Gaming Strategy Applied to Chelsea Tactics

Eden Hazard Goal
Laurence Griffiths

Chelsea had something of a disappointing season last year. Sure, they took home the FA Cup after Hazard scored a penalty against Manchester United, but apart from that, they lacked silverware, and at times, results.

A fifth-place finish in the Premier League after inconsistent spells cost them dozens of points, meaning that Chelsea won’t be in the Champions League next year. It’s clear, their strategy needs a bit of work. What can new manager Sarri learn from poker gaming?

Play Tight 

Basic poker strategy demands that players stay tight and don’t play too many hands. You should fold most hands and be selective about when to play. In football, there is no folding, but what you can do is play defensively until a gap opens. With too many goals conceded by pushing forward when the opportunity is not right, it left the opponent free to counter-attack.

Conte even suggested that Chelsea may have missed out on the Champions League by “playing too open”, and that the team needs to be strong defensively to lift trophies. It was said in the context of the transfer market, and so it looks like Conte was hinting that new defenders are needed to hold the back. “You must change many players. Understand?”, says the now ex-head coach.

Play Aggressively 

It might seem like a contradiction, but it’s as critical playing aggressively as it is too tight. In poker, careful hand selection is important, but then, selective aggression is key to winning big pots. You must play the right hands in the right situations, but then, play them well to get the most value.

In football, opportunities must be seized and taken with full attacking force. Possession is always good but pushing forward and creating attacking options is what wins matches. Chelsea have a potent striking force in Hazard, Morata and Willian — they need to be fed the ball in space and shut down more games.

Play in Position 

One of the tips that you would always tell a beginner at poker is to play in position. The stronger your position, the more hands you can win and the more options you must outmanoeuvre opponents.

In football, the position is also the king. Players need to know their roles and stick to them while being versatile enough to react to the game as it happens. Formation, marking, gaining attacking opportunities, taking set pieces, they all require that Chelsea players hold their position well to gain the advantage. A lot of this depends on the manager, so hopefully, Maurizio Sarri will lead us forward with a strong positional game.

Don’t go mental! 

Poker players must remain composed and patient. The game is mostly mental. Composure is also crucial for footballers. Chelsea’s first game of the Premier League last season was the tragic 3-2 loss against Burnley in which both Cahill and Fabregas were both sent off in a game of total chaos. We need players and a manager alike to remain calm and composed in the new season.

Despite a record-breaking Premier League season in his first year as manager, many expected that Conte’s last game would be the day he lifted the FA Cup. Conte has now been sacked from his position as Chelsea manager and replaced by Sarri. Let’s hope that Chelsea find the right balance between defensive, aggressive play and positional play this year and that they bring home the title once again.