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Pedro the unsung hero of Chelsea’s win over Newcastle in the FA Cup — tactical analysis

Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle United, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

Newcastle’s pressure in the opening stages

Newcastle began the game by pressuring (and sustaining pressure) in key moments—typically from dead ball situations: long goal kicks and throw-ins—while allowing Chelsea spaces in areas where they would either pass into pressure or misplace passes behind Newcastle’s backline.

On their own goal kicks, Gayle would begin on Chelsea’s backline and quickly move towards Chelsea’s central midfielders to have a running jump for the ball played into these areas. In doing so, he would attract one of Chelsea’s back three to follow him and leave a gap in the backline for Ritchie to make his run from deep (starting around Chelsea’s central midfielders) to follow Gayle’s flick-on. Even when Chelsea’s backline won the second ball, Newcastle would continue their press and sustain a high position. Ritchie would aggressively pressure the ball, having run for the flick-on, and was quickly supported from the near-side wing-back, Gayle, and both Shelvey and Hayden pushing up and towards the side of the ball from midfield.

Throw-ins saw the same approach from the same Newcastle players pushing up on the side of the field and continuing pressure on the ball. When Gayle was successful at winning the ball from Chelsea’s central defenders during these throw-ins, Newcastle were able attack from a high starting position and seek to benefit from any Chelsea mistakes—just as they did in the previous meeting.

Where Newcastle had a different approach with the ball in this game were their attempts to create on their right far more frequently than on the left. They could play crosses into the box early from deep, or when they had an opportunity to take on Alonso, they would always try to get around on the outside of him with speed before crossing the ball into the box.

They put a number of players forward for attacks, with only Saivet and the back three remaining deep, but they would not fully open up both wing-backs to retain some defensive stability in case the lost the ball—the wing-back on the opposite side of the ball remained narrow and not high and wide (a classic Benítez tactical feature).

When Newcastle held possession in their own half, they would be met by pressure from Chelsea’s front three and the wing-backs. They were able to play through it by having the central defenders (as well as as Saivet) hold the ball initially to draw Chelsea’s pressure towards them, before passing to the wing-backs. This would draw Chelsea’s own wing-backs forward, supported by the central midfielders shifting over and high. On a few occasions, Chelsea were able to force the ball back to the goalkeeper, but other times, Newcastle were able find Shelvey dropping back on the inside, where he would have time and space to face forward and play long diagonal passes (usually to the right) to quickly launch their attacks.

These attempted switches could be played both directly behind or ahead of Alonso, with Hayden making the run from the inside to the outside to receive the ball and get into a crossing position.

Chelsea with the ball

When Newcastle didn’t press high, Chelsea’s wing-backs were often free to receive the ball—Newcastle’s wing-backs closing down but not pressuring while Newcastle’s front two would move side to side to cover Chelsea’s central midfielders, leaving the back three free with the ball. This way, Newcastle’s pressure would be more focused upon passes made into the middle, both for the front three and the central midfielders.

This allowed Chelsea to take the ball up into midfield and find some spaces on the sides, or work possession to free up a central midfielder on the ball, but they would then usually lose the ball in their attempts to play passes behind Newcastle’s backline.

Building from deep also saw Chelsea’s central midfielders lose the ball when receiving it—Drinkwater especially guilty of this, as it has been the case on a few of his recent appearances. Either he receives the ball on his front foot from a forward pass, where pressure then causes him problems in trying to hold onto the ball, or his attempts at forward passes don’t bypass the line of pressure—which has led to opponents having good opportunities to score.

Where Chelsea had more success was both keeping the ball under pressure from open play, before switching to space to create on the other side of the field—where Newcastle would then be recovering in numbers and were unorganised in midfield. In doing so, Chelsea could bring Pedro into the game to play the ball forward, which would prove crucial.

For the first goal, switching from pressure on the left to space on the right opened up Newcastle’s midfield, while drawing both of their wing-backs high. Pedro is great at moving towards the ball in these situations, where his quick turns can beat pressure, but sometimes can have difficulty against powerful opponents pressing him with aggression. However, on this occasion, Clark was unprepared to follow him tightly, which allowed him to turn freely and find the pass to Hazard.

Batshuayi didn’t have the best time at receiving and finding teammates in his own half—which, like Drinkwater’s turnovers, can lead to the opposition attacking Chelsea after they have opened up with the ball—but Michy’s movements in the final third created space both for himself and for others. For the first goal, his wide run on the outside draw Lascelles away from the middle, leaving Hazard 1v1 and in space against Mbemba. Similarly for the second, he used double movement, going inside before quickly switching back outside, to create more space for himself to shoot—the approach is what creates the opportunity.

Pedro receiving the ball, beating pressure, and playing froward continued to be Chelsea’s main form of creating opportunities in the final third throughout the match—including in the buildup to winning the free kick for the third goal.

Conclusion

Newcastle had a good start to the match, sustaining an effective high press and creating opportunities. The were able to continue this momentum as Chelsea kept continuously losing the ball when playing long passes forward form midfield. Chelsea eventually found solutions through Pedro dropping to collect the ball, turning past pressure, and either dribbling or playing passes forward.