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Chelsea exploit the left flank to find solutions for solving Southampton

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Chelsea 1-0 Southampton, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea with the ball

Southampton used moments of high pressure during the game to try to force mistakes, and, particularly at the start of the game, to take advantage of Chelsea’s recent run of slow starts to games.

Southampton’s high pressing of Chelsea’s throw-ins in Chelsea’s half was a high risk strategy that could lead to two very different outcomes. In successful moments, they could block the options to throw forward and leave Chelsea trying to throw the ball back into their box and to Courtois (where he could be pressured), which would lead to long play or Chelsea attempting to switch to the other side under continued pressure. When Chelsea could throw the ball forward however, they made use of quick first time flicks to find teammates, open up Southampton, and create chances to quickly break from deep to attack.

When Southampton pressed Chelsea’s goal kicks in the opening stages, Courtois would go long to Alonso. Initially, Romeu would move over to compete with Alonso in the air, allowing Southampton to maintain the back five behind the ball. After Cedric was replaced, Alonso found himself in a better situation, where Ward-Prowse (as wing-back) would compete with him in the air, allowing Hazard to move wide and ahead of Alonso and Pedro on the inside to create a 2v2 for any potential flick-on.

One way Chelsea were able to build from the back was by dribbling through Southampton’s pressure, such as Moses beating his man early on, or Hazard using his first time turns to draw fouls.

Chelsea created some of their best opportunities in the final third, especially in the second half, by playing long after building short. Southampton would press high in the initial phase, which Chelsea would then bypass with a long ball and create problems for Southampton’s back three, who had problems clearing and dealing with the ball first time. This provided Chelsea’s front three the opportunity to pressure the ball, force Southampton back and allow support from behind to join.

In midfield, Southampton’s midfielders applied pressure to Chelsea’s central midfielders when they could. Kante used passes around the corner to Willian receiving behind the midfield to beat this pressure on a couple of occasions, while Bakayoko moved wide and behind their midfielders. From Bakayoko’s wide movements, Alonso and Hazard could move on the left to rotate and try to create some openings from there, but it was when Alonso and Bakayoko were in position that Chelsea created their best opportunities in midfield.

For example, in the buildup for the free kick from which Chelsea scored, Bakayoko was deep in his own half and Alonso in midfield to receive the ball. Here, Bakayoko could draw the initial pressure from Romeu to open space centrally in midfield, which Alonso could use to pass inside for Pedro and Hazard to receive and combine from the same passing line. Pedro allowed the ball to run behind him (before running behind) for Hazard to receive, turn quickly inside and accelerate forward to win the free kick.

In the final third, Southampton could slow the speed of Chelsea’s possession down and prevent most of the quick switches that Chelsea used to cause Huddersfield problems in the previous match.

Southampton had the midfield four narrow to control the middle (including the advancing wide central defenders) while matching Chelsea’s numbers around the pitch. They covered the width well through the wing-backs always being in positions to intercept the ball when Chelsea tried to play long switches, while being deep enough to prevent them from behind exposed by passes in-behind.

On a couple of occasions this forced Hazard to find new solutions in situations where he would normally switch to Moses—relying on individual creativity rather than the normal “automatism”. This, along with Bertrand’s defending, limited Moses’s usual influence and prevented Chelsea from creating good 1v1 situations for him.

On the left, Chelsea found alternative solutions, where Alonso would move inside to join the box, allowing one of the front three to move wide and take on defenders. Pedro and Willian both benefited from this, where they could take the ball into the box and shoot (while Alonso ended up with a team-leading six shots).

When Chelsea did find passes to the front three in the middle, they could again create through combinations (Willian moving inside with the ball) and dribbling past multiple defenders before shooting (again coming from Willian).

When Chelsea were able to play crosses into the box, they used the front three to try to take the ball down under control and look for layoffs to the edge of the box for long shot. This is a good solution for the short front three who lack power in the air but are good at winning, keeping, and quickly playing the ball. Unlike against Huddersfield, Chelsea were unable to stretch the defensive line to create opportunities for actual headers. They managed to force several saves from long shots, while Southampton blocked a good number of other attempts on goal as well.

Southampton with the ball

Southampton faced pressure from Chelsea on their backline, especially on the sides, which would result in attempting to play long passes behind Chelsea’s backline. These could create moments of pressure for the throw-ins when played into the corners, but were unsuccessful when played directly behind the middle of the defence

In midfield, Southampton could find space between the lines when Romeu had the ball in space, where he’d open his body and find passes through Chelsea’s midfield line to Redmond and Lemina—both moving inside from wide.

When Southampton won the ball deep, Chelsea’s reaction was aggressive to pressure and regain the ball a lot of the time. But when Southampton were able to get the ball to Redmond on the left, he could cause problems for Chelsea with good close control, turns, and the ability to keep the ball under pressure. On the left he could find Bertrand overlapping on the outside, running behind Moses, with good timing to play first time crosses from the byline. In the second half Redmond moved to the right wing, which reduced his influence.

When Southampton won the ball from a Chelsea mistake in midfield, it was once again Redmond who’d quickly move on the outside of the back three to receive the ball and create opportunities from there, especially in the first half.

The subsitution of Charlie Austin was almost key, as he began to make runs behind Azpilicueta to find himself 1v1 with Courtois twice. The best of those two chances came after Hojbjerg moved higher up to receive the ball on the left, where his ability to keep the ball through turns (just as he did during deep possession) allowed him to free himself and exploit Chelsea’s high defensive line without ball pressure.

Conclusion

Southampton’s approach prevented Chelsea from switching the speed of their play as often as they’d like. Chelsea instead created through dribbling, combinations, and attempted long shots, but couldn’t convert chances into clear goals or shots on target—Southampton made a good number of blocks. Without Chelsea finding the second goal, Southampton could stay in the game until the end, where they managed to create a couple of chances to score, only to be denied by Courtois.