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Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea continue their run of good results, performances and clean sheets in their 343.

Chelsea establish a platform to build from

When Chelsea had possession of the ball in midfield they were able to find the wide central defenders in space to begin forward play with the ball. The wingbacks were high, on the front line, where they were followed by the United wingers. This left United with their three central midfielders and Ibrahimovic to pressure Chelsea’s back 3 and the 2 central midfielders--a 5v4 in Chelsea’s favour. Matic and Kante would remain narrow when they received the ball, facing pressure from United’s central midfielders. Upon switching from the right to the left they were able to create a few situations in the first half where Matic would receive the ball, before drawing Fellaini towards him in a 2v1 situation and find Cahill free on the outside with both space to carry the ball forward and passing options ahead of him.

When Chelsea have the ball in deep areas they continue to use the wingbacks to play forward, as they did in the previous game against Leicester, where they pass diagonally inside to the narrow front 3. When the front players get the ball in these situations they can make use of quick combinations between each other, as well as having the freedom to use their individual talent to either run or dribble with the ball.

In the final third Chelsea continued to find passes to the front 3 inside the United block, from the wide central defenders, wingbacks and the central midfielders. As they combine and progress to passes inside the box, they were able to find a few crosses from the right. Noticeably, Costa was making runs to the first post in order to receive the low first post crosses, as well as allowing supporting players that were joining the box to move to the second post or hold their run on the edge of the box.

United in possession

With the ball United usually play long from De Gea to one of Pogba, Fellaini or Ibrahimovic. In this game Chelsea setup in a midfield block, and didn’t try to pressure short building close to United’s goal. Instead they allowed the first pass out to the central defenders, which is followed by a pass to a central midfielder coming to collect the ball deep, before playing the ball forward, or to a fullback, again looking to play forward. It was on the passes to these players and the following forward pass where Chelsea would initiate pressure on the ball.

Following a few short passes, United went back to their usual long passes into midfield. Pogba was able to win the first ball, while United would then set up their possession game upon securing the second ball.

With the ball United would occupy the central areas with Ibrahimovic moving away from the last line to receive the ball, Pogba and Fellaini moving between the second buildup line outside the Chelsea block and the third line inside between the midfield and defensive line of the Chelsea block. The wingers would move inside, leaving the wings for the fullbacks to advance.

From inside the block their players would not only move to receive the ball to play combinations, as their most progressive actions came from targeting Chelsea’s wide central defenders and wingbacks. With Rashford or Blind receiving the ball in midfield, and facing play, on the left they would use the space ahead of them to play diagonal passes to the players from inside the Chelsea block making runs outside. On the right they also used these movements and combinations to advance, where they would try to create situations for Valencia to take the ball forward and put a cross into the box. Here they had a lot of players inside the box, where Ibrahimovic would look for the mismatch in the air on the second post against Azpilicueta, while Fellaini, Lingard, Rashford and Pogba could also join in and around the box--making second balls dangerous situations for the Chelsea defence. Additionally they have various players that can shoot from range, but only Herrera, Rojo and Lingard were able to find themselves in situations to shoot outside the box.

Chelsea’s coverage of the wide runners was impressive throughout the match, where both Azpilicueta and Cahill were able to either delay the attack or prevent the cross from going into the box. There was also impressive second post defending from both of the wide central defenders and wingbacks, where they were able to put pressure on the opponent (such as Azpilicueta vs Ibrahimovic) or clear the ball effectively.

Playing long at the end of the half

One player that has improved significantly recently is Courtois. Not only is he making good decisions, like playing long at the end of the first half instead of giving United a chance to pressure high and get a goal before half time, but he has also improved his distribution of the ball. His passing on the ground, through lines, is something that has been introduced to his game, while he isn't kicking the ball out of play every time he faces pressure from the opposition.

Another good decision at the end of the first half was by Luiz. With a few seconds left, he played the free kick long into the box, which turned into a good chance for Costa. Since there isn't enough time left to take the ball forward in possession, these opportunities are worth attempting. The quick and long free kicks or long passes from deep is something that Luiz has taken over from Fabregas in the team since his arrival. This gives players like Costa the opportunity to receive the ball early in dangerous situations, as well as a range of passing that was missing from the starting team before his return.

Second half changes

For the second half United made a change to a 442. Mata came on as the right midfielder, for Fellaini, while Lingard moved to the left and Rashford joined Ibrahimovic in the front two. United continued to attack with similar movements, where Lingard and Rashford were running diagonally outwards behind the wide Chelsea central defenders. Mata was able to offer more qualities in ball possession, as well as some good passes into Ibrahimovic in and around the box.

After periods of sustained United possession in the final third, Chelsea were able to break their pressure through counters, using Moses as an outlet, as well as Matic winning fouls. When Chelsea had the ball against the 442 of United, they had more problems than in the first half in their attempts to maintain defensive control. With insufficient pressure on the Chelsea players from the front--the central defenders and midfielders now having a greater overload--the Blues were now holding onto the ball and waiting patiently for an opportunity with the ball. They were able to expose the central midfielders with midfield runners and combinations behind them, where there was no pressure on the first player making forward passes from inside the block.

The high positioning of the team as a result of their possession also allowed them to pressure with groups and close distances when they did make a mistake in possession or lose the ball. This would prevent United from having any opportunities to attack in the Chelsea half against anything but a collective block with everyone back and organised.


Defensive mistakes cost United in this game. They were able to create good situations with the ball, but both the early goal and Chelsea’s impressive performance gave United an almost impossible task to overcome.

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