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May 4, 2014

Tactics Board: Chelsea fail to pass bus; uncharacteristic City

CHELSEA 0-0 NORWICH CITY

In one respect, the statistics pointed to Chelsea domination. They had 71 percent of possession and 23 attempts at goal. However, only four were on target, which illustrates why Norwich took a point at Stamford Bridge. So does the entire Chelsea team’s touch map (above) for the second half.

It shows where Norwich, to use the phrase Jose Mourinho coined, parked the bus: on the edge of the 18-yard box. They defended very deep and narrow. Chelsea penned them back but only Eden Hazard -- who operated across the three supporting positions behind the striker -- suggested he had the creativity to end the stalemate, and they couldn’t get into the penalty area often enough. Many of those 23 shots came from long range, hinting at Chelsea’s frustration that they could not fashion openings closer to goal.

Norwich operated with a tight, compact back four, to prevent gaps developing between any of them. Instead, there was some space on the flanks, a reason why Chelsea delivered 33 crosses. Yet it was telling that while Chelsea had huge amounts of the ball -- David Luiz, who only came on at halftime, touched it more than any Norwich player -- the one exception was Demba Ba, who had only 24 touches. For all the talk about Chelsea’s strikers lacking quality, they couldn’t get their main forward on the ball.

If it proved that Chelsea, who have stuttered against some lesser opponents, need to find a way to break down packed defences next season. It also suggested that Neil Adams and Norwich borrowed some of the defensive game plan Mourinho himself used at Anfield seven days earlier.

ARSENAL 1-0 WEST BROMWICH ALBION

The Arsenal supporters spent some of the game imploring the out-of-contract Bacary Sagna to stay at the Emirates Stadium next season. The right-back illustrated his value in what might prove his final home game. His touch map (above) is that of a modern full-back, charged with being a one-man right flank.

With Theo Walcott injured for much of the season, Sagna has rarely had anyone remotely resembling an orthodox right winger in front of him. Against West Brom, Santi Cazorla was ostensibly stationed there, but typically, he wandered. It meant Sagna was the outlet on the side, shorn of an ally who also had to make sure he wasn’t caught out defensively.

Sagna’s pace and stamina were important in both halves of the pitch. He made seven clearances in defence and delivered three crosses going forward and -- joint with Mesut Ozil -- had the most touches of any player on the pitch.

EVERTON 2-3 MANCHESTER CITY

Manchester City played four No. 10s at Goodison Park. Or rather, they played four players in the No. 10 role, just not at the same time. Sergio Aguero started playing just off target man Edin Dzeko. When he limped off, Yaya Toure was pushed forward. When the Ivorian departed, Samir Nasri became Dzeko’s sidekick before he was substituted, and finally, David Silva operated there.

While Manuel Pellegrini’s tactics rarely change, it was notable that when Aguero went off, he ignored the two striking options on his bench -- Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo -- and used players who are primarily midfielders there. It reflected the need to have a fifth midfielder against an Everton team who excel in retaining possession, as well as City's initial difficulties facing a reconfigured home side. Roberto Martinez adopted a back three, and minus Aguero, they were only actually marking one man, Dzeko, as Pellegrini looked for control in midfield.

The key factor was that City kept more men behind the ball than usual after Aguero went off. With Toure pushed further forward, substitute Fernandinho being a little more restrained than he often is and Javi Garcia operating as a holding player, it was close to a double pivot -- something that has seemed anathema to Pellegrini.

Garcia’s touch map (above) highlights how much time he spent in his own half and how little in the final third. So while City scored three goals, in some respects, this was quite an uncharacteristic win for them.

MANCHESTER UNITED 0-1 SUNDERLAND

Juan Mata marked the start of Ryan Giggs’ brief reign by scoring two poacher’s goals from close range against Norwich. He produced a very different performance against Sunderland -- indeed some would say that he reverted to type, given the evidence of his United career.

A complaint has been that Mata has operated too far from goal and showed too little urgency to get into scoring positions when he has played as a No. 10. Against Sunderland, his touch map (above) shows that he had only one touch inside the visitors’ penalty box.

A theory is that Mata drops deep, looking for the ball. It is an indirect indictment of the central midfielders and indicates that if he is to carry on playing that role for United, they need players with the power and goal-scoring ability to run past him and score, in the way that Ozil, as a No. 10, and Aaron Ramsey have dovetailed for Arsenal. However, United’s five main central midfielders -- Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini, Darren Fletcher and Giggs -- have only mustered two league goals between them.