Corinthians leave Chelsea singing the Blues

Corinthians v Chelsea - FIFA Club World Cup Final

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James Young from the Independent gives us his verdict on how Corinthians were able to defeat Chelsea at the Club World Cup final in Japan.

While Chelsea had their moments, those who have watched Corinthians over the last couple of years will know that “bend but don’t break” is practically the team motto. Theirs is not an expansive style of play but it is supremely effective, as this year’s Libertadores run, when only four goals were conceded in fourteen games, clearly shows.

A spell midway through the first half was to prove crucial. Chelsea were pressing, while Corinthians looked ragged. Yet the Londoners’ attacks lacked conviction – last year’s Barcelona vs. Santos whitewash this was not. At least to this hapless scribe, the outcome suddenly seemed clear. If Corinthians could overcome the psychological pressure created by their baying fans, not to mention the millions watching back home, and realise that inconsistent Chelsea were eminently beatable, then victory was a real possibility.

Frank Lampard looks on as Corinthians celebrate

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And so it proved. As Corinthians’ confidence grew together with Chelsea’s frustration, so the team’s passing, notably through Paulinho, regained some of its customary crispness. Guerrero, Emerson and Jorge Henrique continued to harry from the front, Ralf quietly broke up Chelsea possession, and midway through the second half, after good work in the box by Paulinho and Danilo, Guerrero headed the winner past three static Chelsea defenders.

It’s only fitting that the last word is on the “loucos”, 15,000 of whom saw Corinthians off at the airport a couple of weeks ago. “They couldn’t all be here,” said Tite, holding up a banner saying “The Favela is Here”, another reference to the club’s popularity in the poorer parts of São Paulo and Brazil, “but they were here in spirit. The fans played too, today.”

Tactical Analysis: Corinthians disrupt Chelsea’s passing and pinch a scrappy goal

…Chelsea had their chances – particularly late on – but overall Tite’s strategy was effective, particularly in a negative, spoiling sense.

Chelsea had thrashed Monterrey in midweek because the Mexican side were simply unable to cope with a Premier League tempo – they had given Juan Mata (in particular) and the rest of Chelsea’s attackers too much time in midfield, and Benitez’s side simply battered them in a 10-minute spell of speed shortly after half-time.

Here, it was clear Corinthians ‘won’ the battle of the tempo, turning it into a slow, patient match. There were two parts to their approach – with and without the ball. In possession, when there was no opportunity to counter-attack, they simply held onto the ball for long periods, and Chelsea moved back into a solid defensive shape, not pressing high up the pitch, and letting the likes of Paulinho and Ralf knock the ball around casually.

However, Corinthians were also clever without the ball. They didn’t press Chelsea’s centre-backs constantly, but lone striker Paolo Guerrero occupied David Luiz to prevent him moving forward on the ball, and Gary Cahill was left free. His passing lacked incision and contributed to Chelsea’s slow passing, while in midfield Corinthians got into positions to press near the halfway line, preventing forward passes being played into Ramires and Frank Lampard.

Chelsea were in a straightforward 4-2-3-1, but Corinthians played an unusual modification of that system – although as explained here by Roberticus, it’s not unusual for them. On the right, Henrique stayed in position and offered Alessandro defensive support, which was crucial considering how dangerous Chelsea were down that flank against Monterrey. But on the other side, Corinthians were very fluid. Normally, in a 4-2-3-1 like this, you’d expect Emerson to drop back and be part of the second bank of four. But instead, he stayed high up in a position to counter-attack – often Guerrero’s closest support – and Danilo shuffled over to the left, despite nominally being a central midfielder.

That fluidity was why Benitez started Moses rather than Oscar – a natural winger to take advantage of one-versus-one situations against the left-back, and Corinthians’ fluidity down that side was another reason Chelsea needed to play quickly.

The longer the game went on, the more it seemed Corinthians were successfully frustrating Chelsea. Their attacking play barely improved in terms of quality, but they were seeing more possession in good areas of the pitch, and eventually forced a scrappy goal.

The real question from the second half was why Benitez persisted with his starting XI for so long. The logic in starting Moses was sound, but if Chelsea were unable to get the ball to him (some odd, narrow runs from Moses hardly helped, and made his role in the side pointless), it clearly wasn’t working. It was amazing that Oscar – a player who could have lifted the tempo of the game, and prompted some fluidity and counter-attacking from Chelsea – was only introduced at 1-0.

It may have been a negative, reactive performance from Tite’s side, but the approach unquestionably worked in favour of the South American champions. They had to ride their luck, and depended upon Chelsea missing a couple of decent opportunities, but the game was played at the tempo they wanted, and they prevented Chelsea’s attackers from having a significant influence on the game.

Did they do enough with the ball? Probably not. This won’t go down as a great example of how to attack a stronger side, but it was a fine demonstration of defensive football through clever positioning and pressing.

Read the entire analysis by Zonal Marking on their website.

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