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Chelsea 4-2 Stoke, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea finish 2016 with another win

Chelsea with the ball

In the first half, Chelsea were able to get into some good positions to progress with their possession game, but they lost the ball too often when playing forward.

When Chelsea had the ball out of pressure and in their own half, Crouch would position himself to block Luiz passing to Azpilicueta, Shaqiri remained close to Kante (pressed Cahill only when he was isolated and able to block the pass to Kante), and Afellay pressed Cesc before moving onto Azpilicueta when he progressed forward.

But Chelsea ran into problems in when they tried to keep the ball after making forward passes to the front three.

In that situation, narrow central midfielders and pressure from behind was a good setup for Stoke, where they were able to win the ball from Hazard on a few occasions. When Hazard moved ahead of the central midfielders and had to wait for a pass, Johnson could intercept the ball. When he was able to appear ahead of the midfielder with good timing, he was either faced with multiple opponents or they were unable to successfully combine between the front three.

Stoke set up their defense to cover the central midfielders and block passes to Azpilicueta, which allowed a few situations where David Luiz could carry the ball forward without opposition. In the first half he was able to carry it and play the pass for the Costa chance, while there was another occasion in the second half where he found Alonso on the left wing.

Chelsea were unable to find players in the spaces between Stoke’s lines in the first half, but that all changed in the second half as the Blues managed to create more quality opportunities.

Chelsea started making better use of their progression with the ball, where Cesc would draw Afellay in before giving it to the advancing Azpilicueta, while on the other side both Kante’s movement wide (to draw Shaqiri out) and Hazard’s movement to the left (when Kante remained central) created more spaces to receive the ball (such as when Hazard went past Adam).

By drawing players away with horizontal movement from the central area, Chelsea opened up spaces such as the situation below, where Hazard was found by Azpilicueta. Hazard then could combine with Costa and create a chance for Willian.

Along with organised possession, Chelsea also created many chances through counters—but, once again, mistakes with the ball prevented them from scoring from many of them.

Chelsea preventing counters

When Chelsea lost the ball, they always had good cover of Stoke’s attacking options. If the ball was lost on the left: Cahill would mark Crouch, Kante could either push up to quickly pressure the central midfielders (the other covered by one of the front three), or, if he didn’t have the distance to the ball, he would cover any advancing player on the ball, while Luiz and Azpilicueta were spare. On the right: Luiz marked Crouch, Azpilicueta moved up to press high (usually Afellay from behind and not allowing him to turn), while Kante moved back to follow Shaqiri and Cahill was spare. A good example of this recovery was the play before Costa’s free kick in the first half, where there was a long period of winning the ball back after losing it in the final third.

When Stoke were able to have the ball, Adam would move centrally to receive the ball from the back three, while Allen moved up. Adam would then look to play long forward passes, where Crouch would move for the first ball and had support from Shaqiri running behind, while Afellay and Allen were in positions behind the ball. Eventually the second goal came from one of Adam’s long passes up to Crouch—this pass was from a higher position than previous passes, where Chelsea’s backline was deeper and the first ball was thus going inside their box.

Later in the game, Crouch began to cause further problems inside the box with his far post movements for crosses and passes into the box. Chelsea made two changes to try to aid these situations, amongst other reasons, where Ivanovic and Matic came on—Ivanovic for the second post crosses; Matic to compete for the long balls.

Set pieces

Both Chelsea and Stoke were able to create some good opportunities from set pieces. Chelsea’s first three corners were taken short, where they were able to expose Stoke’s setup. Shaqiri would start wide to cover the initial short option, while both Diouf and Allen moved out of the block to provide support—making it easy to create an overload. From this situation Chelsea created either shots (such as Kante’s blocked effort) or sustained possession around the box.

Chelsea then switched to putting the ball into the box, where they found another advantage. Stoke’s players were zonal but not active in their movements towards the ball. Adam blocked Cahill, slowing his approach to the header down slightly, yet it remained an easy header for Cahill to win against static opposition. Additionally Luiz and Costa held their positions to be free on the edge of the box for a second ball.

The goal came from a similar situation, with the corner taken from the left, Azpilicueta in the box over Luiz, and Adam not blocking anyone being the differences. The latter, and most crucial change meant that Cahill was able to run freely and at more speed in his approach to the ball, thus allowing him to get more power on the header.

Chelsea also made similar use of a wide free kick to have players in free space for a second ball. In this example, Alonso and Costa were initially blocking and pushing Diouf inside, before Luiz made his run around the back.

Cahill, Costa and Alonso all made forward movements upon the ball being played in before stopping and backing up to be free inside the box for the second ball. On this occasion Luiz was unable to win the ball, giving away a free kick, but it was another good situation nonetheless.

Stoke’s set pieces had some variation. They could play long balls to the far post for Crouch to compete for (didn’t need much trickery to get him an advantage on high crosses) and get the second ball into the box. Before they scored they had a similar situation, but Indi started in an offside position on this occasion—onside for the second ball. To compete for the second ball inside the box he was joined by Diouf and Shawcross, while Adam on the outside was there to pick up the second ball if it didn’t go into the box.

With Costa and Moses maintaining their position, along with Willian and Hazard being higher up for a counter, Stoke took a chance by not keeping a spare man back as Chelsea looked to counter 4v4.

Stoke also had a few low near post crosses and passes (such as the one to Shaqiri, where he used blockers to lose Moses), and they created one good chance from a corner.


Stoke caused some problems with long balls and their set pieces, but Chelsea limited the attacks through both pressing and recovering the second balls. Chelsea also had many more ways of consistently creating chances, through their possession, counter attacks and set pieces. Furthermore the quick reaction to conceding the second goal prevented Stoke from gaining any momentum in the game.