Mourinho gets tactical decisions wrong in fortunate West Brom draw

Jose Mourinho escaped with his Premier League home unbeaten record in tact thanks to a controversial penalty deep in the final seconds of stoppage time that gave Chelsea a 2-2 draw with West Brom. Ramires went to ground after minimal contact from Steven Reid but referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot for a Chelsea penalty to the dismay of West Brom's players. Eden Hazard coolly slotted the ensuing spot kick to earn Chelsea the point.

Following last weekend's 2-0 defeat at Newcastle, Mourinho expressed frustration with his players saying he "made 11 mistakes" in selecting the squad. The players deserve their share of criticism for a flat performance this afternoon but Mourinho should also come under scrutiny for a questionable squad selection and a second half change to 4-4-2 that left Chelsea stretched in midfield and was largely responsible for West Brom's go ahead goal.

Steve Clarke's side were incredibly well organized, defending in compact, narrow banks of four. Claudio Yakob and Youssouf Mulumbu did an excellent job shielding the back four in their defensive midfield roles and Chelsea's attacking midfield trio of Hazard, Oscar and Willian found little space between the lines to receive passes.

With West Brom defending narrow to limit the ability of Chelsea's attacking midfielders to play quick passing combinations through the middle, the space for Chelsea was on the wings. Hazard and Willian tucked inside from their outside attacking midfield roles, opening space for the fullbacks to advance down the touchline. Cesar Azpilicueta retained a deep position at left back but right back Branislav Ivanovic was encouraged to push forward and was always free on the right wing in the attacking half. Chelsea needed a right back capable of playing dangerous balls into the penalty area. Time and again Ivanovic got the ball in advanced areas on the right only to hit weak crosses into the penalty area that failed to get past the first defender. Mourinho's insistence on using Ivanovic at right back in league games seems curious. He's no doubt a solid defensive full back and his aerial ability is useful on both attacking and defensive set pieces but he's poor going forward. Azpilicueta is a more mobile right back with a better delivery from wide areas. This was a contest built for a solid attacking full back and Ivanovic simply didn't offer enough going forward. Perhaps Mourinho consistently selects Ivanovic so he can easily transition to a three center back formation if Chelsea go behind (which he did today) but Azpilicueta would have been the better right back choice today.

Mourinho's decision to once again leave Juan Mata on the bench was a curious one as well. It's no secret that under Clarke West Brom defend deep and are compact and very well organized. It requires creativity and clever movement into little pockets of space to break them down, two areas where Mata is excellent. Hazard and Willian are both fine players but they are at their best when they have open space to run into. Mata is built for games when space in the attacking third is at a premium and a special final ball is required to unlock the opposition defense.

Mourinho was most disappointing in his ill-advised decision to replace Frank Lampard with Demba Ba with the score even at 1-1 and move from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. The change was meant to be a proactive one to get Chelsea a game winner but ultimately cost them a goal. Lampard had been poor and needed to come off but the formation change left Chelsea far too stretched in the middle of midfield. Oscar dropped in alongside Ramires in the middle of the pitch and both players moved forward in possession to help in the attacking third. This meant that when Chelsea gave away possession there was no one sitting deep in midfield to protect the center backs and West Brom had plenty of space to break into quickly. For West Brom's second, Ivanovic gave the ball away too cheaply. Oscar and Ramires were in advanced positions at the time and were forced to make recovery runs. West Brom broke forward quickly. Oscar was forced wide to the left to pick up Shane Long. Ramires was unable to recover in the middle which left Sessegnon unmarked 22 yards from goal. Petr Cech should have parried away Sessegnon's rather tame effort but the goal likely would never have happened had Chelsea still had three center midfielders on the pitch.

For me, Oscar and Ramires are too fluid a midfield pairing in a 4-4-2 system and can therefore cause Chelsea to get too stretched. I think if you're going to move to that formation you have to choose one of them to do the box to box running and be paired alongside John Obi Mikel, a true holding midfielder that will protect the back four.

Down 2-1 Mourinho was forced into moving into an attacking 3-5-2, bringing on Mikel for Azpilicueta and replacing Oscar with Mata. Chelsea would ultimately get their equalizer but had Mourinho made better tactical decisions they'd have never been in a position where they needed the fortuitous penalty to salvage a point.

Preview: Arsenal vs. West Brom

West Brom and Arsenal will look to get back to winning ways when they meet at the Emirates Saturday afternoon. Arsene Wenger's side are winless in their last three league games and sit 10th in the table, their worst start to a season in 18 years. Steve Clarke's Baggies have lost their last two but have had more to celebrate this season- despite the recent defeats West Brom are off to their best start to a Premier League campaign. They find themselves 5th in the table, level on 26 points with fourth place Spurs and 3rd place Chelsea. 

