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Chelsea 3-2 Derby County, Carabao Cup: Tactical Analysis

Tactical breakdown of Chelsea’s narrow victory over Frank Lampard’s Derby County in the 4th round of the League Cup

First half

Chelsea had good possession in the opening minutes of the half, creating crossing opportunities on the wings, and getting the early goal. Derby responded with good pressing on Chelsea’s goal kicks and from midfield to force mistakes and counter, which they capitalised upon to equalise.

Derby’s press bypassed the fullbacks in favor of blocking passing lanes out to them and pressing the centre backs from the outside at the same time. This meant that the ball would be played into pressure (e.g. Cahill in the following instance) and give Derby a chance to win it. One of the midfielders, Loftus-Cheek in this case, would remain higher up and be open (or hold off his defender) to receive the ball, but these longer passes are more difficult to make that the usual short ones to the fullbacks. Derby would thus often succeeded in forcing the pass back to Caballero, who’d then hit it long — losing possession.

Derby maintained their press in midfield, too, finding success by keeping distances between Chelsea players long and the passing lanes tight. They’d isolate Cahill by blocking the pass back to Christensen, and sit on the risky pass out wide to Zappacosta, generating several interceptions. Tight passing lanes made it difficult to find Kanté and Fàbregas had to play first-time upon receiving the ball.

After winning the ball, Derby could counter with numbers high and Chelsea facing problems to recover back quickly since they have opened up and moved high on the right.

Derby’s central midfielders would also push up to surprise Chelsea’s central defenders receiving the ball, often causing them to panic and lose the usual control they have. This was especially done well from long horizontal square passes made from Chelsea’s full backs to the furthest central defender from them (e.g. Zappacosta to Christensen).

Although Derby had success through their pressure in midfield, it was also with risk on their part. When Chelsea could play long diagonal switches, find Fabregas in space in midfield to play long passes behind, and make forward passes between lines or on the outside, Chelsea could attack with numbers and instantly create an opportunity.

Switches from Cahill over to the left would see Willian, Emerson and Kovačić overload on the wing to quickly create an opportunity to cross. Likewise, Christensen switching out to Loftus-Cheek, Zappacosta or Kanté would again create an opportunity to cross. Willian and Loftus-Cheek receiving the ball on the inside and between lines would draw Derby’s fullbacks tight to them and open the space on the outside for the fullbacks to overlap and have another crossing opportunity — such as Zappacosta for the second goal.

After each (own) goal conceded, Derby’s response was always positive as they continued to play the way they had been instead of dropping back and conceding the midfield to Chelsea. This did allow Chelsea to take advantage of more opportunities from midfield after scoring (when they were perhaps more confident to take on the risky passes between lines), but it would be Derby finding a second equaliser rather than Chelsea extending their lead—through a quick attack from a throw-in. Although Derby had a good performance in the first half, they went into the break trailing 3-2.

Second half

In the second half, Zappacosta didn’t advance his position as much so he was more accessible for Cahill to find — Chelsea could then work the ball into Loftus-Cheek, which drew Derby to the right, before switching across to Emerson advancing on the left. But as a result, the danger Zappacosta posed when receiving the ball higher up was also relinquished — Chelsea going for patients instead of a more aggressive approach. As a result, Chelsea controlled the game and possession much more from midfield, began to attack more on the left from switches (where they had numbers to advance) and relied more upon Loftus-Cheek to hold onto the ball and dribble past Malone to create chances on the right.

Chelsea maintained good control of the game until the closing stages, when they began to make bad decisions — such as attempting to play direct early — and give the ball away in midfield. Once control was relinquished, the game became transitional and end-to-end. This provided Derby with the same platform they had in the first half, and a chance to come back and score a third equaliser. Derby’s belief grew and they had a number of chances during the final twenty minutes after switching to a 4-4-2-diamond, but couldn’t find the goal that their performance deserved.

Conclusion

Derby’s approach made it an interesting cup tie, with an entertaining first half of goals and chances for both teams. Derby maintained their approach despite conceding, and it was only in the second half, after Chelsea adjusted to maintain possession, that they didn’t cause problems. However, Derby were still able to stay in the game during this period (keeping the score the same), which gave them the opportunity to try to take the game to penalties ... had they been able to finish any of the chances they created during the closing stages.