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talented but distinctly average forward, Victor Moses started the season as nothing more than a squad player, having failed to light up many, or any, games in a Chelsea shirt since signing for the club in 2013, and struggling to win a place in the first XI.

Victor Moses is really good as a wing-back now
Victor Moses has been superb as a right wing-back under Antonio Conte’s management

Loan spells at West Ham and Stoke failed to suggest Moses was destined for anything other than providing the occasional bit of flair in a team doomed to mid-table mediocrity, until a new manager with a different way of thinking changed everything.

Since Antonio Conte’s switch of tactical system after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, Moses has been an indispensable member of this (soon-to-be crowned) Premier League winning XI. How has it happened?

Moses’ new position

The key has been in getting the most from Moses. As with all formations, Chelsea’s shape changes according to the phase of play.

Chelsea's 3-4-2-1
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea 3-4-2-1

Nominally a 3-4-2-1, the formation allows for an extra forward player in lieu of a defensive one, and provides a solid, heavily numbered defensive shape when required. On the back-foot in defensive situations, Chelsea play five across the back, with four men ahead providing extra cover in midfield.

Conte’s team are much better than a lot of Premier League sides though and spend most of their time in possession and in attack. When allowed to do so, this 3-4-2-1 actually becomes more of a 2-3-4-1, and that is where we see Conte’s thinking behind playing an out-and-out winger in this supposedly defensive position.

Chelsea attacking formation
Chelsea’s attacking shape

Cesar Azpilicueta steps up to make a midfield three, Moses and Marcos Alonso move wide and play like wingers. This shape gets the very most out of these two attacking-minded players and forces an opposition team’s wide forwards to come back and defend, meaning that Chelsea don’t really need too many back defending.

If Azpilicueta doesn’t join the midfield, Gary Cahill steps out with the ball and makes a midfield three instead.

Going forward

The reason this suits Moses so much is that wide forwards often aren’t expected to track the wing-back, and others simply forget or choose not to. This is something which happened often in the early stages of Moses’ evolution into wing-back, against Hull, who were constantly exposed to his forward runs during Chelsea’s first start in Conte’s new system.

In this position on the right of a midfield four, he receives freedom and space never granted to wingers or inside forwards because of the player ahead of him. Moses is far more effective when given space to run into instead of playing one-on-one against a determined full-back.

When Willian (playing as right sided forward) cut inside, Moses stayed wide. The opposition full-back had to block Moses from crossing while defending against Willian, putting extra strain on the centre-back who had to assist with Willian while dealing with Diego Costa. This caused moments of panic and resulted in space being created within the confusion.

When Willian overlapped, it gave Moses license to move into a central position – another thing he is very good at. Suddenly, Chelsea had introduced a new number 10 in an unexpected and undefended position – if a forward or midfielder does not drop back to assist in defence, Chelsea have an overload, with an creative player on the ball.

A quick one-two on the edge of the area and a dizzy defence is stretched, allowing Moses the chance to run in behind and either assist or score. He did exactly this against Leicester:

Reading the threat

During loan spells at West Ham and Stoke, the Nigerian played as both winger and inside forward, scoring three league goals for Stoke from 19 appearances and only one for West Ham from 21 (eight of which were as a substitute). The return was not great; there are better options out there in this crucial attacking position.

However, just as centre-backs often begin their careers as goalscorers, Moses’ knowledge of the winger and inside-forward positions means he understands likely movements his opponents will make.

Victor Moses against Middlesbrough
Victor Moses played in the 3-0 win over Middlesbrough CREDIT: PA

“I have been learning a lot defensively as well. The manager has been teaching me and I have taken everything in”, Moses said after the 3-0 win over Middlesbrough.

“And when I play against a winger, because I’m a winger myself, I understand what they are going to do before they try and go past me, so it makes it a lot easier for me.”

The learning curve has been steep in terms of defensive positioning but Moses has a natural advantage when defending against one of his own. Antonio Valencia at Man Utd has a similar ability to predict where tricky wingers might try to run but defends by forcing the man facing him to fall into deeper positions to cope with the threat he poses. Dani Alves – one of the finest wide defenders playing in Europe – has defended by attacking his entire career.

Defensive positioning

Despite working with Conte during the season, Moses’ defensive positioning is still his weakness. This is inevitable but a problem Chelsea must fix – opponents have identified the vulnerability already.

eriksen cross vs chelsea
Spurs score against Chelsea by catching Moses out of position

Spurs scored twice in a 2-0 win by hooking the ball from a wide right position to the back post, into an area between Cesar Azpilicueta and Moses. Not only is Moses not as strong in the air as Dele Alli but he was vital split-seconds behind the defensive line stepping out in an offside trap.

Liverpool too figured out that Moses can be caught out with keeping this line and profited from a ball to the back post, which James Milner squared to set up Giorginio Wijnaldum for a tap-in during their 1-1 draw.

henderson cross to milner
Victor Moses plays James Milner onside

Targeting the inexperience

In addition to aiming crosses towards Moses’ position, Spurs also concentrated their play down the left wing.

If Moses is afforded space to run into, he and Chelsea can cause damage and force attacking wide players into defensive positions they don’t want to occupy. Mauricio Pochettino’s plan was to give Chelsea’s wing-backs a taste of their own medicine and force them as deep as possible to negate the attacking threat.

By focusing down the left, Spurs – one of the few teams to beat Chelsea this season – also looked to expose flaws in Moses’ defensive decision making and positioning. They didn’t score via this method but created plenty and other teams have attempted to take advantage of a player still learning this new skill set and position too.

Moses is not the finished article yet and his form has dipped towards the end of the season. Whether that is from the fatigue of playing an entire season of football or because opposition managers have developed ways to curb his influence is something we’ll find out next season, providing Conte doesn’t attempt to upgrade on his latest protege.

 

Culled from telegraph.co.uk

 

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Copyright 2017 AOIFootball. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.AOIFootball.com as the source.

Follow us on twitter @TheAOIFootball and on Facebook

Copyright 2017 AOIFootball. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.AOIFootball.com as the source.

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