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Leicester City 0-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Drawing pressure and switches with the ball help Chelsea take three points from Leicester

Leicester pressing

From the first minute, Leicester showed their intentions to pressure Chelsea’s short building. They shifted over upon the first pass, blocking Azpilicueta from playing on the inside and forcing him up the line through Musa’s pressing—leading to the long pass going out.

As a result of the early and continuous pressure, Chelsea switched to playing long passes from goal kicks. The first was played to Pedro, the next to Willian. Both were lost, allowing Leicester to have a platform to launch quick attacks. In particular, they used Albrighton advancing up the right and playing early far-post crosses (Chilwell joining the box to compete for one cross) during delays, while fast and low ground passes up the wings could find Vardy—making runs behind Cahill on the outside. Chelsea eventually switched to aiming goal kicks at Marcos Alonso, who had a better chance of winning the first ball and more success with the second ball.

Counters and quick play from other situations also caused some problems. Early and long play from Albrighton into the box created some dangerous moments, but without execution. Vardy and Musa moving wide allowed them to use their speed and have opportunities to face the backline on the side of the box. The speed with which they get the ball forward is one of the key element of such play, with long, hard and fast ground passes—just a few touches to reach the front players.

Chelsea moving Leicester with the ball

When Chelsea had the ball in open play, they would draw Leicester to one side of the pitch before switching to the other.

Through circulation of the ball, holding the ball under pressure (drawing multiple opposition players towards them), rotation movements, and going back up the same wing they came from—when Leicester were well positioned to press the opposite wing—were all crucial to achieving this goal.

In the following situation, after a period of circulation and naturally rotating positions on the left, Chelsea are able to create a situation for Azpilicueta to advance, before playing centrally.

When Chelsea were able to draw Leicester towards them in their own half and find the spare man (Azpilicueta on various occasions), they would play forward into the middle, with the front players moving away from the backline before either playing 1st time passes and looking to combine with movements behind, or dribbling with the ball.

During moments where the ball was rolled out from Courtois or the Blues had deep possession, the movements of the central midfielders to either receive to draw more pressure towards them or to break intense high pressure were excellent, maintaining good stability in keeping possession in deep areas throughout—some of the long passes forward were lost, but, most importantly, the possession in deep areas was maintained. The front three could also move back (one at a time) to provide an additional option and ability to hold the ball under pressure.

From midfield Chelsea continued the same patterns with possession, while also having the further option of using Luiz to play his usual long passes behind, when out of pressure, for either Pedro centrally (free kicks) or diagonal passes to the wing-backs on the last line.

In higher areas Chelsea continued to use the movements, combinations, dribbling and rotation of the front three—often moving away from the last line for the ball. In particular their coordinated movements into wide areas created some good situations for them. In the following instance, the outside run of Pedro opens space for Hazard centrally, drawing Leicester’s players across and allowing Alonso to use Pedro’s run to dribble inside with the ball.

Pedro’s then facing play when he receives the ball from Hazard, with pressure from Albrighton, before dribbling past him and winning a free kick. Upon Pedro progressing with the ball there is another rotation of the three players where Hazard moves wide to the left after his pass and Alonso continues moving forward onto the last line (on the inside of Morgan).

The pass to Alonso from Luiz in this situation is also a good example of Chelsea going back to the wing they came from due to Leicester being ready to pressure the switch. While shaping to pass out to Azpilicueta, Luiz recognises that Musa is moving up to press the pass, so he stops and plays out to Alonso instead.

An example in the final third—like in the image at 23:05—is the passing sequence before Chelsea’s first goal. Chelsea start with the ball on the left, hold it there through dribbling and combinations, before finding a quick switch out to Azpilicueta. Willian being able to receive the ball in a tight space draws Musa in slightly before going to press Kante—allowing Azpilicueta extra space and time on the ball to look up at the situation before deciding what to do with the ball.

Shifting Leicester from side to side with passing, Chelsea were able to create advantages at the far post, often leaving Alonso free on the outside (similar to the sort of goals Chelsea have been conceding lately).

Another interesting aspect about the image above, and throughout the match when Chelsea had the ball in Leicester’s half, was the positioning of Cahill to remain close to Vardy—this allowed Luiz to be free as cover and Cahill to mark Vardy and pressure his first touch. There is a replay at the 14-minute mark where it can be seen most clearly.

The aggression of Chelsea’s pressing could prevent quick counters—either through forcing them back with pressure, winning the ball, or fouls.

Leicester advance up the wings

While Chelsea’s objective of going to the wing was to move Leicester to the one side before switching, Leicester’s play was to continue moving up the same side.

They would begin by playing long to Chilwell from all dead ball situations in their half, where they would have Vardy and Musa ready to run behind the defence up the line and maintain a numerical advantage behind the ball if they were to lose it.

If they weren’t able to win the first ball, another good outcome for them was to win throw-ins. Fuchs could take throw-ins quickly and throw the ball long up the line for the advancing Chilwell and both Musa and Vardy moving wide. This quick play also allowed them to win throw-ins higher up around Chelsea’s box—where they could then use Fuchs again, on both sides, to launch long throws into the box.

Chelsea were able to both control the first ball into the box from the long throws and quickly begin dangerous counter attacks of their own, with Willian, Hazard, Pedro, Kante, Alonso and Moses quick to move forward.

Okazaki for Huth

Leicester’s first change in the second half was to switch to a 433 and abandon the 5 man backline. From there Chelsea were able to quickly take advantage of the new possibilities of overloads and more spaces in wide areas. For example, in the following situation, Chelsea created an overload at one post while continuing to find Alonso spare on the left.

After this initial opening, Leicester made sure that Drinkwater shifted over to cover Moses when he was in a deep position (instead of Chilwell), while Mendy and Ndidi (especially) began following runners and joining the backline to offer support. However, for the little success they had in aiding the backline, Ndidi’s deep positioning resulted in playing Willian onside for the goal—in addition to almost no reaction from the majority of Leicester’s defenders to get back for the loose ball.

Conclusion

Chelsea were able to successfully move Leicester away from the areas that they were going to use to create chances, which turned out to be crucial. Drawing pressure towards the sides allowed Chelsea to find a spare man and keep possession, while also staying in position to control counters, both in terms of pressing and numbers at the back, when they lost the ball.