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West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Champions!

Chelsea with the ball

West Brom set out to prevent Chelsea from matching or overloading them on their backline, slow the speed of the game down, and try to press Chelsea’s short building high when they could.

Their emphasis on maintaining their back four and numerical advantage was evident early on when they forced Chelsea to play long from a goal kick (Rondon, the wide midfielders and Field up to stop Chelsea building short) and they used Livermore, a midfielder to move over to compete with Alonso in the air—the target of Chelsea’s long play. By maintaining their back four from this situation, they prevented Chelsea from matching them numerically at the back for the second ball—which would have been the case had Dawson been the one to move out to compete with Alonso instead.

When Chelsea had possession, West Brom continued to retain a narrow back four and prevent Chelsea from matching or overloading their backline by having their wide midfielders remain goal-side of Chelsea’s wing-backs—leading to them dropping back deep, onto their backline, throughout the match.

In order to try to create chances, Chelsea found that they could create freedom for either Fàbregas or Azpilicueta (advancing on the outside of Fàbregas) in midfield and the final third, as Field would step up to try to get close down the man on the ball and open space around him in the process. From there, Chelsea could play forward and into the box, along with long shots when receiving the ball from circulating it from left to right and drawing West Brom away from the shooting location—Fàbregas and Azpilicueta could also switch positions so that Fàbregas was moving forward (on the outside) with the ball to shoot.

Further attempts at creating in the middle came through Pedro, Costa and Hazard moving away from the backline in order to draw defenders out before attempting to get behind them using their individual talents:

  • One-touch play between Hazard and Costa allowing Hazard to make runs off Costa to receive passes inside the box or to dribble with he ball
  • Costa using his strength to back into his man and receive the ball inside the box, before rolling the defender in order to create an opportunity to shoot
  • Pedro using his speed and footwork to get shots off quickly (both inside and outside the box), along with beating his man with his first touch
  • Moses causing problems when taking on McClean on the outside

The amount of high possession Chelsea had also led to numerous free kicks and corners, but West Brom were often the ones to profit from these situations. West Brom were alert to Chelsea’s usual short corner routines aimed at finding a player free on the edge of the box for a long shot, and could break away with counters that would cause problems—excellent recovery speed from the front players and Azpilicueta holding his position well to cover Rondon 1v1 stopped or delayed these counters.

When Chelsea lost the ball high up, they applied a lot of aggressive pressure on the ball, and since West Brom had few outlets they were able to regularly win the ball back and prevent West Brom moving up the field. Chelsea also found some of their quickest possession during the moments they won the ball high, especially when it was Pedro recovering the ball.

With possession in deeper areas Chelsea tried long passes behind West Brom’s backline from Fabregas and David Luiz (both, quick, long free kicks and passes from kickoff). Another way they would try to stretch West Brom’s lines was to build short through pressure, but West Brom’s backline and midfield remained solid to keep them from creating good quality chances to score.

West Brom with the ball

With the ball West Brom went long from kick-offs and goal kicks, with Rondon the target. Chelsea mostly used Matić to mark him, or Azpilicueta and David Luiz when Matić wasn’t in a position to compete for the ball. Using Matić to compete for the ball ensured that Chelsea had cover behind the ball if he were to flick the ball on, opposed to potentially doing it on Chelsea’s backline and having a runner break free behind.

From midfield they could play long to the backline and into the box early through Fletcher and Livermore, as well as Brunt receiving the second ball from long play to Dawson to play an early cross into the box on his left foot—receiving in space in front of Alonso.

Although West Brom didn’t have success from their offensive set pieces, they always maintained three players back and alongside good reactions from their players in the box to quickly get back, they prevented any Chelsea counters.

Second half changes

The introduction of Yacob gave West Brom some chances to quickly counter through his ball recovery, where Rondon could cause problems through finding himself 1v1 against Luiz or holding the ball well to allow support to join him.

With Chelsea losing the ball when playing short passes centrally and conceding counters, they changed their approach with Batshuayi joining Costa on the pitch, along with Willian to provide a fresh creative player on the pitch.

West Brom made a change to their setup upon this change, where they switched to a 532, sacrificing one player on their backline in order to leave Chadli up with Rondon—possibly looking to capitalise on their recent counter attacks and trying to take the lead.

Chelsea’s change allowed for more direct play to the two strikers and more opportunities to cross with better options in the box, including upwards of five targets (Cahill, Costa, Batshuayi, Alonso, Moses) causing problems. Chelsea managed to maintain the ball and eventually found Batshuayi free inside the box (where, perhaps, West Brom’s spare man would have been if they hadn’t tried to win the match) to score the goal to seal the league.

Conclusion

Similar to the previous game against West Brom, Chelsea had a tough time breaking them down. On both occasions, they made changes in the second half and reaped the rewards.