Chelsea's new blue wall

Formation change, veteran leadership driving Blues' defensive dominance

Originally Published: October 19, 2012
By Joe Prince-Wright | ESPN Insider

Sitting comfortably atop the EPL table after seven games played, Chelsea has started the 2012-13 campaign in fine fashion. But for a team that spent $131.5 million on attacking talent over the summer, you might have expected the West Londoners to lead the way -- though probably not with their defense.

With a hangover of epic proportions expected to hamper the Blues' early-season form -- after their magnificent UEFA Champions League success and the huge overhaul of players in the summer months -- the opposite has occurred.

They've scored 15 goals and conceded only four in their opening seven games, registering six wins; last season, under then-coach Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea's defense allowed 32 goals in 27 games. One thing Roberto Di Matteo focused on when he took over at the helm was stopping the flow of goals past Petr Cech.

And that's carried over to this campaign, as the Italian boss is reaping the benefits of a defense-first approach.

Let's take a look at why Chelsea has been so successful on defense so far:

Defensive shift, veteran empowerment

Just how Di Matteo orchestrated a defensive transformation is intriguing because he is dealing with the same players who looked shaky and lackluster under AVB, yet he's getting unbelievable results. The biggest reason is that he has given the power back to veterans Cech, John Terry and Ashley Cole to organize the defense and gotten them to trust their own ability.

That empowering mindset was missing under AVB, as he regularly questioned if the older players could still perform at the highest level. Di Matteo played to their strengths and encouraged their aggressive style of defending. Remember, Terry, Cech and Cole were ever-present when then-coach Jose Mourinho's Chelsea conceded just 15 league goals on their way to winning the 2004-05 EPL crown. That defense-first mentality which reigned under Mourinho is back in the dressing room, but this time on Di Matteo's terms.