Date: 25th January 2019 at 10:50am
Written by:
My thanks to the superb Forensic Onions

Selections and Structure

Gazzaniga came in as “Cup Goalie”. Aurier and Davies were in, presumably, to make a more robust defensive back four. Dier and Sissoko came into midfield (more robustness in mind I guess).

We started in a 41212 diamond with Dier at the base, Eriksen at the tip, with Lamela and Llorente up top. 

The Game

In theory the structure wasn’t a bad notion against this Chelsea, as long as we were more aggressive than the first leg, maybe even used Eriksen to stifle Jorginho, as well as torment him, the way we used Alli in the league game, pressed more cohesively and played further up the pitch.

Unfortunately none of this came to pass. And, more annoyingly, it’s not like we were defensively steadfast either. 

Unsurprising perhaps, for players that had all been missing recently, Aurier, Dier and Sissoko were like three stewed prunes in Moulinex hairdryer, incapable of either defending competently or playing football under the pressure of Chelsea’s press, and with Hazard revelling in being set out in his favourite inverted ALM position, we were being constantly tormented down that side. 

The first goal was really poor, schoolboy stuff. If Poch has set us up to leave two guys just standing on the edge of the box for a corner, it’s really poor coaching, and even if he hasn’t, Dier and Sissoko were both stood marking no one, surely Dier should spot this and send someone out there?

Then when the shot comes in, Davies does make a valiant effort to block but then Dier flinches and Sissoko makes some cack footed motion and just succeeds in deflecting the ball past a hapless Gazzaniga, who’d had to wait for it to go through three players before he sees it. It was farcical. 

We’d struggled to play enough football in the first leg, putting Dier and Sissoko into that midfield three was never going to remedy that, neither are comfortable receiving the ball under pressure or playing football through it. So we didn’t much. 

The second goal was as pathetic as the first. Dier gives away his umpteenth foul and decides it would be much better to stand around bitching about it, rather than stopping them playing it, Chelsea play on, ba bing ba bing, ba bang ba bang and the player he let the ball get played to while he was faux outraging scores. 

The second Poch drops Dier back and we switch to a 3421.

And this did have an immediate improving effect, the next 15 minutes was the only prolonged spell of the tie in which we had any kind of control (the only phase of this tie where we had more possession 54% during this phase), gradually though, we relinquished this control and it was killed for good when Poch decided to bring on Sanchez for Sissoko, who fell victim to a “friendly fire” wounding by the hapless Aurier, and push the woeful Dier back into midfield.

Any momentum left was well and truly extinguished, although truth be told, momentum ad pretty much gone by then any way. 

If we could have kept our foot on the throttle whilst we had that momentum we may well have got something more, they were clearly rattled for the first time in the two legs, alas, it was not to be. As it was they were unlucky not to finish us off on normal time, last ditch defending and poor finishing saving us that ignominy. 

Truth be told we were second best for the vast majority of the two legs. Of course we were really hamstrung by the loss of Kane, Alli and Son in this leg, but they were all part of the first leg in which we were thoroughly outplayed. 

Personally I’m more disappointed by the performances in both games, than the result. You can lose important games to good teams, that happens, but the limp showing in the first leg was really poor and we have played football for about 15 minutes out of 180. 

Poch is a great coach, he continues to surprise and impress me, we’ve by and large been really good for the last couple of months, but this is another pair of big games where I find myself questioning his approach a little, especially that first leg.