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Chelsea 2-1 Everton, League Cup: Tactical Analysis

Control, then counter. Plus a new wrinkle on wing-back play, eschewing the around-the-corner pass, and Batshuayi's best game yet.

Chelsea’s control

In the first half, Chelsea dominated time of possession, and without high pressure from Everton, were able to move forward as a team, control the speed and state of the game, and push Everton deep into their own half. Since Everton had sacked Koeman prior to the game, maintaining a controlled state of the game was important to prevent Everton having a strong reaction and building confidence—Crystal Palace away being an example of not controlling the state of the game in the opening stages.

During building with the ball, Chelsea faced little pressure from Everton. They left Chelsea’s wide central defenders free on the ball, with Rooney moving over to cut off the passing line back inside to Christensen. Their wingers would drop deep, which would leave more space for the wide central defenders to advance into. Lennon would always get back and goal side of Kenedy, while Mirallas would change between goal side (being narrow and tight to the central midfielders) and moving inside to press Rudiger (staying up as a potential outlet and saving energy), where Davies or Baines moved over to cover Zappacosta. Predominantly on the left, Chelsea could advance through Cahill carrying the ball and playing ground passes to Musonda and the central midfielders. Rudiger carried the ball forward less, but could make longer passes behind or switches to Kenedy.

The little bit of sporadic pressure from Everton came via their central midfielders. Baningime could move up to pressure the central midfielder on the ball, while McCarthy and Davies would pick up the other central midfielder and dropping attacking midfielder (Musonda or Willian) in central areas. On the sides, the midfield three could move over to allow the wide central midfielder to push up on Chelsea’s advancing wide central defender, while Baningime marked Willian or Musonda.

In midfield, Chelsea used the wing-backs differently in possession than they normally would. When making ground passes to the back foot of the wing-backs, they wouldn’t attempt to play the around the corner passes or try to play forward. Instead they would play simple passes back and inside to the central midfielders to allow the team to maintain possession and draw Everton to the side. By moving Everton to the side, the central midfielders could then look to play forward, with both Ampadu and Drinkwater looking to play switches and attempt passes behind the defence.

Although Everton were pushed back in their own half, they maintained good control centrally and inside the box. When Chelsea tried to play forward to Musonda and Willian between lines, they would always face intense pressure from behind and the central midfielders closing them down from the sides. Willian was able to hold it against the pressure, find passes, and dribble with the ball (lost the ball when trying to dribble inside); Musonda had more trouble with the pressure from behind, where he couldn’t hold his man off for long enough to allow him to receive the ball and use his quick turns and dribbling.

The third player to receive with pressure from behind was Batshuayi, who had his best all-round game as a starter. He held off pressure from behind well, found combinations with Willian through layoffs, kept the ball when dribbling, turned past pressure to find passes through, managed to create space for himself to shoot when receiving around the box, made clearances during defensive set pieces, and made passes for counter attacks. More importantly, he reacted well in the moments where he lost the ball, where, instead of becoming really intense (trying to press aggressively) and waste a lot of energy, he remained calm and maintained his energy for when he had the ball.

Everton pressing high

In the second half, Everton began to press high. This caused Chelsea problems at the back, where Everton could win the ball, sustain high attacks, and create chances.

The changes that enabled Everton to do this was to have Lennon and Mirallas move up from the wing-backs to Chelsea’s wide central defenders and press them. By pushing higher up at the front, they would force Willian and Musonda to move deep into their own half to receive the ball, allowing Everton a platform to win the ball in midfield and attack with numbers higher up—which they were unable to do in the first half since they were deep in their half when recovering the ball.

When they won the ball they would play to the wings, where they used overlaps to create space for crosses from either the man on the ball or the overlapping player—taking advantage of the defensive switchover between the wing-back and the wide forward to create space for the former, or, if the wing-back didn’t switch, to create space for the latter. In that case, Chelsea’s wide central defender on the side of the ball would move out to support the wing-back and try to block the cross, but that would also leave fewer defenders inside the box to deal with the cross. During this period, Caballero made crucial saves to deny Everton an equaliser.

Ampadu and Drinkwater maintained good defensive control centrally throughout the game, with good intensity to win the ball in broken play. Ampadu continued to show his organisation skills, anticipated passes to make interceptions, and was able to compete for the ball in the air.

Without being able to build short and push Everton back with possession, Chelsea were restricted to long play and look for counters. Long from goal kicks allowed Everton to compete for the second ball with numbers forward, while having both Willian and Pedro higher up the pitch (to try to win the first ball) would allow Everton to quickly attack the wings upon winning the loose ball.

While moving higher up the pitch and pressing Chelsea more could prevent Chelsea’s sustained possession, it came with the downside of Everton being more vulnerable to counter attacks. Willian found himself through on a few occasions, especially with more space to combine with Batshuayi, Drinkwater could always quickly find forward passes to start counters, and Zappacosta could beat the defenders with speed and dribbling on the outside, where he created space to cross into the box with feints and found space to get into shooting positions.

Everton’s substitutions brought more mobility and a direct threat to their attacks. Calvert-Lewin tends to cause all sorts of problems with long play, with speed and strength in the air. Pickford playing long to him quickly could have been problematic, had Christensen not covered well. This change took away one of the three central midfielders, leaving Everton with more creative and offensive players on the pitch. The change also allowed both Rooney and Mirallas to move more freely for the ball in the final third, and gave a bigger role for Davies in making forward runs off the ball and carrying the ball forward. Lookman gave another option on the right as he could make runs inside to create or shoot. Niasse was another threat in direct play, with his runs behind, intense pressing of defenders and Caballero when they had the ball, strength to hold off defenders, and ability to compete in the air—all of which he would make use of in creating Everton’s late goal.

Conclusion

Chelsea controlled the first half without creating many chances but pinning Everton deep. In the second half, Everton began to press higher and cause Chelsea problems through their attacks and crosses from the wings—Caballero making a number of key saves. Everton’s changes gave them more speed and direct approach with the ball, requiring excellent covering runs from Chelsea’s backline, before Willian’s great individual goal doubled Chelsea’s lead and decided the tie.