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Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Costa’s first-half header takes the winning run to eleven league games in a row

Chelsea with the ball

Chelsea used a different option from their usual building from goal kicks. Luiz was able to move away from Benteke, while Kante and Willian didn’t drop for the ball. This gave Luiz space to move up, receive the ball, and play it back out to Moses after McArthur turned to face Luiz to free the winger. In this particular situation Palace had their midfielders in a slightly different position than they normally would.

Willan then moved outside to draw Ward out. This created two problems for Ward: if he let Willian go, then he would be free on the wing, but if Ward followed him, then that opened up the passing lane to Costa. Cabaye could move back quickly to support the ball, while on this occasion Costa’s touch was poor.

When Chelsea had the ball in deep positions, usually after a misplaced long pass, Benteke was in-charge of initially pressuring Luiz and the back three. Upon Luiz passing the ball out to one of Cahill or Azpilicueta, Benteke would move across to block the pass back to Luiz. Chelsea could sometimes break this pressure by finding the central midfielder that wasn’t marked by McArthur or one of the wide central defenders—usually Azpilicueta—was wide enough to not be pressed by Benteke and able to carry the ball forward.

When the options forward were prevented, Chelsea could also break Benteke’s attempts to block the pass back to Luiz by finding Courtois. Benteke would then quickly react to close Courtois down—causing a couple of poor kicks early on.

When Courtois was able to reach his usual target (Alonso) it was usually Cabaye moving up to compete for the ball in the air (McArthur when it went to Moses), which was an easy mismatch and would create good situations for Chelsea to advance with the ball after finding Hazard on the inside.

As they found situations to advance with the ball from deep positions, Chelsea also found some progression on the right. Azpilicueta would use his body shape to show for the pass outside to Moses (in order to keep Puncheon wide), which opened up space ahead of him to continue advancing before finding a forward pass to Willian. From here, Willian had a few options: pass the ball out to Moses, dribble with the ball, or flick the ball inside to Costa.

On this occasion he found Moses, for which Palace had a good setup in anticipation of that pass. While Ward had moved up to follow Willian for the first ball, he didn’t get touch tight and began to arch his run outside in order to cover a pass out to Moses—he already had the run on Puncheon, so he would be free if it weren’t for Ward moving out. Allowing Ward to make this movement was Ledley moving inside to close Willian down upon receiving the pass, while Dann, Delaney and Cabaye provide additional cover centrally if Willian was to dribble or pass to Costa inside. (Ed.note: Conte has mentioned it a couple time how teams are starting to figure us out; here are some prime examples of Palace doing just that in more than just one phase of the game. Fortunately, Chelsea have multiple solutions up our sleeves.)

When Chelsea had a higher starting position with the ball, they attempted to make use of switches to the wing-backs (Palace would use the fullbacks to compete in the air for the ball in these situations), finding the wing-backs on overlaps (like Hazard flicking the ball outside to Alonso from the outside of Kelly), individual combinations and dribbles with the ball centrally, and continuing to use Azpilicueta advancing as the ball moved from left to right.

The latter was used on a few occasions prior to the goal, where Chelsea created some different options. On one occasion, Costa moved into Willian’s space to receive the first pass before flicking it onto Willian running behind. On another occasion, for Azpilicueta’s shot, Willian made the same movement behind as he did for the goal (next image) but Palace’s block was deeper on this occasion—as well as McArthur moving over to pressure Azpilicueta on the ball.

Finally for the goal, Azpilicueta made use of Puncheon staying wide to cover Moses, while Hazard’s holding of the ball before Azpilicueta received the ball drew their central midfielders over to open the space. Willian’s movement then took both Delaney and Ward out of the game and allowed enough time for the pass into the box to be made.

Palace with the ball

Palace had a few ways of progressing with the ball, with the most frequent one being long passes to Benteke, where they were able to play to him both in the air and to feet.

From the left, Delaney could play passes to feet with Benteke moving away from the backline. In this situation Delaney received the ball wide after a series of passes backwards, drawing Chelsea’s midfield forward to pressure the ball. This opened space for Benteke to find Puncheon—frequently leaving his wing—with a lay-off, before the ball to Zaha on the last line. Likewise, Cabaye was another player who could play ground passes forward to Benteke, along with switches.

When in higher areas, Delaney could also play long and forward into the box, such as one situation where Cesc didn’t close him down and Benteke was able to win the ball, turn and shoot inside the box.

Dann on the other hand used more high and long passes (along with Hennessey to Benteke) for Benteke to compete for in the air. During the long balls Benteke could occupy a different Chelsea central defender each time, with all of them having a good amount of success against him. The second ball was another area where Chelsea had some more success both here and higher up the pitch, with Kante competing for the ball.

To seek the second ball after the long ball, Palace took up similar positions as to the image above, where both wingers would leave the wide areas—Zaha to run behind, Puncheon to move close to Benteke—while both McArthur and Cabaye would also move around Benteke to compete for the second ball.

Another option they had was Kelly on the overlap, either carrying the ball past Hazard or receiving it after Hazard was drawn inside. He would play low crosses to the near side, where they would use good movements to create chances. Benteke would remain on the far side, while they would use a midfielder to run across edge of the box before curving their run onto the pass—Puncheon was most frequent at this, while McArthur was another option.

Finally Palace had some periods of sustained pressure in the second half, where they continued to play the ball in and around the box—from both open play and set pieces. Dann made some good movements around the back of the line for wide set pieces, but those were won by the Chelsea defence—Chelsea, particularly Azpilicueta, often won the first ball into the box. When Dann was able to win the first ball into the box, he used knock-downs to keep the ball alive and allow a teammate to have a better chance, but was unable to find a successful pass.

Chelsea counters

While Palace had sustained periods of possession in the second half, they were aided by Chelsea’s continued attempts to immediately score from counters as soon as they won the ball—losing the ball allowed Palace to quickly launch another attack and keep Chelsea deep in their own half. While Chelsea were able to create a few good opportunities during counters from both defensive set pieces and open play, they were unable to finish the chances they created. After having some problems with the first pass to break pressure and start the counters initially, the introduction of Cesc gave them a player they could consistently make these types of passes.

Like in previous games, as Chelsea started to use more counters, the wing-backs became more involved in the game. Moses was able to create a few 1v1 opportunities and a shot inside the box, while Alonso was able to get inside the box for two chances of his own.

Conclusion

Scoring first once again allowed Chelsea to see out the game by sitting deep, while creating chances through counters. Palace were able to create some good moments, too, but Chelsea’s defence remains solid.