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AFC Bournemouth 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea control the game through possession

Chelsea’s possession

Chelsea controlled the game through possession and always having a spare man in deep areas. When building from the back, the central midfielders and the wing-backs would drop back and allow Chelsea to use the width of the field to circulate the ball. Since Bournemouth opted to go with three midfielders and Afobe (dropping back centrally or on the right) they had difficulty matching Chelsea’s numbers in their attempts at pressing high, allowing Chelsea to control the speed of possession and not be rushed to play forward—either through the outfielders or after going back to Courtois.

The numbers and the speed of reorganisation upon dropping back would further allow Chelsea to keep the ball, even when Bournemouth’s pressure caused problems. Chelsea could always take the ball back into their own half to regain control of the speed of the game, break pressure, and begin another attack—Bournemouth either failing to press or electing to remain back, save energy, and not open up their block.

Conversely, Chelsea could cause problems with their pressing and rush Bournemouth’s backline into playing forward early. This pressure lead to misplaced passes (Hazard recovering the ball for Morata’s chance), Bournemouth playing into areas where Chelsea had a quality advantage (such as in the air against the back three or Bakayoko), or playing into midfield where Chelsea could sustain pressure on the ball to regain it or force it to go backwards. However, in the moments when Bournemouth could find successful passes through to the front, they would create good chances, such as Afobe’s misplaced pass to Daniels in the first half.

By controlling possession, Chelsea could move up into Bournemouth’s half in a variety of ways, through ground passes into the front three and up the wings, long passes behind the backline, or switches to the wing-backs on the last line.

From the left, Hazard and Morata’s combinations, with Hazard moving inside, allowed them to create quick attacks from midfield. Hazard could open up the defence with runs and flicks, especially when facing the backline with the ball after a return pass. Meanwhile, Morata’s excellent hold-up play and turns lead to him creating shots for himself and others, such as the chance for Hazard’s goal—Hazard misdirecting Begovic to open up the near post.

In the final third, Chelsea would mostly attack on the right side of the field, with Hazard frequently joining Fabregas, Pedro, Azpilicueta, and Zappacosta to overload and create chances—moving the most creative players close to each other and leaving Morata and Alonso as the options for crosses from the right (though this also allowed Begovic to cheat off his line and move higher at the far post). In these situations Chelsea had the numbers to circulate the ball out of pressure, forcing Bournemouth deep into their box; Pedro and Hazard could then make short runs behind Ake to receive the ball inside the box.

With everyone back, Bournemouth lacked outlets if they did manage to win the ball in these moments. Clearances just gave the ball back to Chelsea to attack, while Chelsea’s pressing would win the ball back from any attempts to carry the ball forward or hold possession with short passes—also, tactical fouls, when needed, prevented Bournemouth from countering.

Bournemouth switch to 343

At half-time, Bournemouth replaced Defoe with Ibe, who played deeper and more ‘permanently’ on the right side of midfield. This gave them a fourth midfielder in deep defending, reducing the amount of ground each of the midfielders was required to cover when shifting side-to-side. Afobe would remain close to them centrally (diamond shape) but only press forward, along with occasionally moving out to defend on the right of the midfield. Upon winning the ball in their own half, Ibe also gave them another option to carry and dribble with the ball against Chelsea’s high pressing.

The main area where Bournemouth benefited from the change to 343 was in high pressing, as they could now match Chelsea’s numbers all across the pitch. Although it increased the risk when Chelsea could play through their pressure, the benefits of causing problems and winning the ball in Chelsea’s half gave them a better platform to attack from than in the first half—especially after going a goal down.

Later on in the half, Chelsea changed to a 352 by bringing on Drinkwater (for Pedro) to play as the deepest of the midfield three, providing extra defensive support ahead of the backline, where he could win the ball as Bournemouth pushed for the equalizer. Batshuayi, a like-for-like replacement for Morata at the same time, kept the ball well and supported the team when defending deep. On one occasion he won the ball to start a counter for the final substitute Willian, who had the energy to make runs behind the defence late on in the game.

Conclusion

Chelsea’s high amounts of possession in the first half gave them a lot of control and allowed them to create some chances through overloading on the right, as well as set pieces. Bournemouth were able to combat this to a degree in the second half by matching Chelsea’s formation, which gave them a better opportunity to press high, cause Chelsea’s possession problems, and win the ball in Chelsea’s half. Although Chelsea were unable to extend their lead to end Bournemouth’s attempts to find an equaliser, their defending and constant threat in counters, aided by their changes, allowed them to see the game out—their first clean sheet since the 4-0 win away to Stoke.