FA Cup tactics recap

Chelsea 5-1 Southampton: Ba gives Blues more direct threat in final third
Chelsea bounced back from their shock league defeat Wednesday to QPR to run away 5-1 winners at St. Mary's in Demba Ba's debut outing. It took the Senegalese striker just 35 minutes to get on the score sheet at his new club and he added a second at the hour mark.

Ba's movement in the penalty area was excellent and his performance illustrated how he'll enable Chelsea to be more direct and use more width in the final third than they do with Fernando Torres in the lineup.

Torres is not the type of striker that remains in the box and gets himself into dangerous positions to poach goals: rather he likes to move into positions where he can become involved in the buildup play. He tends to either drop into midfield or float into the channels to receive the ball. Because Chelsea always play with only one center forward, Torres's movement back into midfield and into wide areas means the Blues are often left with no one to pounce on balls played into the penalty area. 

When he drops between the lines to get on the ball, Chelsea's play tends to become quite narrow. Their wide midfielders pinch in field to offer passing options and look for quick combinations down the middle. When he floats into the channels he's often able to create overloads for the opposition outside backs but it also leaves Chelsea with too few players in the box to attack balls played in from wide areas.

Ba offered a different option Saturday. He tended to stay in central areas high up the pitch alongside Southampton's center backs, rarely dropping back into the space occupied by Mata. This allowed Mata more space in between the seams to get on the ball and use his creativity to pick apart the Southampton defense. Moses and Hazard were able to stay in wider areas and Mata moved from flank to flank from his central attacking midfield position to create overloads in the channels. Because Ba remained in and around the penalty area, Chelsea always had at least one person to aim balls in the box to when they got the ball in wider areas in the attacking third.

Ba offers Chelsea a physical presence in the box and his aerial ability will allow them to play with more width and send more crosses into the box. His instincts and movement in the penalty area are excellent, highlighted most clearly by the near post run he made on his second goal. Just moments later he demonstrated his clever movement in the box once again as he peeled off to the back post to receive a cross from Hazard (or was it Mata/Cole/Moses???). His headed effort was saved but the move showcased a direct threat Chelsea hadn't shown all season.

West Ham 2-2 Manchester United: United struggle in final third against powerful Hammers midfield
Alex Ferguson fielded a lopsided 4-3-1-2 and Manchester United struggled to dictate play in the final third. Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes played center midfield and Shinji Kagawa was employed higher up the field as the link man behind the front two pairing of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. Rafael was used at right midfield meaning Manchester United had more numbers on the right side of the pitch than the left.

Early on Ferguson's side were able to take advantage of overloads down the right, causing matchup problems for West Ham's left back Daniel Potts. Smalling pushed on down the touchline from right back while Rafael tucked inside. Hernandez made diagonal runs into the right channel leaving West Ham to defend 2 v. 3 down that flank. Unsurprisingly the Red Devils' opener came from a well worked one-two down the right between Hernandez and Rafael.

The opener seemed to wake Allardyce's side up and minutes later they drew level in very West Ham-like fashion: a free kick ultimately fell to Joe Cole on the left flank who whipped in a fine cross for James Collins to head home.

With the scores level, West Ham used their work rate and physical strength in midfield to frustrate Ferguson's side. The game closely resembled West Ham's 3-1 league win over Chelsea early in December when the Hammers physically battered Chelsea's diminutive attacking midfielders. The likes of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata were simply overpowered in the Blue's attacking third leaving Chelsea unable to link defense to offense and create meaningful scoring chances.

Kagawa had a similar experience Saturday. Playing as the link man behind Welbeck and Hernandez, he was unable to find the space to get any kind of meaningful touches on the ball. When he was able to get in possession he was quickly closed down and bullied off the ball by the likes of Alou Diarra and Jack Collison.

The experiences of Chelsea and Manchester United suggest using a player with physical strength in possession to play the attacking midfield role is perhaps a better bet against West Ham than a smaller creative player. Had Wayne Rooney been fit he would have been able to use his strength and power to get the ball in tight pockets of space, keep possession and win free kicks.

Ultimately, as they so often do, Fergie's substitutions made the difference as Ryan Giggs provided an incredible ball over the top to Van Persie whose first touch and finish highlighted why he's the best striker in the Premier League.