Chelsea’s problems building play
With seven changes to the regular starting team that convincingly defeated Manchester United on the weekend, a fair amount of errors could be expected. Cahill and Kante were the only players to maintain the same roles in the lineup as on the weekend, while David Luiz was moved out to the right of the back three and Azpilicueta was deployed as a wingback.
Early problems that the changes created for Chelsea were that they lost the efficiency their possession game has been operating at. In particular, the combinations and collective movements of the front three were out of sync; they lost the ball there on various occasions.
Most of their building from the back in the first half was started through Cahill, and his options were often limited. Luiz had very little influence in building attacks from his wide central defender role, while Terry made few forward passes.
With the inconsistency in holding possession inside the West Ham block, their possession became rushed at times. They made a few long passes to the wingbacks, that were marked closely, where they were trying to force the play forward, or they would play forward to the front three too early—where they were both under immediate pressure and outnumbered.
This created a half that had many turnovers, which suited West Ham more than Chelsea. Without the ability to maintain possession and move forward as a team, Chelsea lost a crucial aspects of their game that have been going well in the previous few games. The lines became stretched in possession and without the distances in order to press the ball when they lost it, West Ham were able to play long passes over the top of the Chelsea midfield, bypassing the pressure. This allowed West Ham to have attacks directly against the Chelsea back 3 with the ball—something that hasn’t happened consistently since it was first used in the second half of the Arsenal game.
During the counterattacks Michail Antonio’s movements wide and his direct carrying of the ball caused problems, along with the combinations between him and the supporting players. Terry was tasked with remaining tight to Antonio, following him wide on a few occasions—where Antonio’s mobility advantage allowed him to get away from Terry. Additionally, with a wider starting position, Antonio made diagonal movements to run behind the wide central defenders, where he would create opportunities to either carry or cross the ball into the box. Lanzini and Payet were in close support, while delayed support arrived from right wing-back Fernandes and the central midfielders.
West Ham control passes inside their block
West Ham’s defensive setup caused problems for Chelsea, both through their control of the space inside their block and the positioning of Payet and Lanzini to block forward passes from the wide central defenders. West Ham allowed the back 3 to have the ball in deep areas, before they would initiate pressure when they closed distances in wide areas or upon the first forward pass into midfield. Their pressing would then continue to push up as a team, as well as pressure on back passes to Begovic.
From midfield, their pressing was clear. Fernandes would get close to Aina, Kouyate was aggressive in his forward pressing into midfield, Reid would pickup Batshuayi, Ogbonna would offer support as a spare man and Cresswell stayed deep to cover Willian moving wide. The central midfielders would move to pressure around the ball, be it with one of them moving forward to pressure Chalobah or Kante in higher areas, moving to the side to support wide pressing or closing spaces behind them when the ball had bypassed them into one of Chelsea’s front 3. Antionio would move to pressure the wide central defenders (mostly Cahill) from the side as they progressed forward with the ball, isolating them with the ball, while the positioning of Payet and Lanzini (especially the latter) would often block forward ground passing options. Along with pressuring, Payet would also move out to pressure Azpilicueta—allowing Cresswell to stay back.
High pressing from Chelsea often forced West Ham to play long. The front three would press West Ham’s back three 1-v-1, while the central midfielders and wingbacks were also in support. When West Ham went long, Chelsea were able to create their best chances in the first half through counters. The back three were able to win the header the majority of the time, while Chelsea’s central players were able to win the second ball. This gave them a platform to counter from where they were able to carry the ball forward at speed, but were unable to score from any of their promising attacks.
In the second half Chelsea changed the positions of the back 3, where Cahill moved to the right, Terry to the left and David Luiz into the middle. Here his influence increased in the game, and he was also able to get the better of Antonio. This allowed Chelsea to sustain attacks, as well as launch a few dangerous counter attacks. Luiz was also able to display his long passing range with the ball, with the one especially notable pass in-behind the defense for Costa to receive inside the box.
The changes increased the speed of Chelsea’s play with the ball, as well as giving them a lot more options with the ball. Along with the back three change, they brought on Costa, Hazard and Pedro early on in the half. Oscar moved back to play in the midfield two as a result, where he was moving deep to collect the ball from Cahill in order to play forward passes. Pedro, operating as left wing-back, made some runs behind the defence, while Costa and Hazard gave them more stability in possession, a great intensity with the ball and runs behind in the final 3rd.
West Ham managed to hold onto the ball for brief periods to waste time and to try to slow the game down, but these would often turn into Chelsea counter attacks. Almost every time Chelsea had the ball it resulted in a chance, from both open play and set pieces.
The substitutions made a big impact on the game. In the second half Chelsea made enough chances to at least take the game to extra time, but were unable to convert them. West Ham were able to create the first problems that Chelsea have faced since the switch to 3-4-3; it will be interesting to see how they manage against Southampton with a similar defensive front three.