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Chelsea 6-0 Qarabag, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea return to the Champions League

Chelsea with the ball

Chelsea played with their typical possession from the back, where the central midfielders were narrow and the back three spread wide.

Qarabag matched Chelsea when defending. Michel and Henrique dropped wide of the central midfielders, leaving the back five behind them. Ndlovu worked hard defensively, dropping deep to join the central midfielders in pressing Kante and Fabregas, as well as pushing up to pressure Christensen in moments when the team tried to move up and press.

In their own half, Qarabag used their four midfielders to remain narrow and not allow space in the middle, while their backline would try to pressure Chelsea’s front three upon forward passes. However, in these situations, Chelsea’s front three made excellent use of one touch lay-offs and passes around the corner to combine. In particular, Willian would initiate 1-2s with Batshuayi in such a manner, before following the pass to receive the ball back—in space and facing the backline.

Qarabag’s midfield four did cause problems on a couple occasions by limiting space and pressuring Kante and Fabregas, but Chelsea’s excellent intensity in pressing to recover the ball prevented Qarabag from creating dangerous counters. Other than those few situations, Chelsea’s central midfielders made good use of the space on the outside to find the advancing wide central defenders, or Willian and Pedro dropping back wide.

Through this circulation wide and back inside to the central midfielders, Chelsea could eventually find Fabregas facing play, with time and space on the ball, to pick runners with long passes over the top of Qarabag’s backline. Zappacosta was most frequent in benefiting from these moments, using his mobility and timing of his runs behind Guerrier (ball watching and often unaware of the runs being made behind) to receive the ball in and around the box.

In the moments where Chelsea lost the ball in high areas their reaction and pressing won them the ball back on numerous occasions. Zappacosta, again, profiting from his work rate in these instances, chasing down the ball in the corner to either win it or force the opposition to clear the ball.

Qarabag with the ball

Qarabag had a couple of individuals who could cause Chelsea minor problems with ball at their feet. Henrique made quick turns, held his position wide on the wing when Alonso moved up to pressure Medvedev (forcing Cahill out wide to pressure him), and had close ball control when carrying the ball. Ndlovu was the other main threat; he’d make runs wide of the defence (always covered by one of Chelsea’s back three) to try to make uses of the space vacated by the wing-backs, while with the ball he was very direct and aggressive and always looking to shoot.

Other than individual attempts, Qarabag’s possession often couldn’t find a way of advancing from their backline and deep central midfielders. This would ultimately lead to Chelsea pushing them back with their pressing, causing them to make errors with their passes and losing the ball in dangerous positions.

They made a few changes in players’ positions throughout the game, such as Rzezniczak first moving from the left to the middle of the backline (Sadygov moving to the left) before, still in the first half, switching to the right of the backline (Guseynov moving from the right to the middle this time). Upon their double change in the second half, Rzezniczak moved yet again, this time the left central defender in a back four (Guseynov right central defender and Guerrier to left back).

Set pieces

Half of Chelsea’s goals in this game were a result of an offensive set piece. The first through a corner routine where Fabregas and Willian draw two defenders towards them by playing short. This leaves Pedro and Kante completely free on the edge of the box, as Qarabag have a zonal player on each post and a zonal player ahead of each post. Chelsea’s options in the box are man-marked (bar Azpilicueta, who is free) and they all make forward movements towards the goal in order to open up more space on the edge of the box for Pedro. Upon taking the corner, Qarabag’s players on the posts move up to join the line, but are too far away from Pedro to get to him in time to block or prevent his shot. Taking the corner quickly was another reason for creating the chance, as Qarabag’s defenders were still trying to organise themselves.

A short free kick to Fabregas created the next set piece goal, where Chelsea had numerous players inside the box attacking spaces (especially at the far post) in anticipation of the delivery from Fabregas, while Qarabag’s defending was static. Later, Bakayoko was, once again, first to react to the loose ball inside the box to score his first Chelsea goal.

Conclusion

Chelsea’s fast start and early goal ensured a comfortable game. Their significant advantage in quality was clearly evident both in open play and in set pieces, while their pressing served both to prevent any chance for Qarabag to cause problems with the ball, and to create chances (and goals) by winning the ball deep inside Qarabag’s half.

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