A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s unimpressive draw at home to Huddersfield Town.
On Wednesday evening Chelsea played their penultimate Premier League match and their last home match of the season. Battling Huddersfield Town were the visitors in what was a vital match for both clubs.
The hosts have won their previous 5 matches and are aiming for a very unlikely top 4 finish and a qualifying place in next season’s Champions League. A win would have brought The Blues level on points with Liverpool with just 1 match left for each club for a shoot out for 4th place.
The visitors, who surprised everyone last season by gaining a very well deserved promotion up to The Premier League, are defying the odds again. After an impressive defensive display away at newly crowned champions Manchester City last Sunday, The Terriers were going into this match needing just 1 point from their last 2 matches to ensure they are safe from relegation.
However, Huddersfield’s first ever visit to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League was a tie that everyone except for the most hardy of Terrier fans would have believed was going to be a comfortable home win.
David Wagner replicated his overly defensive set up that gained the 0-0 draw at the Etihad Stadium purely in the hope of trying to restrict Chelsea’s goal chances. And so the German opted for a 5-3-2 formation where even the front 2 defended very deeply – long clearances up to the half way line were still landing over 20 yards from a Huddersfield player.
The first frustration for The Blues supporters was Antonio Conte’s team selection. This match was a must win in their eyes and there was no point in resting the best players this late in the season. However Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and Olivier Giroud were all omitted. Yes the Italian sent his team out in a more attacking 3-4-3 but they seemed surprised with the visitor’s tactics.
Chelsea did dominate the match and in fact the visitors did not make an attempt at goal in the first half. However the home side did not press as high up the field as they could have and struggled to break through the defensive unit. Then frustratingly, on the few occasions they did get a sight on goal, their finishing was not up to the standard required.
Huddersfield came with a plan to pack the defence and frustrate their hosts. Their 3 centre backs and Lossl the goalkeeper were all outstanding in repelling all that Chelsea could muster. Their ability to frustrate in both time wasting and determined defence was key and they were happy to defend deep and allow Chelsea to enjoy most of the possession.
The final straw that tipped the home player’s frustrations over the edge happened at the end of a first half that remained goalless despite being a painfully one sided affair. Referee Lee Mason capped quite a poor performance by himself in signalling for a Chelsea corner, allowed time for all the players to get set and then, as Willian stepped up to take the corner, Mason blew for half time. The club have now been charged by the FA thanks to a complete lack of common sense from the official.
Then on 50 minutes all that frustration turned to disappointment as the away side took a surprise lead with their first real attempt to attack all match. Marcos Alonso managed to level the scores 12 minutes later as yet another hoofed clearance hit him in the face and went in. This was the Spaniard’s 7th league goal this season, and along with his 2 assists, he is the most prolific defender in the Premier League.
Even with the introduction of Hazard and Giroud, The Blues still laboured to create many meaningful chances and then wasted all that was presented to them. The contrast in emotions at the final result was as dramatic as a Cup Final. The away supporters were ecstatic with the point they needed to stay up and cheered as Wagner was given the bumps right in front of them.
However, the home fans’s frustrations were borne out by the mass exodus before the traditional end of season lap of the pitch by the home squad. Most of the supporters have felt disappointed and frustrated too regularly throughout the season with almost everyone at the club. It was a shame all round but that is the nature of the modern game.
Chelsea are still mathematically capable of finishing in 4th but the chances are very slim. If they do fail to gain Champions League qualification, this match will be an example of why the club has fallen short of what is most people’s belief is the bear minimum league requirement.
Antonio Conte managed his team magnificently last season but his Italian nature has been present far too often this term. An over emphasis on defence has allowed too much pressure being exerted from the opponents, while not enough attacking presence in matches has meant they have drawn matches they should have won and lost matches they were the better team in.
With one final league match and the FA Cup Final yet to play, let’s hope Conte and his players can turn the frustrations around and we can all be not quite so disappointed with the season.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue