Chelsea’s defensive block
Chelsea’s defending was strong throughout the game, and Southampton managed just one shot on target. Chelsea maintained a compact defensive block, where they had good coverage of Southampton’s offensive movements.
Chelsea’s block was set up from midfield, where they allowed Southampton to have the ball along the backline without pressure to begin attacks. Fonte played both short passes outside Chelsea’s block and long passes up to Austin inside the block, where he was pressured by Azpilicueta from behind. When Van Dijk received the ball Chelsea had some slight organisation issues, where Pedro moved up to pressure him as he passed to Bertrand or Davis in the left back position, behind Pedro, and free from pressure. Moses remained deep and this only caused the block to hold a deep position as Pedro recovered his position.
As Southampton attempted to progress up the left, Pedro would pressure the player on the ball, while there was support from Moses, Azpilicueta and Kante. Azpilicueta would cover Moses or remain tight to a player (usually Austin) while Kante was in a supportive capacity to help when Davis and Bertrand were both on the wing. Redmond would also make runs behind in these areas, usually for the second ball from Austin, where he was covered by Luiz. Moses would often maintain a deep position on this side and allow Pedro to pressure the ball, maintaining a closed block.
On the left Alonso was tasked with pressing a larger distance. Early on he had some problems when defending on the side of the box against Tadic, who was able to beat Alonso and put crosses into the box.
Alonso’s defending in these situations has been concerning, however after these early moments his pressing in higher areas was usually effective. The larger range of pressing from Alonso allows Hazard to have less defensive responsibility, where he can save his energy to be the outlet when Chelsea regain the ball. While Martina also moved up from fullback on this side, it may be possible for Matic to move over to offer support in these areas. Like on the left, they also made outside movements behind the wing-backs from the inside, where they were followed by Cahill.
Centrally Romeu could play forward passes, Redmond would move deep from the last line to receive the ball and Clasie would move up onto the last line to replace him, although in a slightly wider zone. Matic and Kante moved to cover, support and pressure the ball.
When a Southampton player, like Romeu, received the ball centrally with back to goal Matic would move up quickly to pressure him. This surprise pressing in midfield created the one chance for Costa in the first half. Another area where Chelsea used forward pressing, in a collective way, was when Southampton were passing backwards from the front line to the back line. Here Costa would move over to pressure the central defender, while the midfielders and wing-backs would also push up to pressure the passing options.
Throughout, Redmond was closely followed by Luiz as he moved between lines to receive the ball to feet, as well as when making runs behind and during throw-ins. Luiz was also important when pressing the first pass forward when Southampton were breaking from deep positions, where his pressure on the ball allows them to delay the attack and allow the other defenders time to reorganise.
Inside the box Chelsea made use of both man marking—where they would hold the player—and covering zones, such as Luiz covering the first post in the second half when Cahill and Azpilicueta had picked up the options in the box.
Wing-backs free during counters
When Chelsea won the ball there would be fast reaction from the whole team. Early passes up to Hazard and Costa were made, who would move away from the defensive line (followed by one of the defenders pressuring them from behind) before using their first touches of the ball—as well as their body position—to move it past the line of pressure of the defender. Once they had either gone past their man or moved out of direct pressure, they could carry the ball forward or switch the ball wide to the advancing and free wing-backs.
The reason the wing-backs were frequently free was a consequence of Southampton’s defensive and offensive organisation. The first coverage problem was at the very front, where Saints had their forwards around the Chelsea last line. Lacking support from central midfielders, who were aggressively pressing high as well, the responsibility was left to the full-backs to follow Chelsea’s wide players. This is where the holding of the ball from Hazard and Costa at the start of counters was vital, drawing players towards them in order to open spaces in wide areas. When the pass was finally made to the wing-backs, Southampton’s backline had dropped deep into their own half and the full-backs were often too deep in order to pressure the ball early. When they did try to move up to press it, spaces were opened for Pedro and Hazard to run behind them. When they remained deep they were faced with problems preventing both crosses and shots.
Further defensive problems for Southampton
When Chelsea had the ball in organised play, they caused Southampton various defensive problems. When Southampton had the front three central to prevent Chelsea’s back three from building short, Courtois calmly played long to the advanced Alonso on the left, where Martina would move up to compete with him for the first ball. This would not only open space behind Martina for for Hazard to receive the ball, but it also created a lot of pressure along the backline—with Costa moving over to the left as an option to combine with Hazard, along with Pedro central to run behind the defence. Once again the switch to Moses on the right was always a possibility.
When Southampton allowed the Chelsea central defenders to face play with the ball before applying pressure, the Chelsea central midfielders would drop to allow the wide central defenders to find spaces in wider areas to either play forward passes or to carry the ball forward.
Furthermore when Saints tried to use their wide players to cover Chelsea’s wing-backs, the Blues’ wide central defenders and central midfielders were able to draw pressure from Southampton’s central midfielders before finding forward passes.
All of the solutions with the ball would create good situations where Chelsea were able to use the individual talent of players like Hazard and Costa throughout the match.
Chelsea’s 3-4-3 continues to create problems for opponents in the Premier League. The lack of control in wide spaces from Southampton allowed Chelsea to have a lot of success with the ball, leading to the early goal. Chelsea’s solid defensive block remained compact and comfortable throughout, while the threats of counters were always palpable.