Wenger will have to deal with several injuries to first team regulars. Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will all be sidelined while Bacary Sagna is also doubtful. Carl Jenkinson will replace Sagna at right back. Aaron Ramsey may be given the start on the right in the absence of Walcott with Alex Oxlade-Chamberain expected to fill in for Podolski on the left. Wenger also has Tomas Rosicky and Gervinho available. He could opt to play Rosicky on a wing or in the hole behind Giroud and push Cazorla wide.

Boaz Myhill will fill in for the Baggies at goalkeeper for Ben Foster who is recovery from groin surgery.
A Clash of Styles
This game will showcase a clash of two very different playing styles. Arsenal build attacks patiently from the back, move forward as a unit and retain possession. West Brom defend deep and look to counter rapidly. Arsenal lead the league in possession, averaging 59.9% per game while West Brom are fourth from bottom with 43.5% per game.

Expect West Brom to drop their wide midfielders Odemwingie and Gera alongside Yacob and Mulumbu in defense to create a second bank of four. Jenkinson and Gibbs will join in the attack for Arsenal from their outside back positions, pushing Odemwingie and Gera further towards their own goal. Ramsey will likely tuck inside from his right midfield position, creating space for Jenkinson to overlap. Jack Wilshere will push forward towards Cazorla in possession and look to link defense to offense. The Gunners will look to create short combinations of passes around the penalty area and find gaps in West Brom's back four to slip the ball through. They need to do a better job of turning possession into genuine goal scoring chances. During their current three game winless streak their opponents have taken more shots on target in each game despite Arsenal winning the possession battle in all three games and completing more passes in the final third.

With Jenkinson and Gibbs pushing forward, West Brom will look to quickly counter in the space behind the two Arsenal outside backs when they regain possession. Shane Long will likely float into these wide channels to provide one option for an out ball. Gera and Odemwingie will also try to quickly break in behind Jenkinson and Gibbs. It'll be Morrison's job to quickly transition forward in the middle of the pitch and link with Long. With Wilshere moving in to more advanced positions in possession, Arteta will be responsible for slowing down counterattacks, particularly by denying Morrison opportunities to get on the ball in space. The Spaniard's positioning was incredibly poor on Swansea's opening goal last weekend when he completely switched off on attacking midfielder Michu and left him unmarked just in front of the Arsenal back four.

The screenshot below shows Arteta 15 yards to the left of Michu, moving into an area Arsenal already had well covered. Chico is able to clip a pass into Michu, forcing Vermaelen to step to ball and leave space in behind him. Michu plays a simple on-two with Luke Moore, breaks past the Dutch center back and coolly finishes the breakaway. Had Arteta been in the correct position in front of the back four, Vermaelen who have never had to step out, allowing space behind him for Michu to run into (in fact Michu wouldn't have even received the ball). Arteta will have to do a better job tracking Morrison when West Brom look to break.

Central Midfield Zone
As mentioned above, defensively West Brom will likely drop their wide midfielders Gera and Odemwingie alongside holding midfielders Yacob and Mulumbu to create a midfield bank of four. Against Chelsea's 4-2-3-1, Shane Long dropped alongside James Morrison to pick up Chelsea's two holding midfielders, Mikel and Romeu on that day, and left the center backs unmarked. Both Mikel and Romeu like to sit in front of the back four and circulate the ball sideways; neither are particularly strong at linking defense and attack either with their dribbling or forward passing. Their reluctance to push forward meant Long and Morrison could defend them fairly easily while still remaining high up the pitch in good counter attacking positions when West Brom regained possession. It also meant West Brom had a spare holding midfielder so Chelsea's attacking central midfielder (both Hazard and Sturridge played there for the Blues) was outnumbered. West Brom had a spare center back as well so in the central attacking zones Chelsea were outnumbered 2 v. 4. As a result, the Blues lacked a vertical passing option and were forced to play the ball sideways.

Arsenal will pair Jack Wilshere alongside Mikel Arteta at center midfield. Wilshere is more of a box-to-box midfielder than either Mikel or Romeu and will push higher up the pitch and do a better job of linking defense to offense. The Baggies will therefore have to decide if they want Morrison to track the forward movement of Wilshere so that they have a spare holding midfielder and can defend the dangerous Santi Cazorla 2 v. 1 higher up the pitch. If they do that Long will drop in and sit on Arteta. The danger for West Brom of playing like this is that they could get pushed too deep defensively and not have an out ball when they retain possession. Therefore I'd expect Morrison to pick up Arteta, leaving a 2 v. 2 match up higher up the field between Cazorla-Wilshere and Yacob-Mulumbu.

