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Wolves 0-2 Chelsea, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea progress into the quarter-final of the FA Cup

Wolves pressing high and attacks up the wings

When pressing high, Wolves were able to disrupt Chelsea’s passing game with collective pressure covering the short passing options (with the ball on the backline in deep areas) and forcing Chelsea into playing longer passes to the wing-backs or to Costa—usually from back passes to Begovic. Chelsea didn’t have great outlets to play forward to in these situations, and with pressure from Wolves on the first ball, the passes would usually result in the ball going out for a throw-in or a loss of possession. This would also be the case in a couple occasions when the central defenders tried to play forward to the wing-backs in the air.

By blocking Chelsea’s progression from these areas, Wolves were able to have a high starting position with the ball to begin their attacks. They would usually go forward in the wide areas quickly, where early crosses from deep caused some problems. On the right, Helder Costa would frequently beat Pedro on the outside before looking to cross (Terry usually there to cover at the front post, along with support from the central midfielders) or pass back to Coady who would then cross into the box from deep. These crosses, which have been a problem for Chelsea, were more successful for Wolves when they had support inside the box from Bodvarsson moving towards the near post, Weimann joining the box from the left and the two central midfielders (Edwards and Saville) joining the box—Saville’s early chance was a prime example of this. On the left, they used more overlaps and wide movements of Bodvarsson to go down the line and try to get crosses in from the byline.

They also had moments where the central midfielders would move up collectively upon passes to the inside—in order to get close to Chelsea’s central midfielders in Chelsea’s half. This was to try to revent Fabregas and Chalobah from having the ball facing play and out of pressure. Moving up in anticipation of passes was also useful in order to put pressure on passes from the wing to the central defenders in the middle.

Chelsea with the ball

While Chelsea lost the ball a few times when they played forward passes to the frontline (between lines)—through miscontrolling or misplaying the ball in combinations, or one of the defenders winning the ball—they were able to find other ways of creating chances.

When Chelsea were able to establish and circulate possession in midfield, Wolves had problems closing down the central midfielders. Their midfield would drop to try to maintain tight lines, but as a consequence, space was opened for Cesc to receive the ball out of pressure and play forward. This created two problems with the passes he could play: when he had players running behind (Willian and Costa making diagonal runs) he could make the pass behind, and when there wasn’t a runner, he was able to find a player between the lines as Wolves’ midfield line would be moving up to try to press him.

Another solution to progress the ball was Cesc combining with Zouma to open space for the former to play forward from midfield or for the latter to carry the ball forward.

Counters from deep were another way Chelsea were able to create, making use of Weimann being higher up the pitch and unable to match the speed of the counters in order to recover position. This was particularly noticeable for the first goal, which was one of the only occasions where Chelsea able to find a free man on the last line through switches.

Wolves defending deep

In order to control Chelsea’s front five with the ball, Wolves had two ways of defending the right and Weimann to cover the full line on the left. As the wide players moved back, the central midfielders would shift across the backline to protect it.

When Helder Costa was back and able to apply pressure to Pedro, Coady could remain on the inside to cover Hazard. When Costa was higher up, they would use Coady to press Pedro and Edwards would move back on the inside to provide cover.

On the left, Weimann moved back to a deep position, joining the backline, in order to remain goal-side of Moses. By maintaining this position and not conceding a 5v4 when Chelsea’s wing-backs moved up, Wolves were able to prevent the usual switches Chelsea make when facing deep blocks. On the few occasions that Moses was able to beat Weimann on the outside, Weimann’s positioning would still cause problems—by staying close, Moses’ options were restricted to playing higher crosses (easy to overhit) or harder and lower (hopeful) passes.

To compensate for Weimann’s deep positioning when Wolves won the ball in deep positions, Bodvarsson would make runs wide to the left in order to receive the long balls behind the wing-backs.

Conclusion

After dealing with the early high pressure from Wolves, Chelsea were able to begin creating a few chances through Cesc’s long passes in midfield. While Wolves maintained good control of Chelsea’s front five, they were unable to consistently prevent Chelsea from finding a spare man on the last line, which lead to the first goal. Chelsea’s changes later in the game allowed them to have more defensive control—with Ake moving to wing-back to defend against Helder Costa—and see the game out successfully.