Manchester United’s snooze-fest against Liverpool was only practice for how Mourinho will attempt to suffocate Chelsea. The Blues’ wingbacks and strikers hold the key to defeating Mourinho’s parked bus.
Jose Mourinho’s greatest conflict -well, other than the FA, the media, Eva Carneiro, the guy who assigns referees and Arsene Wenger – is between his instinctive reactions to winning and losing.
Mourinho loves to win. But he hates losing even more than he loves winning. As much as Jose Mourinho would like to win at Stamford Bridge against his twice-former club, he will not risk a defeat to do so.
Manchester United will employ the same tactics against Chelsea that they did against Liverpool. Mourinho has every reason to expect the same result. Liverpool is superior to Chelsea in pace, pressing and passing. United nullified all of these advantages.
Chelsea’s first key to overcoming the parked bus will be swarming United’s box from the flanks. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso must keep the ball coming down the touchlines on the attack, and then forcefully direct play to the inside of the pitch. Moses will need to take diagonal runs into the final third as he did leading up to his goal against Leicester.
For Alonso, this means crosses into the box and overlapping runs to the goal line. Chelsea does not have a large target man to take Alonso’s crosses out of the air and punch headers at David de Gea. Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro must find any open space they can to collect loose balls that bounce around after Alonso whips them in.
The second key is audacious play from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. Eden Hazard will need to concentrate his guile and boldness on every dribble and take-on in the offensive half.
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He must initiate every run knowing that as soon as beats a man in red, one more will immediately be there for the challenging. His path from the touchline to his preferred shooting position at the top of the box will be like a scene from Fantasia. Every time he passes a Red Devil, two more appear in his path.
Diego Costa must be at his most aggressive and offensive. Accept the fact that he will get a yellow card and miss the EFL Cup tie against West Ham. That is just the cost of doing business. Costa has to run directly at or between every red jersey within 20 yards of de Gea.
The side benefit of Hazard and Costa playing this directly is the number of fouls they will provoke. Chelsea can take control of the later stages of the match by drawing United into bookings. As United’s yellow cards add up, Mourinho may choose to make early substitutions. His remaining starters would then also play further off Hazard and Costa to avoid second yellows. That extra bit of space is all either will need to find a shooting lane.
An aggressive 3-4-3 has many advantages towards overcoming a parked bus. While this Chelsea side are not very experienced in the formation, against Leicester City they showed both discipline and dynamism in their execution.
As a club and as individual players, Chelsea want to win as strongly as Mourinho wants to avoid losing. The Blues’ extra motivation is a necessary component of a true Conte 3-4-3, and should lead to a much more satisfying game than that at Anfield on Monday.