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Chelsea unable to deal with another high-pressing team in 0-0 draw with Leicester City — tactical analysis

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes

Leicester’s aggressive start

Leicester had a fast and intense approach to the game, and their high pressure from the start prevented Chelsea from controlling the game, creating a game-state wherein both teams were forced to play quickly. Their pressure on Chelsea’s short building from goal kicks allowed them to win the ball (by forcing Chelsea into mistakes), create sustained pressure on the ball in Chelsea’s half, and maintain a high field position.

Vardy and Okazaki applied pressure from the sides to first show Chelsea to one side of the pitch, then move to cover Chelsea’s passing options back inside—thus forcing play forward. Mahrez and Albrighton were wide of the two strikers, ready to pressure inside to the central defender if needed. If Mahrez and Albrighton stepped up, the full backs behind them (Amartey and Chilwell) would move up to cover and pressure Chelsea’s wing-backs. If Mahrez and Albrighton stayed on the wing-backs as the ball advanced on their side, the fullbacks behind would cover whoever of Hazard or Morata was moving to offer a forward passing option for Chelsea.

When Chelsea were able to play through this pressure and get behind Leicester’s backline on the outside, (or Kante advanced into space with the ball centrally), they could get into good positions to try to attack the penalty area. But Chelsea would often make errors at this point and give the ball back to Leicester—who were quick to counter by playing long passes behind Chelsea’s backline for Vardy, which resulted in chances.

Leicester with the ball

With the ball, Leicester found spaces on the outside of Chelsea’s midfielders, attacked up the wings, and used Vardy’s runs behind Chelsea’s backline.

On the right, Mahrez would drop to receive the ball on the outside of Bakayoko (or between lines), where he would either be in space or marked by Ruidger who would thus be pulled out from his position in Chelsea’s backline. Mahrez’s dribbling allowed him to keep the ball under pressure, and he could either carry the ball forward and combine with Okazaki to move into the box, or draw Chelsea to his side of the field and switch the ball to the space opened up on the other side.

On the left, Leicester had a couple options depending on the interplay and interchanging of Chilwell and Albrighton. The more advanced of the pair would pin back Moses, while the other would use the space that Fàbregas was unable to close down (thanks to Mahrez drawing the team to the other side) and pick passes over the top for Vardy (inside->out runs) or Okazaki (outside->in runs). When Chilwell overlapped Albrighton, he became a third option for such passes—which created the early chance for Okazaki in the box.

Chelsea in midfield

As a result of Leicester’s high pressure, Chelsea switched from playing short to playing long more often to Morata and Alonso. Playing long allowed Chelsea to have more players in Leicester’s half to pressure and win the ball, pushed Leicester back, and start attacks with the ball. It also won them throw-ins in midfield, which provided a platform for Chelsea to begin attacks—throw-ins in their own defensive third caused Chelsea problems, as Leicester could win the ball through their pressing.

Chelsea’s high pressing failed to consistently deliver good results, since Leicester could always go long to Vardy, who is always a threat with his mobility and pressing. Under pressure from Vardy, Chelsea’s defenders would make poor passes back to Courtois (bouncing and unable to be played comfortably first time) and Vardy’s continued pressure on the ball would force Chelsea to play long.

During attacks from midfield, Chelsea continued to face intense pressure from Leicester, which required Hazard and Morata to dribble and hold the ball in order to create chances. It also forced them to play quickly, which led to a number of errors while attempting flicks and first-time plays into pressure. Hazard was also able to join Alonso on the left to try to create from wide, but the execution and quality of the final balls were lacking here as well.

Every time Chelsea lost the ball in midfield, Leicester would quickly look to find Vardy running through and threatening the space behind Chelsea’s backline.

Second half

The first change in the second half was Chelsea switching to a 343 by introducing Pedro and Willian for Hazard and Fabregas. After this change, Chelsea’s short building through pressure improved, where Bakayoko could use his body to turn past pressure when receiving in midfield, Pedro and Willian provided two fresh dribblers to keep the ball as forward passing options, and having two players on the same side of the pitch as forward passing options (as in the image below).

The situation above resulted in Chilwell’s second yellow card, which was the final major change in the game. From this point on, Chelsea could sustain the ball in Leicester’s half—though with Leicester’s attackers causing enough problems through counters to win free kicks and allow Leicester to momentarily push up.

Chelsea created several decent opportunities, including:

  • shots from the edge of the box for the central midfielders
  • shots for Willian, Pedro, and Moses after dribbling (also able to win free kicks)
  • attempted crosses into the box from both sides (from 1v1’s and Willian running behind to receive on the inside of Moses)
  • attempted the Azpilicueta to Morata balls into the box (always cleared by Maguire inside the box or blocked outside the box)

But the overall quality was lacking and Chelsea were unable to find a winning goal.

Conclusion

Leicester’s aggressive and fast approach to the game caused a lot of problems, as they were able to not only create chances to score but also sustain a high field position. Chelsea started to create chances after switching to more direct football, before their changes in the second half improved their short building and allowed them to play through pressure. The red card then forced Leicester into sitting deep and playing on the counter; Chelsea created opportunities but were unable to score. Again.