“Today, at the start, Everton changed their formation, their system. They tried to find a solution, to create man-to-man situations in all zones of the pitch. Coaches can use the same system as us, but with different ideas. They can be similar systems but not the same” – Antonio Conte.
Chelsea’s manager was not meaning to stick the boot in on Ronald Koeman, but that is the inevitable effect of his perfect summation of Saturday evening’s game. Plenty of sides will lose heavily at the hands of Chelsea if they continue to play with that attacking verve, but a team facing formidable opposition can still perform terribly. Everton did exactly that.
You can see the logic in replicating Chelsea’s formation in an attempt to stop them playing, but players are far more important than systems. The defensive effectiveness of Chelsea’s 3-4-3 relies on proficient full-backs, central midfielders with high stamina and central defenders comfortable with roaming out of defence to pick up an opposition No. 10.
For Koeman to consider his side capable of doing the same was optimism bordering on naivety. Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka are both used to playing as central defenders in a back four and stayed centrally, leaving Eden Hazard with plenty of room for manoeuvre. Ramiro Funes Mori, clearly tasked with the job of moving out of defence to close down the ball, could not be a worse fit for the role. Daniel Passarella this week backed Funes Mori to be the next Argentina captain as he was a natural leader. El Gran Capitán cannot have watched his man play at club level recently.
In midfield too, Everton were overrun by their shape. It allowed Ross Barkley to stay forward as he did so successfully against West Ham, but asked Gareth Barry to do an awful lot of work in centre midfield for a man aged 35. It was akin to asking an old lady to hold up the bed while you retrieved something that had rolled underneath.
With Barry deep, Tom Cleverley entirely ineffective and the wing-backs pinned back by their opposite numbers, Everton were catastrophically light in midfield. It created a gap between defence and attack that left the forwards embarrassingly isolated. Koeman’s side are the first team this season to have fewer than two shots in a Premier League game.
Interestingly, Koeman’s biggest – and understandable – gripe with his players was not with their quality, but attitude. After the game he spoke of Chelsea’s aggression, work and appetite to win second balls as the biggest lessons his own players needed to learn. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 is a swan, the tricks, flicks and one-twos disguising intense work off the ball. Cleverley was the only Everton player to record more than 60 sprints, compared to four in Chelsea blue.
The manager’s accusation is that his squad has too many passengers, and supporters might well agree. There is no cause for panic at a club who sit seventh in the Premier League after a slow summer of transfer activity, but Koeman will be keen to address that in January. The Dutchman might feel that a team with several high-profile performers is being let down by a general lack of quality around them.
Yet Koeman must take his share of the blame for heavy defeat. Why pick a formation when you don’t have the personnel to make it effective?