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Burnley 1-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Burnley’s excellent defensive play allowed them to continue their impressive record at home

Chelsea’s deep possession

Chelsea’s strategy for playing out from the back changed based on where Burnley positioned their strikers. In the early stages, Gray and Barnes were wider, pressuring Chelsea’s wide central defenders and preventing them from playing forward. Through Luiz moving up and down in his position (to either appear as a spare man centrally or to push Burnley’s front line back to open space for the wide central defenders) and through circulation of the ball at the back between the wide central defenders and Courtois, Chelsea could eventually find Luiz facing play and out of pressure.

With Burnley’s block positioned high up the field, Luiz could play forward passes to Chelsea’s front three, which would create a good situations to quickly advance towards Burnley’s goal (with fewer Burnley players behind the ball to try to stop the attack).

While Luiz could find the pass forward to a player between the lines (who would then lay it off to a player facing play), Burnley were able to quickly deal with the threats to avoid being exposed behind the backline. Upon the front player receiving the ball, the backline would narrow and drop back—if unable to challenge for the ball. In the situation above, Keane maintained a slightly higher position for the layoff to Hazard, but none of the backline would engage in ball pressure—preventing Chelsea’s front three the opportunity to use combinations in order to go past any of the back four.

But while the back four dropping would allow Chelsea’s front three to continue to combine centrally, it was without creating danger as the delay allowed Burnley’s midfield to recover and engage the man on the ball. Chelsea would time and time again create this situation, only to lose the opportunity due to: losing control of the pass, Burnley’s midfielders winning the ball, being fouled, or the player receiving the ball being forced to move outside Burnley’s block with the ball.

When Burnley pressured Luiz on the ball, or had both of the strikers narrow, Chelsea played forward through the wide central defenders—mostly Azpilicueta—but from there, Pedro would be followed tightly by Ward when he moved towards the ball to receive it, while Brady dropped cover Moses and prevent the pass outside. When Azpilicueta tried to play centrally to Costa on the backline, he was pressured from behind, while Hazard (receiving deeper, between lines) was often forced to move back outside the block from Burnley’s central midfielders. Upon the ball bouncing back to Chelsea’s defenders, Luiz attempted a few long passes, equally without success.

Along with the central threat, early passes from the front three out to the wing-backs could have created Chelsea good situations. Again, Burnley had good control of this from the first passes during organised defending. When one of the front three received the ball on the last line to look to draw one of Burnley’s fullbacks inside (to open the space wide) the fullbacks could position themselves to pressure the receiver inside—blocking the early pass outside—while support from the wide midfielders dropping back prevented the passes outside from deeper areas.

For example, in the following situation, Lowton’s pressure blocks the early pass to Alonso, while the delay in getting the ball to Alonso allows Boyd the time to get back to a goal-side position against the Chelsea wing-back.

Chelsea only found success with the ball from deep positions when Burnley had players high (losing the ball, usually after a cross, and Chelsea counter) or when Burnley were both high and shifted to a side (such as a Chelsea throw-in deep inside their own half). When Chelsea had the ball in these situations, they could quickly move past the high pressure, before finding players free in higher areas—the goal was a good example of Chelsea switching to Moses after Burnley tried to press the throw-in on Chelsea’s left.

Burnley defending their own half

In their own half, Burnley maintained tight lines and a narrow block. Brady would move back to join the backline early to prevent Chelsea forcing it open (with Ward moving out to press and Pedro running behind) as well as to prevent Chelsea from having the numerical advantage against the back line—5v4 with the wing-backs up. The central midfielders continued to apply pressure behind them, while the strikers could drop back to also get behind the ball.

On their right, Burnley were able to defend passes out to Alonso through Lowton or Boyd, whoever was closest to close him down, while the other would drop back to cover on the inside. When Chelsea tried to play crosses from switches wide, Burnley were already organised inside the box and able to clear the ball. They did this with the backline moving back into positions in anticipation of the cross early on, along with support from the central midfielders inside the box giving them a large numerical advantage. Having numbers back and behind the ball gave them another advantage when the crosses into the box met their targets, where they had many players inside the box (and good reactions) to surround the player on the ball and block shots.

Burnley’s shifting and pushing up as a team was another key to their defending, allowing them to gain territory and move away from their box—preventing continuous pressure inside their box—and push Chelsea back into their own half. For example, when a Chelsea player was making a pass backwards they would move up as a team to be positioned around the ball, while when they received side on or back to goal they could also move up—to push Chelsea back into their own half. Around their own box, if the second ball from a cross went to a Chelsea player facing play (in a wide position) they would remain in their positions in anticipation of another ball in, but if Chelsea were not in position to play the ball back into the box early, they would push up.

Burnley with the ball

When Burnley had the ball centrally in their own half, they could play long and forward to Barnes (Keane or Heaton playing the pass) as well as advance in wide areas.

Playing long from their own half would often see their wide midfielders moving up onto Chelsea’s backline or around the target of the long ball (Barnes) while the fullbacks would push forward onto the midfield line with the central midfielders. Barnes could often move away from Chelsea’s backline for the first ball (usually against Azpilicueta) with Gray running behind. While Chelsea maintained close lines between midfield and defense to try to control the first ball, the positions of Burnley’s fullbacks and central midfielders outside the block allowed them to win the second ball, before the fullbacks would either play early balls into the box or try to combine up the wing.

If Burnley were advancing in wide areas, their fullbacks could play early diagonals to the frontline, where they could make use of the strikers’ combinations and movements, such as Barnes allowing the ball to run-through for Gray. If the second ball dropped to Chelsea’s central midfielders (back to play) during these moments, Burnley’s central midfielders were quick to react aggressively to close them down. An example of this happened in the following situation, which lead to the goal.

When Burnley won the ball in deep areas, they could also find Gray running the channels to provide them an outlet forward. Although he was often unable to maintain the ball or cause problems with it, he was able to win throw-ins in Chelsea’s half and carry the ball up the wings—allowing Burnley to move up the field and relieve the Chelsea pressure.


Burnley maintained good control of Chelsea’s threats in possession, while also creating some good opportunities to score. Chelsea made some errors with the ball to not profit from more of their counter-attacks and chances in the first half. The switch to 424 allowed Chelsea to advance in wide areas with more consistency (Hazard moving wide to support) but Burnley maintained control of crosses and shots from around the box.

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