The Crystal Palace star who could make Chelsea wait for the title
Jose Mourinho's well-oiled defensive machine has reignited the tediously unresolvable debate about aesthetics versus results, and in doing so provided a welcome distraction from the truth: Chelsea's attack has withered quietly since Christmas, and as they edge towards the finish line it is pragmatic adaptation, not managerial philosophy, that has seen the one-nils re-emerge.
ALSO ON FFT.COM
Gone are the dominant displays that captured the spirit of autumn, when that perfect fusion of opposites – the elegant passing of Cesc and the beastly goalscoring of Diego – saw Chelsea scoring for fun. They did at least turn on the style at Leicester on Wednesday night, coming from behind to rally in the second half.
But any attempts at expansive football could lead to vulnerabilities against Crystal Palace's wingers, and – more importantly – add weight to a theory gaining momentum: the Blues are grinding results not for efficiency but because, right now, it is the only way they can. Palace's primary creative threat is Yannick Bolasie, and although successive 2-0 defeats suggests a downswing in momentum, their opponents – Hull and West Brom – utilise deep, compact defensive lines that limit the capacity for counter-attacking football. Chelsea must not underestimate his threat.
Chelsea will certainly not sit as deep as either of these teams, thus playing more into Palace's hands.
Thirty-nine per cent of Palace's attacks come down the left (the second highest proportion in division) and through Bolasie, as part of Alan Pardew's tactical strategy originally implemented at Newcastle; sit deep, absorb pressure and burst forward through the flanks once possession is regained. They average just 40.5% possession (a league low) and attempt more dribbles (22 per match) than any other team bar Pardew's former employers and Arsenal. This tactical approach may prove successful this weekend thanks to Chelsea's dependence on Branislav Ivanovic to provide attacking support from right-back, and their defensive deficiencies in central midfield; with Fabregas frequently abstaining from his duties, providing that initial pass into Bolasie's feet shouldn't be too much of a problem.
With Ivanovic so high up the pitch, Bolasie may find space on the left.
It's quite plausible that space will be afforded to Bolasie to explode down the left flank. If he performs at his best, Chelsea may have to wait to celebrate their fourth Premier League title.