Chelsea with the ball in midfield
Swansea’s defensive organisation when Chelsea’s backline had the ball in midfield was: Llorente going between Cesc and Luiz; Sigurdsson between Azpilicueta and Cesc; Fer moving up to Kante; Routledge between Cahill and Alonso.
Chelsea took advantage of this setup to open space and passing lines by circulating possession and moving the Swansea players around.
Firstly, Chelsea could Llorente to close the distance to Luiz, before passing to Cesc—Carroll often maintained a deeper position and was unable to close the distance to Cesc quickly enough. From here Cesc could do a few things:
- If Llorente tried to close him down quickly, he could find a pass back to Luiz with space ahead to play forward.
- If Llorente didn’t close him down, he had space to face play. He could then either play forward passes or carry the ball forward, before playing a pass to the space opened between Swansea’s lines by drawing Carroll forward.
- If Sigurdsson moved inside to pressure him, Azpilicueta and Moses both became free options on the outside—when Azpilicueta was able to advance on the inside, he could draw Carroll towards him to open forward passing lines and space between lines.
When Chelsea moved the ball to the left, they faced a different attitude: Leroy Fer often moving up quickly to close spaces. To take advantage of his higher positioning, Chelsea could either use Kante to receive and pass the ball back to Cahill quickly (Fer moving up to press Kante, opening the passing line from Cahill to Hazard), or Cahill could attract Fer to move towards Kante (and again opening up the passing line) by using his body to show for the pass to Kante. If the pass forward to Hazard was blocked (Hazard unable to show for the ball ahead of Cork) then Cahill could either play out to Alonso or back inside to Luiz.
Chelsea in the final third
Swansea were often effective in delaying Chelsea attacks—allowing time for Routledge and Fer to get and overload Alonso and Costa—by forcing Hazard to receive forward passes with his back to goal. In order to keep the ball and sustain the attack, he would be forced to pass back, or dribble with the ball backwards, or play switches for Moses to go down the line and either cross the ball into the box or win set pieces.
Where Chelsea were able to create problems was by drawing Cork out of the middle to, for example, press Hazard in a wide position, thus opening space centrally for the forwards and late midfield runners to exploit.
Moving the former Chelsea trainee out of his central position was the biggest key. For the first goal, Cork had dropped into the backline to replace Mawson, leaving the space for Cesc; for the third goal, he was shifted to the left for the long goal kick and thus unable to get close to Costa; for other pullbacks to Cesc and Kante, he was often in wide areas pressing the player on the ball.
For Pedro’s goal, Cork was again drawn out of position, this time by left-to-right switching of the ball. With Cahill on the ball, Cork moves right to mark Hazard. Cahill and Kante then switch the ball across to Cesc from where he can play forward to Pedro, who has space to move into centrally with his first touch.
In addition to creating with the ball, Chelsea also created chances through quick reactions after a loss of possession. As Swansea would try to open their block and move forward, Chelsea would block short passing options (such as moving back in the line of forward passing options) and then apply pressure on the ball—either forcing Swans to try to carry the ball out of pressure or play long. Losing the ball then would leave their block open (with the wide players, Carroll and Fer all moving up) and their backline exposed. An example of Chelsea taking advantage of this was the first goal, where Carroll’s attempt to dribble forward with the ball resulted in a turnover.
Around the 80th minutem, Chelsea switched to 3511, with Cesc the deepest of the midfield 3, and Hazard (and then Willian, after the substitution) moving wide. In this setup, Cesc was able to find plenty of space to get the ball and play forward passes, while Matic and Kante would serve as runners joining the final 3rd centrally.
Swansea’s long play and high pressure
With the ball, Swansea could play long from goal kicks or look to advance in wide areas in open play.
For long goal kicks, Llorente would move to the right (in line with Azpilicueta) where he would then drop to compete for the first ball on Chelsea’s midfield line—drawing Azpilicueta out of the backline. Moses, Luiz, Cahill and Alonso would make up a back four behind the ball, as both Chelsea and Swansea would shift around the area of the first ball. Carroll and Sigurdsson supported Llorente around the ball, with Fer and Cork behind the ball, and Routledge narrow on Chelsea’s backline.
During possession they were allowed to have the ball outside Chelsea’s defensive block, but were unable to find progression between the lines or behind the defensive line, often losing the ball.
As Swansea were often positioned higher up when they then lost the ball, they could, on occasion, attempt to press. When Chelsea tried to play too individually to break the press in central areas, Swansea sometimes managed to regain possession. But Swansea didn’t have much success at all when Chelsea used their usual buildup on the right, as seen below.
Fernandez was always the central defender moving up (even across to the left) to press Costa, both in high and deep areas, while Mawson remained back as the covering defender. On this specific occasion Pedro was unable to find the right pass to Alonso (pass behind him and not ahead of him into the open space) after receiving the layoff from Costa.
Chelsea’s ability to move Swansea with the ball—both with circulation in midfield and by drawing Cork out wide—was a key factor, enabling Chelsea to open up spaces for playing passes and creating chances. In addition to success with the ball, Chelsea’s positioning with and without the ball (and quick reactions to losing the ball) allowed them to maintain control of the game defensively—preventing Swansea from creating with the ball in open play.