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Chelsea break down Huddersfield compact block with quick switches, good movement — tactical analysis

Chelsea making good use of width, unlike against West Ham.

Chelsea switches

With Huddersfield holding a deep defensive block, where the center forward, Mounie was alone against Chelsea’s back three, Chelsea made use of the width of the pitch through quick switches (both long diagonal passes and through short ground passes) to the wing-backs—where they would face different options with the ball.

When moving up on one side to the wing-back through ground possession, Chelsea would try to draw Huddersfield’s defenders out wide with runs behind the full backs (inside to outside by Pedro, Hazard, and Willian) to receive the ball from the wing-back, before trying to work the ball into the box—with fewer defenders and more space for potential shots. Huddersfield’s backline dealt well with these situations, where they either held their line high to play the runner offside, or their cover was able to win the ball.

Passes from the wing-backs to the nearest attacker between the lines were too risky in tight spaces and multiple opponents around them. When the wing-backs found themselves in these situations, and decided against playing the pass inside, they needed to be careful about the selection of pass back to support since, from their point of view, the closest central midfielder would appear free to receive the ball. However, Huddersfield’s midfielders were always approaching out of sight with good timing and intensity to press aggressively—one Alonso pass to Bakayoko (into pressure) in the first half required good recovery by the midfielder. Mounie would position himself behind the wing-back to try to cut the angle to the central defenders, but Chelsea’s back three were always able to open up a passing lane to play the ball back and switch the attack to the other side of the pitch.

Chelsea had better success with quick aerial switches to the wing-backs high on the side of the box, where Huddersfield were unable to pressure their first touch (winger not back and fullback too narrow to get close enough quickly). This allowed for early crosses into the box, which also forced Huddersfield’s high defensive line to drop back and defend quickly without early positioning for organisation. Crosses for Chelsea’s second and third goals came from this, where Chelsea could match the numbers around the six yard box.

The attack for Chelsea’s second goal began with Huddersfield’s central midfielders higher up to pressure the ball to stop passes between the lines. The quick switch from Azpilicueta to Alonso takes the midfield out of the game, and the speed of delivery into the box ensures that they cannot get back in time to provide support. Kachunga moves to cover Smith as he moves out to stop the cross, leaving a 3v3 in the six yard box for the delivery. Schindler moves to cover Hazard, which leads him to move the other side of Zanka and leave Lowe against Willian at the far post to compete for the ball.

For Chelsea’s third a similar situation was created: this time the switch from Azpilicueta to Alonso went through a pass to Bakayoko, which gave more time for Huddersfield’s midfielders to drop (Whitehead and Ince getting back this time) but Chelsea were still able to capitalise. Of the front three, Pedro was the only one to change his approach, holding his run back in space. Zanka picked up Hazard’s near post run this time, with Lowe covering Willian, and Schindler free in the middle. Whitehead, on as a replacement for Hogg, moved towards the side of the box behind Kachunga, which left the space around the middle of the box free for Pedro to receive the second ball and quickly finish.

Pedro, Hazard, and Willian between lines

Huddersfield pressured both Kante and Bakayoko in midfield to prevent them from having time and space to make forward passes centrally for the majority of the game, but in the moments where Kante could find space for himself he would always play passes into the front three.

When Chelsea could find these passes through to the front three between lines, they always caused problems. Hazard either made use of quality first time flicks to combine, or his quick first time turns would draw fouls. Willian made his typical movement inside, both carrying and combining, to move into the middle with the ball and look for passes through for Pedro and Alonso running behind. As they moved into the box, these first time flicks and lay-offs created direct chances to shoot.

Since Huddersfield were able to control most of the passes between the lines by preventing Chelsea’s central midfielders from being in positions to play them, the movement of the front three was critical. Pedro, Hazard, and Willian didn’t remain only central and in the same positions, where they wouldn’t have been influential in the game. Pedro and Willian could switch sides, which would allow Willian to drop wide for the ball (below Alonso) to draw pressure towards him before switching to the right. Pedro and Hazard could both do this by dropping wide on the left too, as well as Hazard taking on defenders up the wing to go past them and put a ball into the box.

Recovery of possession

Willian and Pedro provided excellent defensive contribution throughout the game in both pressure when Chelsea lost the ball and pushing up on back passes to force Huddersfield to play back to Lossl—before continuing intense pressure onto the goalkeeper to make him play first time.

Barely a minute in, for example, Willian pressed Lossl to make him play first time, which switched the ball to Alonso’s area to win the ball—but he was unable to control the ball on this occasion.

This pressure was mirrored for Chelsea’s first goal, where their pressing was the same as the press above, but from Pedro’s side. So, on this occasion, the ball was played up to Moses. This time, Moses was able to win and control the ball, before quick play between Hazard (to flick the ball) and Willian (to carry the ball inside and play the pass behind) created the chance for Bakayoko—receiving the ball in the space where Smith was too wide and high to recover in time.

Continued pressure onto Lossl won the ball or forced more mistakes to recover the ball, while pressure from the sides in Huddersfield’s half led to errors in possession which led to chances, such as the 1v1 for Pedro at the end of the first half.

When Chelsea lost possession high up, their reaction and recovery from the front and numbers behind the ball was excellent. Pedro and Willian again recovered quickly both pressing forward and recovering back into midfield, while the aggression of the back five and two midfielders dominated transitions—allowing Chelsea to sustain attacks in Huddersfield’s half.

Conclusion

Chelsea had a number of ways to create against the deep block, which Huddersfield controlled well for the opening stages of the game. Huddersfield’s downfall, however, was their own mistakes during possession in their own half—which Chelsea capitalised upon to take the lead. After going up, Chelsea continued to try to create from wide areas and combinations between the front three, where quick switches opened up the defence and created chances in the box to score their final two goals.