Chelsea Crossing Statistics -- Manchester United need to force the Blues to the flanks

The combination of Ashley Cole's crossing for Didier Drogba headers will not be available tomorrow.

One of the tactical keys that was highlighted in our Manchester United vs. Chelsea match preview was the need to force Andres Villas-Boas' side to play on the flanks. As this excellent analysis piece points out -- from the Chelsea fansite We Ain't Got No History -- the goalscoring rates for the Blues tends to drop as their crossing efforts increase. During Chelsea's past five matches, three of their four highest crossing rates from this season has occurred. Their opponents seem to be congesting the middle of the pitch and forcing them wide. This likely has increased as of late because of two reasons: (1) the absence of Didier Drogba -- who is one of the fiercest aerial threats in the Premier League -- due to his current involvement in the African Cup of Nations. (2) Also, outside of Juan Mata, none of Chelsea's wide players -- whether that be wide attackers or full-backs -- are particularly strong at crossing the ball.

Here is a chart that displays crossing statistics for Chelsea's wide players from their 23 Premier League matches this season. Anything over a 30% success rate is considered very good while anything around 25% is decently solid. Following the chart is a brief discussion of each player's statistics and tactical role.

The Busby Babe

Successful Crosses per Game

Successful Cross %

Appearances

Juan Mata

1.95

41/155 (26.5%)

20 (1)

Daniel Sturridge

0.29

5/34 (14.7%)

16 (1)

Florent Malouda

0.88

14/61 (23.0%)

5 (11)

Ashley Cole

0.61

14/59 (23.7%)

23

Jose Bosingwa

0.85

17/101 (16.8%)

18 (2)

Branislav Ivanovic

0.41

7/19 (36.8%)

14 (3)

Juan Mata

Mata is both the most frequent and most accurate crosser out of Chelsea's attackers. His 1.95 successful crosses per match is good for 9th best in the Premier League. The Spaniard typically is deployed on the left flank and from there, he likes to come inside and operate in the space between the lines. He's most certainly Chelsea's chief creative force. Despite drifting central so much, these crossing statistics indicate that he's more than capable when sending in crosses from the flanks. Because of his central-drifting ways though, his crosses are often of shorter distances. Thus, this likely enhances his crossing accuracy.

Daniel Sturridge

Sturridge is a wide forward that looks to cut in from the right and shoot on his stronger left-foot. His 3.12 shots per game -- the most in the Chelsea squad -- is indicative of that. Also, his meager 34 cross attempts this season displays that this is not a big part of his game. The 22-year-old will often receive the ball out wide, but he immediately looks to cut inside. This provides space for overlapping runs by a full-back.

Florent Malouda

Malouda was often first-choice under the previous regime but under Villas-Boas, the first-choice wide attackers are Mata and Sturrdige. Still though, the Frenchman has made 16 league appearances this season -- 11 as a substitute -- and he typically plays as the wide forward on the left or as the most advanced player in a midfield trio. When considering that most of his appearances result in limited minutes due to being a frequent substitute, his successful crossing rate is actually decent.

Ashley Cole

Cole looks to get forward and provide overlapping runs when Mata goes inside. The left-back is a decent crosser of the ball on his day but he will unavailable on Sunday due to the two bookings he received versus Swansea City at the midweek. The England international has tended to be pinned back anyway recently when up against a United right-winger so his attacking contribution may have been limited.

Jose Bosingwa

As mentioned previously, a marauding right-back is needed to compliment Sturridge. Despite being a poor defender, it is Bosignwa that is most often selected at right-back by Villas-Boas due to his ability to get forward for overlapping runs. However, the Portuguese is a poor crosser of the ball -- his 16.8% success rate on crosses highlights that. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has actually made it a tactical emphasis to provide space for Chelsea's right-back because they have all been poor when crossing the ball in recent seasons.

Branislav Ivanovic

When deployed at right-back, Ivanovic is another that Fergie encourages to get forward so that he can whip in crosses. His 36.8% success rate on crosses this season is outstanding but it is also misleading. He's only attempted 19 of them because he's often deployed at center-back. Ivanovic is an improvement on Bosingwa defensively but he's not as capable in attack. Even if he does get forward into open space, he's a poor crosser of the ball.

Ryan Bertrand

It'll either be Bertrand or Bosingwa that deputises for Cole on Sunday. However, no crossing data is available on the defender since he has only appeared in 3 Carling Cup matches this season.

Conclusion

It would be reasonable to expect United to congest the middle of the pitch at Stamford Bridge and force Chelsea to the flanks -- an area where they are not strong at crossing the ball from. However, crossing statistics can be somewhat misleading because they are dependent on having someone who is capable of getting on the end of crosses. Fernando Torres -- who is almost certain to start up front for Chelsea -- is not as effective as Drogba in aerial duels. The Spaniard prefers to work the channels and run on to through balls played into space. This is another reason that United will want to defend narrowly and clog things up in the center of the park -- it'll limit time and space for Chelsea's midfielders to play penetrating through balls and as a result, they may be forced to swing the ball out wide. United will be delighted when this happens.

* All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com

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