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What went wrong tactically for Chelsea at Norwich City in the dour 0-0 draw?

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Norwich City 0-0 Chelsea, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

Norwich’s defensive control

In the first half, Chelsea’s possession game suffered thanks to their choices with the ball and Norwich’s defensive setup.

Whenever Norwich could, they would press high with the front two (rotating positions) pressuring Chelsea’s wide central defenders on the ball and shifting to the sides as Chelsea attempted to play through pressure. But Chelsea repeatedly made errors and would often lose ball—while Chelsea were able to find the midfielders higher and with back to play, they would attempt to hold the ball (and pass back into pressure), rather than receiving it side on and keeping the play moving. An example would be Bakayoko receiving the ball with the opportunity to play a switch to the right (where Rudiger and Dinkwater were free) but instead choosing to pass back into pressure to Pedro—where Chelsea lost the ball.

David Luiz made his return from injury, starting in the center of the three-man defensive line, where he often fulfills a key role in Conte’s system—he lead all players in pass volume in this one. To reduce his effectiveness, Norwich applied a couple different approaches to covering him. They could pressure him while pushing up to mark Chelsea’s central options, or they could use Maddison to drop onto one of Chelsea’s central midfielders to outnumber Chelsea in midfield and limit the passing options.

When pressuring Luiz, one central midfielder would create pressure on the forward passes to Drinkwater or Bakayoko (usually the former), which would force them to play around the corner first-time to an attacker under pressure and outnumbered. For example, when played through Drinkwater to Willian, Klose was always tight to Willian and putting him under pressure, while Tettey was spare ahead of the backline to support around the ball—to prevent Willian dribbling inside and stopping Chelsea finding forward passes behind their midfielders.

Norwich were generally successful in forcing direct passes forward into an already pressurized, congestion, and very compact middle, thanks in part to a lack of movement forward from Chelsea’s wide central defenders—as they usually would.

On the few occasions where Chelsea found spaces on the outside for Willian and Pedro (dropping back) they were unable to exploit them thanks to errors (such as Willian failing to dribble past either Klose or Tettey to create a chance in the final third) or Norwich fouling them to stop counters.

In the moments where Luiz had the ball higher up in midfield and was not under pressure, his only options to play behind the Norwich defence were Chelsea’s wing-backs, but those passes fell incomplete.

The few times Chelsea were able to make it into the final third were thanks to Kenedy and Pedro switching positions for Pedro to work crosses into the box on the left; Bakayoko combining to move into positions to shoot from distance; Batshuayi and Kenedy attempting long shots; and Willian creating individually.

When Norwich won the ball, they could attack quickly and use their front three’s technical qualities to combine or carry the ball. Murphy caused Rudiger some problems with his direct dribbling, but the areas from where they took shots didn’t cause much concern for Caballero.

In possession, Norwich moved their attacking players to the middle and the left, while also opening up on the left from their backline: Klose would move wide to the touchline on the left (where he could play forward passes) and Lewis would move high (where he could run diagonally behind off the touchline). Pinto, on the right side of midfield, would remain deeper and was often only used for shifting Chelsea to the right before switching back to the left. Their central midfielders were tasked with moving the ball forward, and finding Maddison and Pritchard, both dropping into midfield and between lines, to lay the ball off, combine, and find the second pass (after a forward pass).

Second half

In the second half, Chelsea’s movements with the ball improved. The central midfielders began moving wide to the touchline to receive the ball (and draw Norwich’s central midfielders out to open space inside), the wing-backs began dropping to receive the ball a little more, and Norwich’s central midfielders were unwilling to continuously move wide to open up the middle of the pitch. As their front three continued to try to pressure and one central midfielder would move up to the one Chelsea midfielder in the middle, it would leave the second Chelsea midfielder free on the touchline to receive the ball and take the ball into Norwich’s half—thus allowing Chelsea higher field position for longer periods.

From higher up, Willian could receive the ball facing play, take on defenders, dribble past multiple opponents before shooting (creating two good opportunities for himself), and join the wings to support Zappacosta in order to create. Winning the ball from Norwich’s long goal kicks provided more good opportunities to attack quickly and with fewer defenders to beat.

All of Chelsea’s substitutes in the match made a good impact on the game. Morata provided depth in the middle, making runs behind which Chelsea didn’t have in the first half; Musonda provided a fresh dribbler to try to create chances; and Sterling showed great intensity during the few minutes he was on.

Conclusion

Chelsea struggled to find forward passes and did not enter the final third often enough in the first half, as Norwich’s compact defending in the middle and covering of the wing-backs blocked Chelsea’s forward options. Chelsea improved in the second half, when the midfielders moved wide to create more space and break Norwich’s pressure. Chelsea played higher up and created more chances in the final third as a consequence, but were unable to find a winning goal.