Chelsea use spare man in possession
A key element that Chelsea have been successful with since their change to the 343 has been their ability to create a stable platform from which to build their possession. In this match there was no change, as they continued their stable possession game and focus on finding Hazard as often as possible.
Everton’s attempt to control Chelsea was undone by their lack of pressure from the front. Lukaku was often not involved in any pressure, Barkley was often on the left of the central midfielders and unused, while Bolasie was caught between pressuring both Luiz and Cahill. There was further support from Chelsea’s central midfielders and wing-backs in deep positions, which allowed for stability with the ball.
Luiz made use of his body faints when Bolasie would move inside from the right to close him down—leaving Cahill free—before Luiz found a pass to the unoccupied Cahill in space. Cleverley would attempt to close the space for him to progress into, but the space that opened behind him caused further problems upon the pass to Hazard.
Once found by the forward passes, the front three used their first touches and body positions to shield the ball from the defender or to dribble the ball out of the line of pressure. When they were able to completely break the pressure with their first touch, they were in positions to carry the ball forward against a disorganised and often outnumbered backline—with runners ahead and in support.
The free central midfielders were also options to keep the ball in the final third when they were unable to go forward (often switching to the wing-backs), as well as being in positions to press aggressively and immediately if the ball was lost. Furthermore, the team were aggressive to pressure not only when they lost the ball in organised possession moments, but they were also successful at winning the second ball during offensive set pieces.
To further add to Everton’s problems, Hazard is possibly playing at a higher level now than he has previously. The freedom he has to move centrally, and the consistency with which Chelsea are getting the ball to him, is allowing him to use all of his individual quality with the ball to make the difference in every match.
High pressing and intensity defensively
When Chelsea didn’t have the ball they showed great intensity when pressing, where they would match Everton’s back three from the front and press with clear lines. The pressing on the back three continued onto back passes, where they were able to force a few mistakes from Stekelenburg. Both Kanté and Matić closed distances towards the Everton midfielders during higher pressing, while the wing-backs would pressure Everton’s wing-backs upon receiving the ball. Additionally the back three continued to show their aggression while pressing forwards.
Hazard was especially active when the ball was played up the opposite wing, where he anticipated passes to Stekelenburg. He would start out of sight when the pass was made, before he would attempt to intercept the pass.
Everton’s direct passing game faced problems from both their switch of system and Chelsea’s high pressing. Everton couldn’t establish stability in their possession in deep areas, their long balls forward were rushed and didn’t create pressure on Chelsea’s backline, and Barry (usually their forward passing midfielder) was quickly closed down throughout—a standout example was when Matić won the ball from him to create the counter for the first goal.
The change in system also prevented Everton from causing Chelsea the same problems they usually do during long balls, where they take out one of the two runners beyond Lukaku. Having the extra runner could have allowed for more pressure on Chelsea’s back three. They have previously used Lukaku moving away from the last line for the first ball and two running beyond him. Instead Chelsea were able to have one defender free to face these situations—sometimes they used two players to compete for the first ball when Lukaku was isolated—along with the two central midfielders to collect second balls.
On long balls from the back up to Lukaku, Chelsea successfully competed with him physically, especially Azpilicueta, with tight and aggressive body pressure. Azpilicueta and Moses were also able to control second post crosses to Lukaku inside the box—Azpilicueta again using his strong body positioning, while Moses won the first ball in the air.
When pressing higher Chelsea still have some inconsistency on the right, where Pedro presses the wide defender and Moses can remain too deep—allowing the opposition player to receiver the ball freely with space to take it forward. These situations are controlled by the team dropping to a deeper block (Moses maintaining a deep position) before Pedro recovers the ground to pressure the wide player on the ball. However, continued improvements to this minor issue can be made to prevent Pedro from having to make long recovery runs and to sustain collective high pressure.
Everton switch to press higher
After the introduction of Mirallas in the first half, Everton attempted to press higher up the field, with mixed results. Before the change, Everton’s wing-backs were tasked with defending Chelsea’s wing-backs, while along the backline they were 3v3 with no cover behind them. In these situations the wing-backs were still causing problems—Alonso left the wing to move into the box freely on a few occasions for crosses before he scored from a similar situation—while they found more freedom on the wings in Everton’s half after the changes.
Initially the higher pressing was high and on the Chelsea backline, where Barkley moved up to press centrally on the last line with Lukaku and the wingers on Chelsea’s wing-backs. The central midfielders moved up and were tight to Chelsea’s central midfielders, inside the Chelsea half. Chelsea were able to easily find forward passes past this for the remainder of the half, before the front three would again move past the line of pressure from behind before carrying the ball forward onto an even weaker Everton backline—such as the buildup of the Costa chance at the end of the half.
At the start of the second half, Everton had their best period with their pressing, where they were able to find more useful ways of pressing Chelsea into wide areas when underloaded.
Chelsea’s wing-backs were deeper to support the building (pressured by Everton’s wingers upon receiving the ball) while Lukaku would press the wide central defenders between positions—to block the pass back inside—and Barkley would pick up the nearside central midfielder. During this short period they were able to keep Chelsea in their own half and prevent them from progressing with the ball.
This didn’t last long, however, as Chelsea were able to find solutions once again. They were able to consistently hold the ball in deep areas under the high pressing of Everton, before finding free players through circulation and long switches to start attacks.
An example of this would be when they were building short on the right, where Moses was deep in support of Azpilicueta. After the pass out to the right, Luiz moved ahead of the player trying to block a pass to him (he did this on several occasions) to offer himself as an option centrally. The pass to him would break the sustained pressure, and with the high positioning of the far side winger (up to prevent short building to Cahill) Luiz would be able to find a long pass out to Alonso high and wide on the left, with space and time on the ball.
The free wing-backs continued to find the ball in high areas throughout the rest of the game. Hazard would allow passes to pass him when Coleman moved tightly towards him, to open the space for Alonso on the left; while on the right Moses was able to receive switches before either moving onto his left foot to shoot or going on the outside to cross with his right foot.
The stability of Chelsea’s buildup proved to be vital once again. Everton were unable to find a way to either control deep areas or cause problems higher up, while a mix of their changes and excellent intensity by Chelsea defensively prevented them from causing any problems with the ball.