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Fàbregas, Moses, Hazard key in Chelsea overcoming poor start against Newcastle — tactical analysis

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Newcastle take the lead

Newcastle had an aggressive and direct approach to the start of the game, where they could counter and press high with numbers, play long after drawing Chelsea’s midfield towards them, and cause problems during the second ball.

Their long play from the start was usually to their left, where Gayle would move over and try to take the ball on his chest (backing into Moses), before laying off to a teammate—against Christensen he would lose the ball in the air, but could push back when he didn’t jump for the ball in the air. The midfielders joined Gayle from behind, giving Newcastle numbers to pressure Chelsea and force mistakes with the ball. In doing so, Chelsea couldn’t create a platform to open up in possession, as they were always facing competition when building from their own half—be that throw-ins, short building from the back, or long play.

When Newcastle won the ball high up, they were quick to get the ball forward to the frontline, either through diagonal passes inside from the wings, ahead of Chelsea’s backline, or through early crosses into the box—which were well cleared by Chelsea’s defenders in the air, against quick and aggressive runs into the box. The Newcastle counters had numbers in midfield, where attacking midfielders Perez and Murphy both joined the frontline, with the central midfielders supporting from behind them; as well as on the wings where both wing-backs joined the attacks, with Ritchie, predominantly, their most creative, playing both the passes inside and early crosses into the box.

In the moments where Hazard could dribble with the ball past a Newcastle player to break and counter, they used fouls to stop him advancing into their final third. This provided Chelsea with the chance to open up their shape with the ball, but Newcastle could defend their own half with numbers and pressure passes made ahead of their central midfielders to win the ball or force mistakes.

In possession of the ball, and leading to their goal, Newcastle’s long play could stretch Chelsea’s midfield and separate the team into two parts, leaving space ahead of their backline to compete for the ball.

In the following situation, which lead to the goal, Chelsea’s midfielders were up to attempt to press the ball, which allowed Lejeune to play forward with good timing into the open space behind them. Although Chelsea had the numerical advantage at the back, they were dropping back to get behind and around the ball, whereas Newcastle are aggressively running towards the ball and facing play, allowing them to pressure in numbers, win the second ball, and continue to pressure Courtois to force mistakes before scoring the goal.

Chelsea’s response

Although Newcastle’s start had forced Chelsea into mistakes, there were good moments for Chelsea when they had the ball in the final third—where they were always dangerous. They initially entered the box through quick passes between Drinkwater, Hazard, and Morata on the left; and Fabregas playing into the box for Hazard to chest the ball down to Morata for a quick shot from the right—late on in the match, Morata would be the one consistently playing quality layoffs inside the box.

Chelsea created primarily through long play from midfield. Diame always attempted to close down Fabregas quickly when he received the ball, moving to the left, but Fabregas was still able to find himself in space throughout the match to play passes. For example, when Chelsea won the ball from broken play in midfield and Newcastle retreated back into their half to regain organisation, Fabregas could quickly recognise these moments and move to collect the ball from the backline and play long behind—such as the pass for Hazard’s 1v1.

When Fabregas was forward, Chelsea had other players who could play long passes from deep, but without the same consistency as Fabregas. Both Rudiger, moving onto his right, and Kante attempted passes behind and diagonals to Moses on the right to create chances in and around the box. Furthermore, when Newcastle pushed up to get tighter to Rudiger and Kante, it would open up space for the switch to Azpilicueta to advance forward on the right. And this is exactly what happened before the first goal (Rudiger in space to play to Morata in the box) and for the first goal (Diame moves up to pressure Rudiger and they move the ball out to Azpilicueta, with space to advance and play the ball into the box).

Another key aspect for this game was Chelsea having Moses back. He provided Chelsea the extra 1v1 dribbler in the final third, which they have lacked without him, especially when playing 352. Zappacosta can carry the ball forward from deep with speed and beat his man, but in the final 3rd, and against deep blocks, he lacks the ability to take on the man down the line (such as Moses did in creating the chance for the second goal and also winning a number of corners throughout the match) and run behind into the box to win penalties against opposition using wingers at wing-back (as Moses did against Ritchie for the third goal, echoing a similar situation agains Spurs’ Son, for example).

It took Chelsea a while to score the third to ensure their two goal advantage, and Newcastle always had a threat to score from counter and set pieces (especially after bringing Hayden on) but Chelsea created a number of chances to score both before and after the third, only to be denied by blocks from Newcastle’s defenders and goalkeeper.

Conclusion

Newcastle’s quick and aggressive start to the game caused Chelsea problems and gave them a lead to try to hold onto for the rest of the match. Had Chelsea not been able to recover quickly in the first half, Newcastle could have cause plenty of frustration and threats through counters and set pieces. However, Chelsea’s solutions to play long passes into and around the box lead to a turnaround and a half-time lead. Chelsea missed a number of chances to score more, but eventually won the penalty for the third to have a comfortable advantage and see the game out.