Premier League 2018/19: Wolves vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Artwork by @chapulana.

Chelsea went to Molineux looking to secure consecutive premier league wins following defeat against Tottenham. Wolves arrived on the back of five defeats in their last six outings. Form pointed to a Chelsea victory; however. Wolves were ruthless when it came to converting their chances securing a 2-1 victory which is a blow for Chelsea ahead of their premier league encounter against Man City.

Despite dominating possession yet again in this match Chelsea failed to turn that into meaningful efforts on goal. They had 17 attempts at goal but just 3 of those were on target; the goal, a Willian free kick and a tame effort from Hazard. This must be a cause of concern for Sarri moving forward.

Fabregas made his first premier league start of the season after his impressive performance in the Europa League against PAOK with Jorginho rested with one eye on the weekend clash against Man City. Christensen also came into the side in place of Luiz who was again rested according to Sarri although it does come off the back of his terrible performance last time out against Tottenham.

Chelsea’s deep possession

Chelsea struggled throughout this match to build up play efficiently due to Wolves’ excellent execution of their pressing game. This began in Chelsea’s defensive third where they would press Azpilicueta when he received the ball near the touchline. This played on Chelsea’s weaker side of the field when building out from defence. With Azpilicueta, Kante and Willian on this side of the pitch, they are technically inferior to the left side of the pitch in which Alonso, Loftus-Cheek and Hazard were positioned.

Chelsea Wolves Tactical Analysis
Four Wolves players apply pressure on the three Chelsea players involved in the build-up play when Azpilicueta has possession.

The pressure applied by Wolves often led to a loss of possession with the ball either being played longer or blocked for a throw-in. Fabregas was often too slow to move across to the ball near halfspace to provide support to switch the ball away from pressure.

A lot of Chelsea’s possession was in deeper areas of the pitch. They failed to push Wolves back into their own defensive third often enough. This was in part due to the mid-block that Wolves deployed in this match which made it increasingly difficult to cleanly progress up the pitch.

Kante

There has been a lot of talk recently about the role of Kante in this Chelsea side and whether he is being used effectively. Most of this has centred on the debate of him playing in the pivot role occupied by Fabregas in this match. Pundits are failing to realise that Kante isn’t suited to this role either in the Chelsea side as a large part of this role is to dictate the match from a deep position. Tight passing combinations and line breaking passes aren’t one of Kante’s strongest skills, he is more of a destroyer who wins possession before playing a simple pass to a more creative player.

Chelsea Wolves Tactical Analysis
Rudiger has possession of the ball with space in front, instead of moving further away from him to receive a pass Kante moves closer to receive which draws extra pressure around the ball. Two passes later and Chelsea have been pressurised into giving Wolves a throw in.

The only way he can be used effectively in this role under Sarri would be if he changed his formation to more of a 4-2-3-1 with Kante and Jorginho forming the midfield two. History would point to this being extremely unlikely as Sarri is wedded to his 4-3-3 formation.

As a change in system is unlikely it does call into question whether Kante should be playing in this side at all especially against the smaller sides in the premier league. The more possession Chelsea are likely to have in a match means the demands on Kante to be more involved in the attacking third increase. It is in these matches that Chelsea would be better suited to playing one of Barkley/Kovacic/Loftus-Cheek on the right side of the midfield three as they offer more in an attacking sense.

Centre-backs build up play

In the first half in particular Wolves allowed Chelsea’s centre-backs to have possession of the ball without applying any pressure on them. Both Rudiger and Christensen struggled to play any passes that broke any lines of the Wolves team. This allowed Wolves to shift across the pitch and maintain their defensive shape. The lack of penetrative passes from the centre-backs caused the Chelsea midfielders to move deeper to receive a pass in an attempt to progress up the pitch.

Chelsea Wolves Tactical Analysis
Here we can see Rudiger in possession and all three Chelsea midfielders close to the ball in a straight line. This lack of staggering caused issues when trying to advance into the final third.

Often the centre-backs would pass sideways into the fullbacks which as discussed earlier was a pressing trigger for Wolves. Whilst Luiz isn’t the best defender defensively his omission from the starting line-up was detrimental to Chelsea’s ability to construct attacks.

It would be no surprise to see Sarri look to strengthen the side with a centre-back who has the ability to construct attacks from defence before the start of next season. Whilst Luiz brings qualities to the build-up play he has proved himself time and again to be prone to a lapse in concentration and against the top sides, this can be fatal.

Chelsea counter attacking

Chelsea looked more dangerous in this match when they were able to launch quick counter attacks to exploit the space left when Wolves attacked. This was more prevalent in the second half when Wolves began to press Chelsea’s centre-backs as they went in search of goals. As early as the first 30 seconds of the seconds half they could and maybe should have been 2-0 up as Loftus-Cheek squared the ball across the 6 yard box to Morata who failed to connect under pressure from Boly at the back post.

The space left by Wolves enabled the likes of Hazard, in particular, to receive the ball with plenty of room to be able to dribble quickly into advanced areas. The quicker combinations were difficult for Wolves to react to as Chelsea were able to advance into the final third with greater ease.

When Chelsea were building up play in a controlled manner this was often too slow to cause any real problems for the defence. There were occasions where players were taking too many touches and taking the safe option and circulating possession in deep areas of the pitch. This was in stark contrast to when they were counter attacking as the ball was moved in few touches more vertically on the pitch.

Conclusion

Sarri knew his style of play would take time to implement, saying as much when he first joined the club. Their good start to the season gave fans and pundits alike a false hope that they could challenge Man City and Liverpool for the title this season. Sarri will need longer to fully implement his style of play on this side as well as a couple of signings in key areas to strengthen the side.


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