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Chelsea and Bournemouth battle for tactical superiority in League Cup quarterfinal

Chelsea 2-1 Bournemouth, League Cup: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea’s possession

In the opening stages, Chelsea were able to maintain possession and an open block, find spaces, especially out wide, to create, and restrict Bournemouth from moving into Chelsea’s half with sustained ball possession. There were several reasons for Chelsea’s initial success.

Firstly, the wing-backs were predominantly high up, which would pin Bournemouth deep into a back five. Secondly, Bournemouth’s three midfielders and front two attempted to prevent Chelsea’s central midfielders having the ball in the middle, and always pressured them there to try to win the ball. With this narrow approach, Bournemouth’s midfield had to constantly shift side to side to prevent Chelsea passing the ball into the front three between lines. At times they would attempt to apply pressure on Chelsea’s wide central defenders, where Arter and Gosling would push up wide, but Rudiger and Cahill were calm and patient to keep the ball and break their pressure.

Since Chelsea could hold high amounts of possession in the opening stages, Bournemouth’s attempts to play with the ball were limited. When they won possession, Chelsea had numbers high and could pressure the ball to recover it quickly and aggressively. Bournemouth’s long play could win some throw-ins, which allowed them a platform to get out from their own half, but Chelsea continued to have their frontline push up. They were often able to push Bournemouth to the side and force them into errors or playing forward into pressure.

Bournemouth’s long play from wide did cause Chelsea’s backline a few problems, particularly in the opening stages, when they would play long up to Defoe making diagonal runs. Dealing with such pressure requires the backline to maintain composure and not draw more pressure on the ball (from support) by hesitating or making blind passes into pressure. But in general, Chelsea were able to deal with these successfully—even when Cahill miss-controlled the ball, they found a solution.

With Chelsea’s possession established, the next task for Chelsea was to create chances. Since the central midfielders were covered in the middle of the pitch, both Drinkwater and Fabregas would make movements wide (into the wing-back position or ahead of Cahill and Rudiger) in order to find space to attempt to make forward passes. Rudiger, as he advanced on the right, attempted long diagonal passes to the wing or into the box for Kenedy with Pedro in support. Cahill could also carry forward and then stop with the ball to look for forward passes to feet.

Kenedy and Pedro could rotate positions quickly on the left when Chelsea were in Bournemouth’s half, which was effective in the buildup of their first goal. Cahill was able to find a pass to Batshuayi to feet (moving towards the ball to take Cook away from their backline) where he held the ball before finding Kenedy. Fabregas was quick to recognise Kenedy was 1v1 against Francis on the backline, and reacted by making the forward run behind the defence to receive the back heel and enter the box, before setting up Willian to finish.

source: Chelsea FC Match Centre

Bournemouth’s reaction

Bournemouth’s first change to bring on Jordon Ibe for the injured Defoe gave them greater possession in the game. With Defoe they were playing long and looking to pressure Chelsea’s backline, whereas with Ibe they had to play more on the ground and work through Chelsea’s pressure. Gosling, Ibe, and Mousset could now move between lines to receive the ball, away from Chelsea’s backline, move to support wide areas, and they could find spare players when they had the ball in midfield, while in the final third they could keep the ball under pressure from Chelsea and sustain attacks. By doing this, they could alter the state of the game to prevent Chelsea maintaining an open block with control for prolonged periods, with the wing-backs deeper more often than high.

With more possession, Bournemouth could open up with the ball and have more players higher up in Chelsea’s half for when they lost the ball, which would allow them to apply pressure inside Chelsea’s half with greater ease.

They also became more aggressive when pressing from midfield, where they wouldn’t allow Chelsea’s wide central defenders time on the ball. They even continued the pressure during switches (both Gosling and Arter up on Chelsea’s backline) so this would force more first time passes forward and give Chelsea more chances to play into the front three.

Although Chelsea had more opportunity to play into the front three, the speed of the game increased with the pressure, which raised the risk of losing the ball and made the game more transitional. It allowed Bournemouth to recover the ball deep and begin from the back with possession out of pressure — at the same time, when one of Chelsea’s front three could keep the ball and find a teammate, Bournemouth would have to drop quickly back to defend their box.

With more Bournemouth possession, Chelsea’s wing-backs were forced back where even if they won the ball, they didn’t have the same opportunity to move high to push Bournemouth back as consistently as before. However, when receiving the ball deeper and under pressure, the consistent Conte pattern (“automatism”) of the first-time around the corner diagonal pass into the front line was available. They attempted a couple in the first half, such as the situation below, before using a similar move from Zappacosta for the winning goal.

Second half

Bournemouth continued their aggressive pressure and greater ball possession in the second half, while Chelsea were unable to regain control. When Chelsea would win the ball, they were very direct and passes were often into pressure. If they were able to beat the pressure they quickly created dangerous counters—but this became a problem when opportunities were consistently wasted, with either no shot on goal or by losing possession. This gave Bournemouth the ball to build over and over again, where they could pin Chelsea back in their half and sustain attacks.

In response, Chelsea switched to a 352 with the introduction of Hazard and Bakayoko for Willian and Pedro. This changed the characteristics of the team, as they were now able to use Hazard to keep the ball to break Bournemouth’s possession, and allow Chelsea to play higher up. They had success in stopping Bournemouth pinning them back, but it didn’t stop Bournemouth from creating chances, nor did they get the second goal to kill the game. Eventually, after failing to extend the lead, Bournemouth scored the equaliser—Chelsea’s reaction was too much around the ball when it dropped to Ibe, leaving space for Gosling to receive and score—before Chelsea’s quick response (14 seconds!) from kick off won the game.

Conclusion

Chelsea had good control of the game in the opening stages, where they had stable possession and could create when they played passes into the front three. Bournemouth had a good reaction to conceding, and Ibe allowed them to keep ground possession more consistently. Bournemouth continued to cause problems and pin Chelsea back in the second half, before Chelsea’s changes allowed them to regain control. Chelsea’s failure to extend the lead then allowed Bournemouth to score a late equaliser, before Chelsea quickly scored the winner from the kickoff.