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Chelsea 5-1 Sunderland, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea break their Premier League win record

Chelsea with the ball

With the ball Chelsea were able to pin Sunderland deep inside their own box for prolonged periods. In order to take the ball up to the final third, Chelsea both played through Sunderland’s pressing and moved them (using the ball and positioning) in order to open spaces for free players.

Building short at the back involved two different types of pressure from Sunderland. When Chelsea would use Courtois in open play, Larsson and Borini would push up to pressure Chelsea’s wide central defender receiving the ball.

The following would happen if Azpilicueta received the ball in these situations, where Borini moved up to press him.

  • From the other side Larsson would move inside to support the the press by taking up position between Kante and Fabregas (the latter left by Borini).
  • Januzaj positioned himself on the inside of Luiz to block the pass to the middle, while also being in position to close down Fabregas.
  • Rodwell would be deeper in order to mark Willian, allowing them to maintain the numerical advantage behind if Chelsea were break the press.
  • Cattermole moved forward to close down the distance to Kante, and Oviedo moved up to cover Moses.

While Sunderland could cover around the area of the ball quite well (preventing Chelsea from having success with direct ground passes to Willian), there was the possibility for Chelsea to find the spare player at the back through circulating the ball under pressure (Terry or Cahill in the above example) before finding the other front man in the three (Hazard) able to receive the ball in space either on the outside or behind the central midfielder (Cattermole). Sunderland maintained a deep defensive line and dropped quickly by not continuing pressure from behind, in order to not be exposed in these moments.

A slight difference when building on the Chelsea left was that Jones would sometimes move up to follow Hazard as he went short towards the ball (Rodwell doing this to Willian when Chelsea were building on the right) and try to pressure him.

The second type of pressure came from a deeper position in midfield, where Borini and Larsson would be pressuring between both the central midfielders and wide central defenders. Januzaj could move wide to pressure the ball, but passing back inside and circulating to the other side of the pitch would then cause problems for Borini or Larsson—as they were marking the central midfielders while the wide central defender would have the ball without pressure.

As Chelsea have done consistently in these situations all season, they used Azpilicueta to take the ball forward. This would provoke Borini to either leave Fabregas to pressure the ball and force it forward (like in the following example) or end up between the two and allow the pass back inside to Fabregas—where he would usually end up facing play, with time on the ball, to play forward passes.

From these areas, since the team was closer together, Sunderland could apply pressure from behind on the forward passes to Chelsea’s front three moving to receive the ball to feet, either through one of the backline moving up to follow them or one of the central midfielders shifting to pressure them—always maintaining numbers at the back.

The positioning of Hazard and Willian wide of Sunderland’s central midfielders, along with Costa’s movements towards the ball, would again free up the attacker on the far side (Hazard in the above example) to have as an option if Chelsea were able to work the ball through pressure.

Sunderland with the ball

In the final third, Chelsea’s aggressive possession and reactions when they lost the ball (along with Sunderland’s lack of outlets and deep positioning) made it difficult for Sunderland to get out of their box when defending, forcing them to face prolonged periods of Chelsea pressure in and around their box—a succession of crosses, shots and corners.

When they tried to play forward to the halfway line, one of Chelsea’s wide central defenders would often be there first to attack the ball aggressively in order to win it back—while Luiz provided cover behind to be able to do this with stability. If Sunderland tried to carry the ball forward or attempt combinations, they lacked the numbers to get into higher areas—Chelsea’s large numerical advantage allowing them to pressure the ball en masse. Any loose balls could also be collected quickly, especially by Kante (using his quick reactions and acceleration to recover the ball).

Sunderland’s main ways of getting out were drawing fouls, pushing up when Chelsea circulated the ball back, or playing long from goal kicks.

Second half

Chelsea continued to find spaces wide of Sunderland’s central midfielders when their backline was on the edge of the box, and could take advantage of the space behind the defence through width. Moses’ first-time pass into the box for Hazard and Costa to attack was a good example of this, where Fabregas took the ball forward towards Rodwell, past Borini, which freed up Willian to receive it in a pocket of space in order to play the pass for Moses.

Fabregas continued to play passes over the top of Sunderland’s backline throughout the game, with diagonals into the box from the right (Willian was another to play these diagonal passes), along with the quick and early passes behind from midfield. Early balls to Costa almost created good chances for the striker, while Pedro was able to take advantage of one later in the game.

Conclusion

With nothing to play for, Sunderland were set up to maintain numbers at the back and try to cause some problems pressuring Chelsea during short build-up. Their offensive gameplan was limited to set pieces; and while they took the early lead, Chelsea’s play with the ball always caused problems, and quick recovery of loose or lost balls allowed for sustained attacks and possession in the final third for the Blues.