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Chelsea 4-0 PAOK, Europa League: Tactical Analysis

Fabregas, Hudson-Odoi pick apart 10-man PAOK

PAOK red card

Up against PAOK’s defensive 4-4-1-1 block in midfield, Chelsea began the game by moving the ball to the sides (predominantly the right) with the fullbacks deep initially, the wide central midfielders dropping back to collect the ball, and the wingers moving inside to open up spaces on the outside for the fullbacks to overlap as the ball moved forward.

PAOK gave time and space for Chelsea’s central midfielders to get on the ball and find forward passes, and instead tried to hold their positions in a high line and press the ball with the two forward players. However, Fabregas broke those lines pretty quickly early on with a long pass in-behind, which gave Chelsea the first of many crossing opportunities.

Things got worse for PAOK with Khacheridi getting sent off. Wernbloom dropped back to take up his position as central defender from midfield, while Shakhov dropped back into central midfield as PAOK switched to a 4-4-1. Having one less player higher up to pressure the ball made it significantly more difficult to sustain their midfield position. Chelsea quickly started taking advantage of this and consistently got behind PAOK’s backline to push them back to their own box.

Chelsea’s possession

As in the other games that Zappacosta has played this season, he continuously got forward using his speed on the outside to be the most attacking of the two fullbacks, and he had a number of opportunities to cross the ball into the box.

On the left, Hudson-Odoi found himself with the responsibility to take on defenders in order to create chances for himself and his teammates, both on the outside and inside of the fullback.

With Wernbloom at centre back, Chelsea could make runs behind him consistently to either create chances inside the box or to break PAOK’s line when they attempted to hold their defensive block in midfield. Loftus-Cheek got behind him when making runs from deep, and in the final third Giroud made short-depth runs behind him — while also finding Pedro running behind on the right.

After Chelsea played a number of successful passes behind their backline when they were trying to hold their position in midfield, PAOK began to drop back, which opened space between the lines for Chelsea’s central midfielders to carry the ball into. Loftus-Cheek would repeatedly dribble past opponents and take a few good long shots upon reaching the top of the box, while Barkley looked to play the pass behind after breaking forward with the ball.

Even with PAOK dropping back, Fabregas continued to find passes behind their backline and Chelsea scored both of their goals in the first half from Fabregas finding runners behind.

The reaction of Chelsea’s midfielders to recover the ball was good, both in the high press to recover quickly and sustain the attack (especially Fabregas), as well as when they were forced to drop back and move wide to support the fullbacks. PAOK had few outlets to break out of their defensive shape, and in attempting to do so would often lost the ball and be left exposed in midfield for Chelsea to counter.

Second half

In the second half, PAOK’s defensive block dropped back to defend the final third rather than attempting to hold their position in midfield, which finally cut out the opportunities for Chelsea to play passes in-behind ... but instead opened up the opportunity for Chelsea to play high in the final third and create through crosses and long shots from the edge of the box.

As the wings opened up, Chelsea doubled their half-time lead with Hudson-Odoi involved in both goals. After his earlier efforts on goal, taking-on the defender and aiming for the far corner, were unsuccessful, he tried quickly shifting the ball and shooting at the near post instead — scoring his first goal for Chelsea. Later on in the half, he moved to the right (Willian coming on for Pedro and switching to the left) from where he would create Chelsea’s forth and final goal. Receiving the ball with time and space, he played an early ball into the box with good timing (similar to the Azpilicueta crosses from last season) to find Morata between the defenders making a quick and short movement behind to attack the ball in the air.

Conclusion

The early red card made a difficult task even greater for PAOK, as they lost the extra man higher up to assist in pressing during their attempts to hold a midfield block, forced one of their midfielders to drop back and play centre back (which Chelsea exposed with runs behind) and reduced their outlets to counter. Fabregas continuously found passes behind PAOK’s backline to create during the first half, while, against the deeper block in the second half, Hudson-Odoi found space on both wings to score and create, rounding off a comfortable victory for Chelsea.

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