West Ham succeeding in moments
West Ham set out to cause Chelsea problems in moments, rather than trying to dominate for prolonged periods. They attacked wide areas, put the ball in the corner to stretch Chelsea’s defence, pressured high when they could, and always maintained numbers centrally in their deep and narrow block.
When they won the ball deep, and had the opportunity to counter, Masuaku was often the player to hold the ball against pressure, go past Chelsea players, and play the forward passes up the line for West Ham to advance into Chelsea’s half. Antonio and Arnautovic moved wide individually to collect or pressure these passes, where they could cause problems with their physical attributes.
Antonio, especially, caused Chelsea problems when moving wide, as he had the strength to hold off Azpilicueta and Cahill to receive the ball. He could then turn his marker (often winning free kicks or throw-ins) or find support before running behind for the return ball. By making the run behind to receive the ball, he would stretch Chelsea’s backline so even if the pass isn’t successful, they can gain field position by being able to pressure Chelsea’s throw-in.
Even when they didn’t collect the first pass up the wing, into the corner, West Ham would cause problems since the forward passes were played to remain in play—providing the opportunity to pressure Chelsea high. As in the following situation, they would pressure Chelsea into the corner from the forward pass and then continue pressure onto the pass back to Courtois to force him to play long first time (with Antonio bending his run around the back of Cahill to be out of sight of Christensen as he would pass the ball back).
These passes into the corner also often invited Courtois out of his box to collect the ball, testing his anticipation, timing, and technique in doing so. On at least one occasion West Ham won a corner by drawing Courtois out wide and pressuring him into a poor clearance.
During moments of high pressure in Chelsea’s half, West Ham didn’t try to match Chelsea’s numbers to try to win the ball, but instead chose to simply make it difficult for Chelsea to play forward passes. This way they could would prevent Chelsea from having control of the game, keep Chelsea away from the final third with the ball, and create separation between Chelsea’s frontline and backline—making the required distance of the passes longer and giving their midfielders the chance to intercept or get a toe on the ball. Furthermore, since West Ham didn’t always put numbers forward during pressing (usually on the side) they always had the numbers behind the ball to quickly drop back to their own box when Chelsea managed to break their pressure—thus delaying Chelsea from creating quickly and giving time for defensive support to get back.
The few times West Ham managed to get the ball into the final third, they made some good and quick combinations—especially for the goal— and took advantage of set pieces (Lanzini and Antonio active on the ball to dribble and draw fouls), short throw-ins, and long throw-ins (with Reid moving up to join the box). West Ham always had five in the box to attack free kicks and corners.
Chelsea behind early
Recovering from going behind early is always a difficult task, especially after another slow start to the game and against an opponent with West Ham’s tactics.
West Ham would push up on the wings through their wing-backs, and leave space in midfield for Chelsea to have the ball. But while Christensen could move forward into this space, and Kante (or any of Chelsea’s advanced midfielders dropping back) could receive the ball in it, West Ham always ensured that they had numbers behind the ball (Arnautovic dropping back to join the three midfielders). Their wide players would also drop back narrow (leaving space wide of the box) once Chelsea established control over the middle.
Chelsea could break through West Ham’s midfielders with quick one-touch play between Fabregas, Bakayoko, and Hazard, but this would only get them to the edge of West Ham’s box where a back five covered the width of the box and the midfielders continued to pressure from behind. The best Chelsea could create from here were wide passes to the wing-backs to shoot or cross, which West Ham controlled easily, or to attempt long shots from the middle.
Switches to Azpilicueta to cross the ball from deep created some good opportunities, but West Ham never allowed Morata to find space inside the box for free headers. Having numbers back also allowed West Ham to win or block any second ball lost inside the box—such as Hazard’s chance in the first half.
Whenever Chelsea lost the ball, West Ham would clear the ball long for Arnautovic or Antonio to chase down and pressure Christensen and Cahill, never allowing Chelsea easy recovery and possession, and forcing them to use a lot of energy to regain the ball.
Chelsea made their changes early in the second half to bring on more attacking players. Pedro, Moses, and Willian increased the individual creative quality on the pitch, but losing Alonso’s and Bakayoko’s aerial ability was a problem since most of their chances were through crosses into the box. On top of this, West Ham took every opportunity to waste time and slow the game down.
With their changes, Chelsea switched formation to see a back four for the first time this season, where Azpilicueta moved to left back, Moses at right back, Fabregas and Kante as the central midfielders, Willian and Pedro on the wings, while Hazard moved freely off Morata. This predominantly lost Azpilicueta’s option to play crosses in early from the right, and, since both Kante and Fabregas were moving forward to try to create, required them to use a lot of intensity and sprints to recover the ball quickly—especially when West Ham would put the ball into the corners to push Chelsea back.
West Ham successfully created problems in various moments throughout the game, and took advantage of another slow start to the game by Chelsea to take an early lead. Their high pressure and passes up the wings (into the corners) stretched Chelsea’s backline, won set pieces to allow them to move out of their half, and ensured that Chelsea couldn’t recover the ball and start attacks easily. Chelsea’s changes brought more offensive quality to their game, but at the cost of options like Alonso and Bakayoko to use in the air for crosses. Chelsea created only a few good chances to score, and even when they did, they couldn’t take them.