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Atletico Madrid 1-2 Chelsea, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea leave Atletico in mad tactical scramble as Simeone tries 433—>442—>451—>343 to no avail

Atletico with the ball

With the ball, Atletico were flexible in their positioning and movements. They looked to progress from wide areas, using the fullback positions to play forward passes. This could be done by the fullbacks themselves, or by Koke and Saul dropping back on either side to collect the ball.

In keeping numbers back behind the ball, they could circulate the ball from side to side (using the full width of the pitch) to draw pressure, open space, and create angles to pass forward.

At the front, the wide players (Correa and Carrasco) could switch between narrow and wide. When the front three were narrow and between the lines, it would leave space on the outside for runs from the fullbacks or wide central midfielders (Koke and Saul). When the forwards remained wide, they could run in-behind Chelsea’s wing-backs to receive passes from deep and over the top.

When receiving the ball to feet from narrow positions, Atletico’s front three had to deal with aggressive pressure from behind. Carrasco was mostly beaten by Azpilicueta in these situations; but Griezmann was able to play quickly first time (back from where the pass was played or out of danger) or move to receive the ball to the side of Bakayoko (out of pressure where he could turn with the ball); and Correa could cause some problems with his turns inside when he received with Cahill pressuring him from behind—as Correa moved inside he could find runners and combinations.

If one of Carrasco or Correa were wide early to receive the ball, they would leave the space on the inside for the fullback or central midfielder on that side to advance into. Upon receiving the ball in wide areas they would try to take on their man, but had little success in beating them—Azpilicueta dominant again.

Depth centrally was rarely an option for Atletico, as Chelsea maintained numbers back (when Atletico were building with the ball in their half) and kept the defensive line deep enough to prevent the passes. On the one occasion where Chelsea tried to push up and press Atletico in their half (late in the first half) it almost cost them going two goals behind, with Saul missing the chance to score the rebound.

Chelsea with the ball

In building short from Courtois, Atletico would cover Azpilicueta and Luiz, but would allow space for Chelsea to play out to Cahill—before pressuring him as soon as he received the ball. In the following situation, Chelsea were able to play through the pressure by using the around the corner pass from Alonso to Morata. The striker would receive in space (as Atletico’s central defenders stood off him) allowing him to find Fabregas’ run on the outside—leading to a chance for Hazard.

During open play with the ball in Chelsea half, Atletico would continue to press 3v3 against Chelsea’s backline, but this would often leave Bakayoko free to receive the ball and turn to face forward with the ball—he was left in space as Thomas stayed back to mark Hazard. Koke and Saul marked Kante and Fabregas, leaving Atletico with a spare central defender at the back. Additionally, when Bakayoko received the ball under pressure in the following situation he was able to find the pass past the pressure to the advancing David Luiz. Again, Morata was able to receive the ball, turn and find the pass to Kante running freely on the outside.

What is also worth mentioning here is that Hazard was signalling Luiz to pass the ball to Morata, as Thomas was stepping forward in anticipation of intercepting a pass to Hazard.

Soon after, Bakayoko would again be free to receive the ball, in midfield this time, as Atletico’s front three tried to press Chelsea’s backline on the ball. A simple pass through to him, by Cahill, allowed him to turn, find a forward pass to Hazard to create another chance—where he flicks the ball inside to Morata first time (1v1 against Godin on the edge of the box) who creates space with his first touch before shooting wide of the far post.

Atletico switch to 442, then switch back to 433/451

By playing through the pressure, Chelsea soon forced Simeone into a tactical change, as Atletico switched to a 442 to try to find a solution. Koke moved to left of the midfield, Griezmann and Correa were the front two, Saul at left central midfield and Carrasco on the right. This solved the problem of Bakayoko having space to receive the ball, but it created new problems for them defensively.

Now Atletico began to hold their pressing more, starting with a deeper position next to Bakayoko, leaving Chelsea’s back three to have the ball. This gave Chelsea the ball to play with and take control of the match. Azpilicueta had space to carry the ball forward on the outside of the midfield, despite pressure from Griezmann from the left, blocking the usual pass inside to Bakayoko. Koke, Saul and Thomas remained narrow and zonal ahead of the front two to screen the passes to them, but this would leave Kante free to receive the ball on the outside—Moses high on the last line to pin Luis back—and allow Azpilicueta to play long switches as well.

On the left, Fabregas could drop for the ball and find space to carry it forward, before playing forward passes centrally. This would lead to the combination between Hazard and Morata, resulting in Hazard’s deflected shot hitting the post.

Atletico then switched back again to a 433, but maintained more control of their half over trying to press Chelsea high now (so mostly a 451 now, rather than the more aggressive 433 earlier on in the match). In the initial transition from the 442 to 433 while the ball was in play opened up space on the right for Chelsea, where Luiz was able to carry the ball forward into midfield (Carrasco dropping and Griezmann next to Bakayoko), and play the long pass into the box for Morata to head on goal.

Second half

In the second half, Atletico’s deeper defending (451) in their own half continued to allow Chelsea’s backline to maintain the ball for longer periods—since Madrid were deeper, they had fewer opportunities for forward passes early, so were patient to wait for the right moment to play forward.

In trying to play forward from midfield, Chelsea had the width of the wing-backs to play long passes to, as well as runners (Hazard, Morata, Kante, Fabregas) trying to get behind Atletico’s backline.

Hazard was the main source of creation throughout the game; in the first half he was central and combining to create chances for Morata, and in the second half he found space wide by switching with Alonso.

Since Alonso had few opportunities to beat Juanfran with dribbling and put crosses into the box, Hazard began to stay wide on the touchline—allowing Alonso to move into the box in Hazard’s place. In doing so Hazard could receive the ball wide, take on Juanfran with the ball, and put quality crosses into the box—Chelsea then had numbers in the box since Moses would also join from the right. On both occasions where he could take on his man (going both ways) Eden caused problems: the first resulting in Morata’s goal (getting across in front of his man to win the ball), and the second leading to Kante having a shot inside the box.

Chelsea caused problems throughout the match by way of effective pressing as well. Examples being: Kante’s pressure on Luis in the first half, Bakayoko winning the ball through his high pressing, and Chelsea keeping the ball in the box (preventing Atletico from clearing the ball) that lead to another chance for Fabregas in the second half.

More great play from Hazard and Morata created another great chance during a counter in the second half, where Hazard’s pass found Morata 1v1, who was able to use his body to turn the defender, hold him off and carry the ball past him. Morata’s strength throughout the game was impressive, often holding off the defenders or pushing them off/away to win the ball. Soon after this, Atletico switched to a 343 to have the extra man at the back to prevent Morata finding himself 1v1 again.

Conclusion

An excellent result for Chelsea and another successful away performance for the 352, which allows Chelsea to be a little more flexible with the movements of the wide central midfielders, allows two players to rest more defensively, and is less predictable in the movements with the ball. They had solutions to bypass Atletico’s changes in pressing approach, maintained good control at the back (especially controlling the space behind the defence), and the front two constantly caused Atletico’s defenders problems.