Arteta's role circulating the ball and dictating the tempo of the game is crucial for Arsenal. Team's that have kept him off the ball have had success against the Gunners- their ball movement becomes far too slow without his involvement. He averages 88 completed passes per game, second in the Premier League only to Michael Carrick. In games he's completed fewer than 80 passes Arsenal are averaging only 0.75 points per game (1 win, 3 losses, 3 draws) and 0.57 goals per game. In games he's completed more than 80 passes they're averaging 1.63 points per game (3 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws) and 2.5 goals per game. Clarke will therefore likely put an emphasis on using some combination of Morrison and Long to keep Arteta off the ball and prevent Arsenal from getting in any type of rhythm in possession.

West Brom overload Southampton's left back, win comfortably

Peter Odemwingie kept Southampton firmly rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table with goals either side of halftime in West Brom's 2-0 win.

 Although Steve Clarke's West Brom side has consistently lined up in a 4-2-3-1 this season, he has rotated the four attacking players frequently. Today Shane Long was given the start ahead of Romelu Lukaku at forward, Odemwingie was on the right, Zoltan Gera behind Long in the middle and Graham Dorrans on the left.

Nigel Adkin's Southampton played what could be called either 4-2-3-1 or or 4-2-2-2 with Jay Rodriguez playing as a slightly withdrawn forward to the right of Rickie Lambert. Both Adam Lallana and Gaston Ramirez played fairly high up the pitch in their wide positions and both tended to float towards the middle to get on the ball.

West Brom right versus Southampton left
In the first half Adam Lallana stayed very high up the pitch when West Brom were in possession and did a poor job of tracking West Brom's Billy Jones when got forward to join the attack from his right back position. This left Danny Fox constantly overloaded at left back where he was forced to try to defend both Jones and Odemwingie. With one of the two always unmarked, Odemwingie and Jones were able to get the ball in dangerous attacking areas down the right. It was therefore unsurprising when Odemwingie's opener came from a move on the right. This time it was Youssuf Mulumbu who advanced to the right wing from his holding midfield position to overload Fox. Odemwingie drifted inside and received Mulumbu's pass with the time and space to get the ball out of his feet and shoot. His effort took a fortunate deflection on its way to beating Paulo Gazzaniga in the Southampton goal but the Saints could only blame themselves for giving Fox so little help.

Southampton's outside backs push forward
With both Lallana and Ramirez tucking inside from their wide midfield position, Fox and Nathaniel Clyne were encouraged to get forward to provide width from their outside back positions. The pair played especially high in the second half with Southampton chasing the game. This left plenty of space in behind them on the flanks for West Brom to counter into. The hosts were happy to sit deeper and invite the Southampton outside backs forward and then counter with long balls to the flanks for Shane Long when they won possession. Odemwingie's second goal came when Southampton gave the ball away cheaply in the attacking third after Clyne had once again advanced high up the field to help the attack. Long made a run to the space left vacated by Clyne and received a pass on the left wing. Jose Fonte was forced wide from his center back position to pick up Long, leaving Maya Yoshida as the only defender in the penalty area. Odemwingie and Gera both made fine bursting runs into the box and Long picked out Odemwingie with an inch perfect cross.

Southampton struggle for vertical threat
Throughout the second half West Brom were happy to sit deep and allow Southampton to have possession around the halfway line. Southampton circulated the ball well enough in this area but rarely were able to find a penetrating ball into the final third. The Saints out passed West Brom 414 to 300 yet they completed 14 fewer passes in the final third. Nigel Adkin's side simply didn't have the creativity and quality to create meaningful goal scoring opportunities against a crowded defense. Possession and sideways passing are fine but eventually the ball needs to get in the box, particularly when Rickie Lambert is your forward. Lambert is a classic big and strong British no. 9 and needs to get the ball in the penalty area where he can poach to be effective. He isn't nearly as effective when forced to drop into the midfield or drift wide to get on the ball (like more technically gifted forwards like Suarez and Van Persie). Yet he was rarely able to receive passes anywhere near the goal this evening. The graphic below shows where he received passes. Far too often he was forced to collect the ball deep or wide in the left channel.

West Brom once again did an excellent job of advancing the ball quickly on the break with meaningful forward passes. They have been outpossessed in 9 of their 10 Premier League games this season yet their organization and ability to play on the counter has made them a very difficult team to beat.

Things are looking increasingly bleak for Adkins and Southampton. They simply don't have the firepower going forward to get into shootouts with Premier League opposition. If they don't improve their dreadful defensive organization the slim hope they have of survival will be killed off by the new year. They're averaging 2.8 goals against per game and are on pace to concede an incredible 106 goals this campaign. Since the 2002-2003 season, the league's worst defensive team has avoided relegation only once- Bolton in 2006-2007. The ease with which West Brom overloaded their outside back made the seem naive and suggests Adkins and Southampton are out of their league.