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Southampton 0-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea maintain control early, deal with two tactical shifts from Southampton

First half

Chelsea used their possession to find spaces and keep Southampton pinned back in their own half during the opening stage of the game. Southampton had some early success through high pressing, when their starting position was high up in Chelsea’s half, and they recovered the ball in midfield to then get behind Chelsea’s backline on the right or work a cross into the box. But, when the starting position of Chelsea was higher up in midfield, Southampton’s attempted pressure would open spaces between the lines instead, and give Chelsea opportunities rather than problems.

Jorginho on the ball would often be the start of Chelsea’s attacks in these moments, when he would wait for Southampton to pressure him, before playing a short pass to Hazard moving between Chelsea’s central midfielders to collect the ball in space. If the pressure on Jorginho was from one of the front players and one of Southampton’s central midfielders attempted to step up and press Hazard, he could dribble with the ball and find forward passes into space (Willian moving inside) or bounce the ball off Giroud to give him more time on the ball to play forward. If the pressure on Jorginho was from one of Southampton’s central midfielders, then there would be more space for Hazard to receive the ball and fewer opponents to go past to create — often resulting in a direct attack against one of Southampton’s defenders.

Since Southampton were getting broken too easily, dropping back to defend deep around their box helped their defensive control, where they could defend a smaller space in numbers, but it would also mean that they sacrificed opportunities to counter with a lack of outlets if they were able to win the ball.

Luiz and Rudiger keeping the ball against Ings (sometimes switching position with Gabbiadini) would also allow Chelsea to push Southampton back when they tried to hold their lines in midfield and stop the ball going to Jorginho, since the striker would drop from pressuring one of the central defenders on the ball to looking to block the pass to Jorginho — allowing the defenders to carry the ball forward and Southampton drop.

Quick combinations from forward passes between lines could draw Southampton’s backline narrow before finding a player free on the ball for the layoff, where Chelsea could then use the opened space on the wings to find the fullbacks or wingers to have a chance to create around the box.

After Chelsea’s sustained pressure, Southampton came back into the game where they had an opportunity to press high (ball going back to Arrizabalaga) and recover the ball in midfield, launch counter attacks, and force Chelsea drop back. Given room, Southampton could maintain possession and create their best chances — get behind Chelsea on the wings and create the opportunity for Ings to score. Southampton would switch to a 442 to try to take advantage of this momentum — Cedric up to the right of midfield, Redmond on the left, Bednarek moving to right back, and a front two of Ings and Gabbiadini.

The change however did not help them with pressing in midfield, and instead provided Chelsea with more space to put pressure on their back four, especially with long passes by David Luiz. Through these passes Chelsea would find Giroud in the box and then create the situation where Hoedt is stepping out of his backline to press Hazard, before Barkley wins the ball back and finds Hazard in the gap vacated by Hoedt for Chelsea to take the lead.

Second half

At the start the second half, Southampton made another formation change to a 433 through the introduction of Romeu for Bednarek — Cedric to right back; Redmond, Ings and Gabbiadini front three. This change added extra protection ahead of the back four and allowed the advanced central midfielders and frontline to press with cover behind them.

Southampton continued to play behind Chelsea’s backline and had numbers in support to now try to collect the second ball, before looking to put the ball into the box in the final third with numbers inside and joining the box — leading to the far post chance for Bertrand.

Chelsea were looking to counter when they won the ball. Winning fouls to would also allow them to move up the field, but they often lost the ball when they had pushed the team up the pitch. Then Hazard won the free kick from which Chelsea scored the second goal, and decided the game.

On the free kick, David Luiz and Alonso blocked off the Southampton defenders at the far post, which allowed Giroud to loop his run around the back freely and play the ball back across goal to Rudiger and Barkley at the opposite post, with the latter scoring his first Chelsea goal. Both runners were in offside position when the initial ball was played, but not on the second ball (like the goal Chelsea conceded to Cardiff City a month earlier).

Other than two shots for Arrizabalaga to deal with, Southampton didn’t pose much of a threat for the remainder of the game. Chelsea’s possession maintained good control of the game, they had chances from counters, before their move at the end of the game saw them extend the lead to three.

Conclusion

Chelsea found and created spaces against Southampton’s initial setup and pinned them back in the opening stages of the match. Southampton had to play in moments where they could press high in Chelsea’s half and get behind Chelsea’s backline with the ball, but they missed two chances to score. They made changes in formation to try to press higher up in the second half, but Chelsea’s quality with the ball prevailed.