Desire and decision-making cost Chelsea against Shakhtar

Posted by Phil Lythell

As encouraging as the wins over Tottenham and Arsenal have been, Chelsea's 2-1 defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk was almost equal in its disappointment.

Conceding early in the Donbass Arena against a side in the middle of an implausibly long unbeaten run and understandably brimming with confidence was always going to make it a hard night and that was proven as the Blues struggled to get a foothold in the game. The team seemed to be caught between two stools: unsure whether to pour forward in the manner of the pair of victories in North London or whether to sit back and punish Shakhtar on the break.

The selection of Ramires in the wide right position suggested the former was the policy of choice but those tactics were blown out of the water when Frank Lampard limped off after 16 minutes. That is not to say that the system was coherent before that point but it meant that the pre-match set-up designed to shore up the right flank was now obsolete.

Chelsea's major problem concerned the recovery of the ball. The players sat off their opponents far too often and allowed Shakhtar's plethora of skilful players far too much space in which to operate. The likes of Willian and Fernandinho had the freedom of Donetsk in which to drive forward and pick their passes, the impressive Alex Teixeira providing the movement to open up gaps in the Chelsea defence. The area five to ten yards in front of the Chelsea area appeared to be continually bereft of blue shirts and instead was a swathe of orange despite both John Obi Mikel and Ramires being deployed to help patrol that part of the field.

The attitude changed markedly at the start of the second half with Chelsea getting much nearer the opposition and working hard to win the ball back when possession was lost. Unfortunately the momentum could not be shifted due to the concession of very soft second goal. It was a shame that Eden Hazard was culpable for that incident as he looked to be Chelsea's most likeliest route back into the match with his ability to drift pass players and play the incisive pass. The mistake came as a result of overplaying and criticism will unfortunately come his way in the post-mortem.

However, when a team is instructed to play in a new, flamboyant and riskier style such pitfalls are inevitable. The mighty Barcelona have often been exposed for taking one risk too many when a sloppy pass or injudicious turn results in a goal for the opposition but those aberrations are far outweighed by the overall aesthetic and the bounty it ultimately produces at the other end of the pitch. Chelsea might not quite have the art of tiki-taka perfectly mastered as yet but such ambitions take time to materialise and a certain amount of latitude has to be afforded if they are to be achieved.

Where patience is running out is in the decision-making of David Luiz. Rarely a match goes by without the Brazilian playing a significant part in the build-up to an opponent's goal. His mistake for the opener in Donetsk was not quite as glaring as the one which saw Carlo Ancelotti chastise the defender for allowing Javier Hernandez to score in the opening seconds of a pivotal Premier League match at Old Trafford in May 2011 but it was just as costly. Slow to react to the long throw and then half-hearted with his clearance, Luiz's dithering ensured Chelsea were under cosh from the start. Undoubtedly he has talent with the ball at his feet but even his passing was errant this evening. The benched Gary Cahill must wonder what he has to do gain a regular starting spot given his relatively flawless start to his career so far at Stamford Bridge.

That Chelsea still find themselves with an excellent chance of playing Champions League football in the new year is thanks largely to Nordsjaelland holding Juventus to a surprise draw in Denmark. With the Blues sitting in second, a point ahead of the Italian champions, Roberto Di Matteo can rally his troops for the return fixture in a fortnight's time and he will need to do so as a win is imperative. Whether that is achieved or not, the penultimate group stage clash away in Turin will ultimately decide the club's fortunes but going into that fixture ahead of Juventus will allow the margin of error to be that little bit wider.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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