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Chelsea 4-3 Watford, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea match their own Premier League record for most wins in a single season, with one game to spare

Chelsea with the ball

Chelsea used ground passes to play through Watford’s press, drawing them in to the ball to open up space for the spare man to play forward passes in midfield.

Starting with Watford’s high pressure moments, Chelsea found success early on when Hazard dropped back to receive and hold the ball (Mariappa following him high, before passing him onto Behrami) then switch it to Azpilicueta who could receive the ball free on the right and break the press. From there, Watford’s shape was broken and Willian could make outside diagonal runs to get behind the backline and take the ball into the box.

Another option to play through the pressure without the switches or using the spare man, was for Willian to use his first touch to either dribble past pressure (touches on the outside of his right foot to move inside) or to find the inside pass, around the corner to Batshuayi. In these moments the front three could move over the side of the ball to support the forward pass and give options to combine, while also exploiting the space behind.

When Chelsea took the ball up to midfield and Watford didn’t press, the central defenders could step up and hold possession, passing between each-other in order to move the opponent and open space to either advance with the ball or to play forward passes.

During long play form here (or when winning the ball deep) Chelsea could find the front players early, with Hazard making diagonal inside runs (behind Prodl) or both he and Willian staying wide, on the outside of Holebas and Mariappa, to allow them to have the ball facing the defenders close to the box, where they could go past them with the ball or win free kicks.

If they worked the ball and found the wide central defenders free on the outside of the central midfielders (usually Ake) Chelsea could attempt long ground passes to the front three. From there Hazard and Willian could again dribble with the ball past the opponent, while Willian also made both first-time passes inside to Batshuayi and movements to combine with him. As in the following situation, Batshuayi uses his arched movements with perfect timing to feint for the ball (with Prodl moving up behind him to close the distance), before letting it run-on to Willian. Willian could then play the pass first time behind Prodl and into the path of Batshuayi, creating a 2v1 against Mariappa.

The changes in the second half added more attacking attributes into central midfield, with Fabregas making runs into the box or finding space at the edge of the box, from where he would ultimately score the winning goal.

Watford with the ball

Watford would circulate possession outside of Chelsea’s block until they drew in Chelsea’s press. Although this was risky, as they couldn’t consistently break Chelsea’s pressure and lost the ball in dangerous positions (near their own goal and backline), they did create some moments where they broke through the pressure and caused Chelsea problems.

In the following situation they were able to draw Chelsea pressure, at which point they quickly switched to one-touch passes to change the speed of possession and attempt to play through the pressure. Mariappa holds it for slightly longer as Hazard begins moving towards him, opening up the space behind for Behrami to play up to Capoue first time. Capoue dropping to the wing-back position in this situation also forces Chelsea’s backline to shuffle over, where Kenedy and Ake switch the man they need to pressure.

On the left Watford were similarly successful in shuffling Chelsea’s backline over, in this case through Holebas advancing with the ball and Niang’s outside movements to the left. From here Janmaat could cause problems by moving inside with the ball on his stronger right foot, as well as making first time passes to the backline (when the backline was deep). Later on in the game, Watford would find success with long passes up to Chelsea’s deep defensive line (all the way back inside their own box)—if they were often unable to clear it away first time, Okaka could take advantage, scoring once.

Set pieces

Chelsea created most of their goals through corners, where they initially used both Terry and Zouma to attack the same area of Watford’s zonal marking (between two players) in order to overload the area. Zouma and Terry are both very strong in the air (tough to control during offensive corners in any case), and by attacking the same area they would have a high chance of winning the initial header while also ensuring numbers around the second ball where quick reactions could lead to a goal (just as they did for Terry).

Chelsea also made use of the free players on the edge of the box. They could be found through taking the corners short and holding it wide before passing to them, or directly playing to them from the corner, such as the pass out to Azpilicueta for his volley (where Ake was used as a blocker to prevent pressure being put on Azpilicueta as he received the ball).

Conclusion

Chelsea created some good opportunities in open play, but were unable to turn them into good chances or goals until they brought on Fabregas. However, their dominance at set pieces allowed them to create chances to score—which they took advantage of. Watford responded quickly early on, while in the second half found ways of causing problems to Chelsea’s backline to bring the game back level, but the quality that Chelsea were able to bring on (as well as the motivation to potential break the most wins league record) saw them come out at the eventual victors.