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Chelsea 1-0 West Bromwich Albion, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Costa makes the difference

Pressing Chelsea’s short building

The first stage of of West Brom’s defending was their pressing of Chelsea’s short building from goal kicks. When Chelsea began their usual attack with a pass to Azpilicueta, the options around the ball would be tightly marked. Morrison applied pressure on the ball, Rondon was positioned to be able to pressure a pass back to Courtois (as well as Luiz), Dawson followed Hazard inside, Evans marked Costa (leaving McAuley as a spare man centrally), and Alonso was free on the left.

Due to the pressure on the ball, as well as the marking of short options, the early pass to Alonso wasn’t an option. Instead Azpilicueta played long passes forward to Costa in the air. Shown in the next image was when Chelsea were able to win the first ball, flick the ball onto Hazard before finding the pass out to Alonso. This was the only moment where they were able to successfully break WBA’s press on this side, however WBA’s recovery speed in this situation (and throughout the match) was excellent, where the back four, Yacob, and Fletcher were all able to get goal-side of the ball.

The numbers they got back into deep positions allowed for them to outnumber Chelsea inside the box (aiding their defending of crosses) although when they weren’t able to clear the ball initially they faced aggressive high pressing from Chelsea. Chelsea were able to recover the ball in this situation, but unable to create.

When Chelsea decided to start building on the left, with passes out to Cahill, WBA had a slightly different way of pressing. Brunt was the player to move up to press Cahill, while Fletcher and Rondon would cover Luiz, Matic and Alonso between them.

When Chelsea were able to pass the ball up to Alonso here (closed down upon first touch, with the pass behind him) the free players they were allowed on the ball were different. Phillips followed Moses on the right, while Morrison moved inside to mark Kante. This left Azpilicueta and Luiz free, but not as usable passing options. Instead, the best situation Chelsea could create was to continue going up the left, using Hazard and Costa with four WBA players around them.

West Brom’s deep defending

When Chelsea had the ball in midfield, WBA would set up their block inside their own half. Here their attitude was towards pressuring Chelsea’s forward passes, while closing down distances towards Chelsea’s central midfielders and wide central defenders when they had the ball—not trying to win the ball yet.

Upon forward passes they were quick to close down the space towards the receiver and pressure the first touch. Centrally they did this with the spare player to cover incase the man was beaten (such as Hazard dribbling past Dawson) while reactions to recover from such situations were quick, once again.

Their control of switches was also aggressive. They were able to intercept or win the ball on a few occasions, while when one of the Chelsea wide players did have the ball they were often limited in what they could do. WBA matched them with the numbers they had around the ball, as well as having cover upon any 1v1 situations—with the back line moving over and marking any players moving over to overload.

Upon passes back inside the central midfielders would now be more aggressive—as a consequence of having a closer starting position to receiver of the pass—and try to win the ball through their pressing. Azpilicueta’s movements forward in these situations aided Chelsea’s ability to maintain the ball in these circumstances.

Through the numbers they had back and the space they controlled, the speed of Chelsea’s possession was disrupted. As they had the ball for longer periods in WBA’s half, and the lack of passes they were able to make to the players on the last line, the front 3 would start to move outside of WBA’s block to look for the ball. Once again WBA were able to maintain good control of these situations, following the players out to apply pressure, having numbers behind the ball to provide cover, and excellent control of the space behind their defensive line. When they could they would push up, in order to prevent Chelsea from having constant opportunities to play the ball into the box, while maintaining a deep enough line to not give Chelsea the possibility to easily play passes behind the defence.

When winning the ball, there was some variation. With high pressure from Chelsea, some opportunities to counter were prevented. To manage the high pressure they were either forced to make clearances, or, preferably for them, they would head the ball back for Foster to catch the ball.

Long from goal kicks, short corner

From goal kicks Foster play the ball out to Dawson—having switched position with Brunt for these situations. From here Rondon moves over for the header forward—and is supported by Morrison upon receiving the ball—while the team moves over to the ball to support the second ball.

Chelsea were able to create some good opportunities from these movements, as they were one of the few occasions where they could find WBA’s defensive organisation stretched. When Alonso was able to win the ball, he would head it, over Brunt, directly to Hazard. Additional support for a quick attack here is provided by Pedro and Moses on the right, however, once again, WBA’s quick recovery was able to prevent Chelsea creating clear chances inside the box.

Another area where Chelsea created a good opportunity was from a short corner. Brunt was slow to anticipate the short corner, while Luiz’ movement inside the box created enough space for Costa to have a 1v1 against Yacob.

Chelsea changes

Chelsea’s substitutions in the second half made some small, but ultimately crucial, changes. With Willian on they switched to a back 4, with Moses high on the left, Willian on the right and Hazard joining Costa centrally. This allowed for faster possession in the final 3rd, where they made good use of switches and the fullbacks.

With the fullbacks overlapping and the wingers using them to create a 1v1 situation, the central midfielders would drop and allow for Chelsea’s central midfielders to receive the ball out of pressure. With the ball on the wing, WBA’s block narrowed as a consequence of the winger on the opposite side joining the box—and opening up space on the wings to receive the ball without consistent pressure on their first touch.

The next change was to move Hazard out to the left and Cesc on in the 10 position. It was after this were the key change in Chelsea’s building from deep positions made a difference in the game.

While when building on the right in the first half, Evan’s would move forward to mark Costa, while Nyom was following Pedro. After the changes, Willian was high on the right, and Cesc was free centrally. Evans moved up in anticipation of a pass from Cahill to Cesc, before being caught-out by the long ball. As he moved back the second ball dropped to Cesc, where Evans was unable to press the ball or recover the ground behind him in order to act as cover. Now with Hazard and Costa both 1v1, and Costa winning the ball from McAuley, they were able to score the winning goal.

The order of Chelsea’s changes was important in retaining balance, while being able to take more risks later on—if needed. If they hadn’t scored from this situation the next change could have been Batshuayi for one of the central midfielders, with Cesc moving deeper. Since they managed to get the goal they needed before then, the remaining substitution allowed them to bring Ivanovic on to switch back to their usual back 3/5, along with the extra strength in the air to face both WBA’s direct play and offensive set pieces.

Conclusion

A smart performance from WBA in their defensive game, both in their deep defending and choosing good moments to press high. They prevented Chelsea having their usual one man advantage when when wing-backs move up onto the last line (WBA had a 6v5 advantage) while not playing into Chelsea’s hands by trying to press them high from midfield—Chelsea want teams to press them high so they can play through pressure and attack opponents with stretched lines. One mistake allowed Costa make the difference.