This match analysis was first featured on our dedicated Chelsea site, feelchelsea.com.
It was just a matter of time before Chelsea F.C. were able to work on and offset its main build-up flaw which is not switching the play to the open flanks and keeping it to the central regions instead.
Chelsea are now getting better in making positional attacks, meaning that it is the perfect time to get over to BoDog and check out their excellent offers when it comes to betting on a Chelsea win.
Sarri’s intense passing requirement is well-synchronised with this positional attacking tactic and enables Chelsea to add up its possible angles and areas to penetrate and attack – something Chelsea has been missing at the very start of the season due to its centrally biased offensive plays.
This tactical analysis piece gives insights into how Chelsea’s positional attacks overpowered Crystal Palace‘s highly uncoordinated defence and prevented the away team in neutralising Chelsea’s lead in the second half.
Chelsea played with their usual 4-3-3 formation. The first half was minus Hazard who later replaced Willian in the second half. Another important substitution was Kovacic coming on in place of Barkley to improve the midfield solidity after Chelsea conceded an equaliser in the second half.
Palace started with a 4-3-3 formation while going 4-4-2 when off the ball forming a mid defence line. However, given Chelsea’s frequent penetration into the away team’s defensive third, Palace adopted a flat yet closed 4-4-2 as their dominant formation. The 4-4-2 set up allowed Palace to squarely block Jorginho as the front two covered him from the front while the midfield two were in a perfect position to dissociate Jorginho from his offensive teammates.
As Palace’s defensive set up caused the team to stay closed and deep, this opened spaces for Chelsea in the wider lanes. Chelsea used the open flanks many times giving Azpilicueta and Alonso the role of initiating attacks from their respective widths. These positional attacks, in turn, forced the opponents to multi-press Chelsea’s advancing fullbacks thus opening space in the deeper lanes for the wingers to cut in and make attacking moves.
Chelsea were impressively able to use all the deeper and wider planes of the pitch when on the ball by switching the play across the flanks with the help of Luiz and Rudiger at the base of the circulation. In the midfield, as Jorginho was pressed squarely, Kante and Barkley had to do the job of distribution in their respective vertical half and they had to also win back and re-channel the balls back into the offensive half. Since his debut in the Premier League, Kante has had the most wins of any player – 65.5 per cent.
Palace, on the other hand, played long balls. What the away team planned was to play long and have the front two and midfield players to come ‘short’ to retain the ball until the attack concludes. But due to Palace’s prolonged and frequent concentration in its defensive half (or Chelsea’s in its offensive half), Palace’s front-two often found themselves dissociated from the mid-line. This put them in a 2v4 situation during most of the long balls played. Palace did make a few dangerous counter attempts, however. It was one of those few transitional counters – and Chelsea’s exposed midfield of course – which won the Eagles the equaliser in the second half (explained below).
By a great deal, the goal analysis reflects attack analysis but here I will explain it in terms of defence analysis instead. The attacks do dictate the build-up of the goals scored in a match but it’s the defensive acumen of a team which let or prevent its opponents conclude that attack successfully. Let’s discuss how the goals scored by each team reflects the defensive ability of the other.
1st Goal: Chelsea
Since Chelsea’s wide positional attacks dragged the away team defenders out creating space for the wingers to cut deep, these instances created opportunities for Chelsea many times to throw a dangerous pass in front of the goal. However, there wasn’t a perfect combination of timing and pass between Willian and Azpilicueta (mostly the attacks were from the right) until Pedro came in adjacent to Azpilicueta and received the pass after appearing into the box bypassing the defenders, unlike Willian who was unable to bypass then put in a cross comfortably. This timely off-the-ball by Pedro led him to receive the ball from the fullback and put in a high cross to Morata comfortably. Pedro is also more into making an aggressive attacking attempt from diverse angles than is Willian so he was more likely to come into the position in a timely manner as well as create the attack better than Willian. The two scenarios are illustrated in the following match-shots.
Here Palace’s disorganised defence is also to be blamed. As the opponent cleared the ball and Pedro received it again, he comfortably put in a low cross again between Milivojevic and Sakho – opponent midfielder and central defender. Then Pedro’s nicely played cross was footed in behind the goalkeeper by Morata who was already in a clever position. Again, Morata’s goal was also to be blamed to the gap between Wan-Bissaka and Tomkins – opponent fullback and central defender. The following picture represents the non-coherent defensive organisation by Palace on the first goal of the game.
Chelsea conceded the equaliser following a defensive transition where Morata’s inaccurate back-heel flick to Barkley got intercepted. When Barkley moved up to mark the opponent ball-carrier, the latter passed to his central midfield. That region had opened up due to Barkley’s move out of his position. Palace eventually won the deal due to the numerical advantage Barkley conceded.
2nd Goal: Chelsea
Following the equaliser, Sarri substituted in Hazard and Kovacic in place of Willian and Barkley. Hazard marked his intense offensive presence and won a goal-leading indirect free kick on a dribbling duel moments after joining his teammates. As the away team’s defence was busy in congesting themselves to block Chelsea players in front of the goal, Morata got himself positioned in the free zone thus scoring the brace after by-passing Wan-Bissaka’s poor blocking attempt, as shown in the picture below.
3rd Goal: Chelsea
The final goal of the game was scored when the away team defenders “over-pressed” Hazard. This uncoordinated pressing scheme created space between the lines in the goal area leaving Pedro to score the final goal of the game from Alonso’s brilliant cross from outside the box. This build-up of this goal is based on Alonso’s positional attack from the left.
In the end, Chelsea made the best out of its formation and tactical substitutions. The defensive vulnerability by the attacking midfielder, Barkley, still prevailed but the Blues overcame the Eagles eventually. The substitution of Hazard and Kovacic was a well-timed and a tactically informed decision. Palace’ boss Hodgson replaced the midfielder Meyer with the forward Ayew in the last quarter ‘forcing’ his team to come into a 4-3-3 shape as what they have started but the structural defensive shortcomings of the away team didn’t let them attack freely and aggressively.
Tactical Analyst at Ronnie Dog Media covering Premier League, La Liga and International tournaments | Sports Data Analyst | You can also find me on feelchelsea.com.