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Chelsea won the tactical battle, but lost the game against AS Roma — tactical analysis

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Roma take an early lead

Within the first minute of the game, Chelsea had a chance to take the lead and found themselves a goal behind.

After Pedro’s missed chance, Roma counter-attacked on their left to use the space vacated by Pedro, drawing Chelsea’s central midfielders over to the side, while Perotti’s high positioning and Strootman’s run wide pinned Azpilicueta back. With the central midfielders wide to cover around the ball, and both Pedro and Hazard high, the long pass behind the defence pushed the backline back, leaving a lot of space ahead of them on the outside of the box for El Shaarawy to use his mobility to beat Alonso to the second ball.

Despite such a bad start to the game, Chelsea would go on to create a number of good chances to score, with good ball possession to advance against Roma’s defensive organisation, quick counters, and moments of high pressing to recover the ball.

In possession, Chelsea worked the ball well in their own half a number of ways.

When Luiz was on the ball, Dzeko would stay close to him, but not to try winning the ball. Instead, they would leave Chelsea’s wide central defenders free to receive the ball (wingers deeper to stop ground passes to the wing-backs). Upon passes out to the wide central defenders, Roma’s wingers would move up to press them, while blocking the pass up to the wing-backs at the same time. Furthermore, passes to the central midfielders were met with immediate pressure from Nainggolan and Strootman.

By defending in this way, Roma could block Chelsea’s natural patterns of possession—as many other teams have done so recently—but Chelsea made use of different passing routes to find forward passes, using David Luiz’s movements with and without the ball.

When he moved up with the ball on the right, he could consistently play ground passes to the feet of Pedro and Azpilicueta behind Roma’s midfield line. By directly finding forward passes here (especially to Pedro) Chelsea would open up space for the wing-backs in Roma’s half and take their wingers out of the game defensively.

Without the ball, when David Luiz moved higher up and one of the wide central defenders had the ball, his positioning would open up the passing lane behind him for a pass to the opposite wide defender. For example, Cahill passing to Rudiger would then allow him to play forward to the feet of Hazard or Pedro.

The final movement of David Luiz going forward was in co-ordination with Fabregas to open the space for him to drop back and receive the ball out of pressure to play forward passes—unlike in the previous game where Roma were always pressuring Fabregas to prevent him facing play to play forward.

From goal kicks Chelsea made use of the same movement, with Fabregas dropping to receive the ball and start play. Long goal kicks were more of an issue for the first ball, since they were hit to the left where Fazio was dominant in the air and would win the ball if it didn’t reach Alonso, but Chelsea were able to win the second ball in these moments even when they lost the first ball.

As Chelsea reached the final third through passes to Pedro, he could turn quickly and find passes behind (to Morata), or inside to Hazard. Upon receiving the ball, Hazard would have Alonso free on the outside (Roma defending narrow and dropping to cover the box) so he could either use him to draw a defender out and open space for himself to shoot, or he could find him to come inside on his right to shoot.

Roma with the ball

Roma’s possession was similar to the previous game where they would circulate the ball in midfield out of pressure, using their numerical advantage and width. But as they tried to play forward into Chelsea’s half, Chelsea could often recover the ball and launch quick counters.

Hazard would stay higher up and not contribute to defending. Instead, he would conserve his energy to be used as an outlet when Chelsea won the ball, thus being fresh to create individually in the final third. Most notably, his pass back to Fabregas and spin behind Fazio allowed him to use his mobility advantage against the defender to get behind and onto Fabregas’ long pass over the top.

Chelsea’s pressing high in the corner on the right when Jesus or Kolarov had the ball allowed them to win the ball and create more chances in the first half, such as Pedro’s pressing to win the ball for Morata’s chance inside the box.

After Chelsea’s continued good play, it was two individual mistakes which would lead to them conceding a second. David Luiz initially lost control of the long ball, allowing Roma to attack 3v2 and win a corner. Roma would go on to score from the second ball after the initial clearance, with the defence still scrambled from the set piece and Rudiger allowing the ball to go behind for El Shaarawy to, once again, make use of his mobility (this time beating temporary left back Azpilicueta) to get to the ball and score.

Even after going two goals down, Chelsea were still able to create, with a chance for Bakayoko from a corner. Bakayoko dominates in the air, and is exceptional at a few other areas—recovering the ball with intensity, carrying the ball forward (such as for Pedro’s chance), using his body to shield and turn with the ball—but in other areas he has room to improve.

Second half

In the second half, Chelsea had a good period after making their first change, where Azpilicueta moved back to his normal wide centre back position, Pedro dropped back to wing-back and Willian joined the front three. They disturbed Roma’s building at the back and won the ball high up a couple times close to Roma’s box.

There was also one of the best moves of building from the back, where Chelsea kept the ball under sustained high pressure, before breaking Roma’s pressing and finding a long diagonal pass to Pedro (free on the right) to take the ball forward and cross it into the box. However, throughout the game Roma defended crosses exceptionally. They always had numbers back, they kept their line in a position where there was very little space to play crosses between the backline and the goalkeeper (when Chelsea found the space it was through crosses hit too hard for anyone to get onto), and consistently cleared the ball from the near post.

Not long into the second half Roma scored their third after another individual mistake, which led to a similar situation in which Chelsea conceded the first goal: both wingers were high up (after attempting to counter and run behind) and Roma quickly attacking down the left (this time getting behind the midfielders) and using the space in front of Chelsea’s backline—Perotti dribbling inside from the left was another thing he managed to do a lot in the first game; this time he made it count. Game over.

Conclusion

Chelsea had good control of the first half in most parts, where they found solutions with the ball and won the ball high up to disturb Roma’s short building. They created many chances, but were unable to convert any of them. Chelsea were then punished further through their individual mistakes, where the third goal killing the game.