One thing can save Chelsea… Eden Hazard

Chelsea just capitulated to Leicester City, 2-0 at King Power Stadium, and I am left frustrated. Capitulated might be a harsh assessment of a two goal away defeat to a quality side, but my faith has wavered and my patience abruptly expired. So much so that the title of this post senselessly invokes the hallowed name of a club legend, which requires a legend of the fantastical variety, since it is the 2018/19 vintage Hazard (that of the slaloming solo run through the majority of the West Ham outfield) that could rescue the Blues from their current predicament. And a time-traveled Hazard is not walking through that door. I know because I've been to Stamford Bridge, and, like HD flat screens, the changing room lacks a time machine.

At 73', I broke protocol and checked the final scoreline (a cheat afforded by a TiVo and my proclivity to pause the match to message my footie friends some time-shifted, match commentary). This is a heresy of broadcast spectatorship, and I should be rebuked, but, frustration trumping faith, I already knew the final. True, Chelsea rescued a draw from a three goal deficit at the Hawthorns earlier in this campaign, but Leicester had proven, in both this match and the table, to be an entirely different baggie of beans. I would have been truly happy to have been proven wrong, but, alas, I was sorrowfully right. 2-0 at the half. 2-0 at, roughly, the hour mark, when the requisite offensive-minded substitutions were made (£72m of summer signings off, £81m of summer signings on). 2-0 when I cheated. And 2-0 when the match ended, which I've yet to see with mine own eyes.

The two Leicester goals, and their context, offer a window into the vexing of my Chelsea-supporting soul. The 6' Ndidi goal benefited from a well-drilled short corner that opened up the Chelsea defense to not one but two(!!) unchallenged attempts from in or near the 18-yard box.

Let us ignore the fact that the only player in position to block Ndidi's attempt was his colleague, Jonny Evans, who deftly ducked as the solidly struck ball lasered towards his head.

Darn it Jonny! Take one for the (other) team.

Concussion averted, goal conceded, and proof that strategy, even one that I instinctually loathe, can yield results. The short corner worked.

Breaking Down the Corner that Broke the Chelsea Defense

A harmless beginning belied its true nature.

This looks harmless

Madison received the short corner from Albrighton, who jogged towards his pass and away from goal, as if to go beyond Madison to make himself available for a further retreating pass, only he abruptly changed direction and sprinted goalwards on a diagonal.

Uh-oh… unexpected running!

The Chelsea defense was left aghast, Madison passed to the advancing and poorly marked Albrighton, and the underbelly of the Chelsea box was laid bare… by a short corner! I am embarrassed by merely writing that.

An aside into defensive formations…

Chelsea have the 6-yard box on lockdown  
Perhaps five defenders marking two opponents (besides a keeper who brings both legs and arms to the defensive fold) is an imbalance that foreshadowed the coming debacle.

I am not certain that this set piece qualifies as creative or inventive, but all should agree that this was an idea. Someone thought of it, someone communicated it, sufficiently enough for the players to be aware of the idea during the match. These are the trappings of a plan.

This suggests that having an idea that is vocalized, perhaps drilled, is nice. It is something that might produce something good. For further proof by way of a counterexample, we need look no further than the 40th minute.

Making the Impossible… Impossible

Measure twice, kick once

Had the magically elusive Christian Pulisic been tripped six inches closer to goal, this would have been a penalty. Instead, Chelsea are awarded a direct free kick from the edge of the 18-yard box. Plan? Idea? Rubbish! It's called direct for a reason. Kick it!

The ball is moving very fast. Thankfully, no supporters were injured.

Kasper Schmeichel's stance in this screenshot tells (screams!) volumes. As the ball harmlessly rockets (well struck ball Mason 👍) into the stands, he appears to be waiting. Waiting for a plan to hatch, his defense unlocked, and his goal in jeopardy. Rest assured, Kasper. Your goal is safe.

Judicious readers can earnestly object to the implication that scoring from this position is easy. Indeed, it is objectively not. It is extremely difficult to wholly impossible. The match commentators also pointed out this fact after the ball sailed over the Leicester goal -- striking a dead ball in a manner that gets it up (over the defensive wall) and down (onto the face of the goal) is virtually impossible from that position. However, the proximity to goal is unimpeachably valuable, so one should not waste this opportunity with an impossible, or at least imprudent, direct attempt on goal.

The missing ingredient to this momentarily unsolvable problem is a plan, an idea. It might not work, but neither will kicking it as hard as humanly possible over a phalanx of opposition located impossibly close to the target.

What the World Needs

Tactical philosophy in the midst of post-match, armchair punditry both feeds our insatiable thirst and provokes deserved groans. The surface area for criticism in sports is endless. What this world needs are solutions! "What do you know?!" one might exhaustedly exclaim.

Fair point. Well, I know select details of every Chelsea match over the previous 12 years (which includes the Carabao Cup -- the maligned home of "squad rotation"), and I know YouTube. In lieu of screenshot-laden verbosity, just (click to) watch.

Bear witness to a plan. A plan that worked -- 16 months prior to the match that, momentarily, broke my spirit. It exists in the public domain. There are no licensing fees to employ it in subsequent football matches.

I cannot claim that it would have solved Chelsea's free kick problem, but I would have relished the hatching of it, or any plan. For it is planning, in multifaceted multiples proportional to the scope of the contest, that possesses the potential to wipe that mockingly statuesque pose from Kasper's screenshotted form. Make smug Schmeichel flinch!

Is that too much to ask... Frank?


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