recover possession in more advanced positions. Towards the end of last season, Chelsea began to focus more and more on pressing and stealing the ball near the flanks in rival territory in order to catch their opponents off-guard.
Recently, Mourinho has tweaked his team in more than one occasion so that Hazard shifts to a central position in order to become the focus point of counter attacks, as his other team mates work to steal the ball near the opponent’s full-backs. And it has worked. An important staple of Atletico de Madrid’s success over the past few seasons, this strategy can be particularly effective at breaking gridlocks in tight matches – and if Chelsea continue to polish it, it will come in extremely handy.
Now pressing and stealing the ball is not something all attacking players are cut out for, which is probably why Mourinho signed the tireless and versatile Juan Guillermo Cuadrado some six months ago. However, if the Colombian international does not regain his pre-Chelsea form, Mourinho will have to look at other options, including Victor Moses who just came back from a season-long loan.
Though largely known for his ruthlessness in more direct styles of play, Radamel Falcao, in his best form, is also extremely good at falling in the space between defenders and midfielders to support short passing and slower attacks. And that is probably why Mourinho brought him to Chelsea this season: to add an extra dimension to possession in the final third.
In his best form, Falcao is better than Loic Remy and perhaps even Diego Costa at quickly finding space in tight places, and then distributing to the right teammates. However, if he’s not able to recover his form – which might be a big possibility – Chelsea will have to look elsewhere for support in the attacking zone.