This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
In a stunning game of football at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea drew 4-4 with Ajax. Although much of the discourse after the game will be about the Blues’ comeback, it was another example of who the weak link is at Chelsea.
It will take some doing to beat Tuesday’s match for entertainment value. There were eight goals, two red cards, plenty of VAR action and all-round thrilling football.
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The managers, though, may not be as thrilled. Frank Lampard, in particular, will likely be unhappy with the way his side gave away three goals in the first half, which put them in the position where they needed to stage a comeback.
Spain international Marcos Alonso must take a huge portion of the blame for the mess, and his display showed he is the weak link at the Bridge.
Emerson Palmieri had been the first choice left-back at the start of the season, starting five of the first six matches, but an injury he sustained for Italy whilst on international duty put him out of action. 28-year-old Alonso came into the side, and initially started well, providing two assists as well as scoring the winner against Newcastle.
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However, the first real cracks started to appear against Manchester United in the League Cup. The Red Devils played a counter-attacking game, being in possession of the ball just 35% of the time compared to the Blues’ 65%, yet they managed to prevail 2-1. The former Bolton and Sunderland defender was clearly targeted, as the heatmap below shows. He also lost possession a game-high 23 times.
Erik ten Hag’s side came with a different game plan on Tuesday. In the first half, they had 56% possession, which indicates that they wanted to dictate the play rather than be reactive. A totally different philosophy to United, then, but they targeted Alonso in exactly the same way. The heatmap below shows that Ajax attempted to play more down his side, and two of the goals even came from that flank.
43% of the Dutch side’s attacks came down that side, as well. Considering they didn’t do much going forward for most of the second half after receiving those two reds – they also had just 35% of the ball after the break – the damage was already done in the first 45 minutes.
Alonso was hooked at the interval, with Cesar Azpilicueta taking his spot on the left as the player the Blues signed for £24m from Fiorentina three years ago was replaced by Reece James. It is no coincidence that Chelsea won the second half 3-1 without him on the field.
Two different matches, two different styles, but the same result. In both games, Alonso was the weak link. With Emerson now available, it seems Lampard’s potentially troublesome choice between the two has been made for him.