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Conte’s new 3-5-2 system giving Chelsea more options in attack, more control in midfield

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West Brom 0-4 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical analysis

Chelsea with the ball

Since Chelsea switched to the 352, they have had more variation with the ball: midfielders can move forward, switch roles, and individually find space; the front two have the freedom to move and combine; while the team can attack the box with numbers and runners from deep to create chances.

Fabregas plays a key role, as his creativity can be used in either a deep-lying or an advanced position. When he’s deep, he can find or create space for himself and then choose from multiple passing options. Twice in this game he started moves that resulted in goals from just such a position, playing long passes forward after dropping to the left of Kante to collect the ball. If he is pressured, a pass out to the side can find Kante or Azpilicueta with space (especially good for the latter to play crosses into the box). If pressure is continued onto them, it opens space behind the opposition’s midfield line for passes to the front two—such as Azpilicueta carrying the ball on the outside before finding Hazard for the first goal.

When Fabregas (and Bakayoko) are higher up, they can use flicks around the corner to find teammates—usually Morata or Hazard, the latter of whom can also use his body strength to turn and roll defenders (which led to another shot in this game). Regardless of Fabregas’s positioning, Hazard can drop back into midfield to increase his influence on the game; in this match he found quality long passes behind the defence from these deep positions.

Because Chelsea were able to approach the area with numbers, they could create space at the second post. In the following situation, Christensen carries the ball forward past West Brom’s frontline before finding Zappacosta wide who gets his cross in. Chelsea have runners at the near post (good for drawing defenders from the far post and being available for short passes) and Bakayoko joining at the far post with good timing and space to win the ball. Unfortunately, Bakayoko decides to win the ball like an interception rather than fully attacking it (or use his strength in the air) but he is new to the role and seems to be improving—such as his shot using his laces (to use more power) in this game, opposed to the side foot placed finishes in the previous games.

Chelsea containing West Brom’s momentum

The area where Chelsea needed to be careful was preventing West Brom from winning a high amount of free kicks, corners, and not allowing counters to live on by giving away throw-ins every time they attacked. West Brom can create a lot of situations to do this through Rondon’s wide runs during counters, long play into the corner from the back, and playing long into the corner to Rodriguez from second balls in midfield (after playing long to Rondon). But, for the majority of the game, Chelsea were able to recover the ball with the back three and Kante against West Brom’s front two during early counters—and in doing so prevented them from having a platform to build momentum with the ball.

In the moments where West Brom managed to get crosses into the box, Chelsea’s defending was excellent, with the backline narrow and tight to deny time and space to West Brom’s attackers and the rest covering potential danger areas. The only real troubles they faced early on were crosses from the right when Rondon was moving off the back of Azpilicueta, but these chances were limited.

West Brom’s halftime change

At halftime, West Brom switched to a 433 (from their version of the 352) and brought on Yacob to play as the defensive midfielder with Barry moving to the left of the midfield three, where the thinking was that he could offer more attacking drive than Krychowiak who made way. Other positional changes included Evans moving out to right back and McAuley moving inside as the centre back, while Phillips and Rodriguez were on the wings. These changes led to an improvement with the ball and dealing with Chelsea’s forward passes to feet centrally.

In the opening stages of the second half, West Brom could keep the ball with their defenders and dropping midfielders, while Chelsea kept the wing-backs deep and used few numbers to attempt to pressure the ball, perhaps conserving energy already for the rest of the week. WBA could thus find Phillips and Rodriguez dropping for the ball, as well as Rondon constantly making runs behind the defence from right to left—where he could be found with both ground and long passes into the corner. Yacob was far more destructive than Barry as the defensive midfielder as his mobility and aggression allowed him to both win the ball or commit fouls to stop Chelsea’s attacks.

In the following situation, Barry switched with Rodriguez to allow him to receive the ball inside. Since West Brom were able to draw initial pressure before passing forward, there was open space behind Fabregas for Rodriguez to take the ball forward. Rondon made a run around the back of the defence, but Cahill made a good covering run to remain goal side of him—just as Azpilicueta and Christensen also did when Rondon tried to run behind from the left and the middle.

The half-time change also gave WBA better options for keeping the ball during counters, since they would have an extra man forward early in support to hold the ball while Rondon continued to make runs on the outside of Chelsea’s defence.

The final area the change helped was in their high pressing, where they could now match Chelsea 3v3 at the back on some occasions, and thus could force Chelsea to play long. However, when Chelsea could break this pressure—such as Christensen allowing the ball to run across his body to beat his man—they could launch dangerous attacks in numbers. Furthermore, whenever Chelsea won the ball they instantly had good chances to counter thanks to the fewer numbers at the back for West Brom.

Conclusion

Chelsea maintained good control of the game in the first half, setting the tempo of the game with the ball and preventing West Brom from countering and winning set pieces when they lost the ball. Hazard’s individual quality created the first goal, before Chelsea went on to punish West Brom during their weakest moment of the match to take a three goal lead. West Brom improved after their changes at half time, but Chelsea’s halftime lead was too substantial to recover.