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Watford 1-2 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea manage the game offensively and defensively

First half

In the first half, Chelsea created chances by drawing pressure onto them deep in their own half before breaking through, countering from defensive set pieces, and recovering the ball in midfield when Watford attempted to play through the middle. Chelsea’s possession from midfield and in the final third provided good positions from which to create chances, but Watford’s defence was strong to prevent combinations and overloads on the wings — only chance from Azpilicueta’s low cross to Hazard.

Watford’s front two remained narrow (Deeney also covering the wing for Pereyra when needed) to prevent Chelsea from using the central midfielders and building through Jorginho. When not playing up the sides, Chelsea were thus forced into long forward passes to Hazard — played with much more power in order to reach him and prevent them from being intercepted; but that also made it much more difficult for Hazard to control the ball or have teammates close enough to find with first-time layoffs and flicks.

Losing the ball in the middle in these situations opened up chances for Watford to counter with numbers, where the wingers moved up, Deulofeu could run behind or join the wings, Deeney a target to play to and hold onto the ball, and Doucoure breaking from midfield to get into the box.

Chelsea found more success when they would draw pressure onto them around their own box, bringing Watford forward, and then playing through their pressure to get behind their midfielders. Although there was the initial mistake by Arrizabalaga when attempting this, Chelsea recovered the ball and continued to draw pressure into the corner before breaking through — Kovačić finding Willian, who could only hit the post from a wide angle.

Watford would find success from attacks on the wings if they quickly played forward and into the corners (not coming back inside), while also creating from attacking set pieces (looping around the back from wide free kicks, similar to Alonso and Giroud), and playing long to Deeney from goal kicks. For the latter, they would set up with a narrow midfield, fullbacks pushed up and inside, and Deulofeu ready to run off the striker for flick ons. When the ball was flicked on, the wingers and central midfielders would push up to create a moment of pressure, and also attempt to maintain their position and the ball, as Chelsea weren’t setup as they normally would be to play through pressure.

However, where Watford had the most problems was when they attempted to play with the ball centrally. Both when going back to Foster and playing square passes into the central midfielders, they provided Chelsea with good opportunities to press and recover the ball — which is precisely how Chelsea took the lead.

Defensive corners also provided Chelsea with good opportunities to score through counters when they won the ball, but they also saw Watford equalise through a quick short corner and first-time outswinging ball to the edge of the box, which Pereyra finished with a great volley.

Second half

Chelsea had to face some prolonged moments of deep defending around their own box in the second half, where Watford kept the ball in the corners and attacked the wings with numbers (not playing inside and losing the ball as much as they had in the first half).

Chelsea took advantage of a mistake to retake the lead. Jorginho received the ball in midfield with time and space to look up and play forward. As Jorginho looked up, Hazard was the option to feet, so Mariappa moved up to quickly get tight to Hazard. However, instead of staying in the position to receive the ball, Hazard decided to quickly turn as the defender was moving towards him and went behind Watford’s backline — Jorginho finding him with the killer pass.

Chelsea had more chances to then kill the game and extend their lead. Kovačić getting the ball wide on the wing would again open up the opportunity for Hazard to run off the back of Mariappa (the same move as against Leicester) and get behind Watford’s backline, before finding Willian inside the box — his shot just barely skimming past the far post this time after hitting the near post earlier. Later in the half, Kanté broke with the ball from deep and played a one-two with Hazard to create another opportunity to score, before Watford began to have more of the ball in the final third and Chelsea had to manage the game defensively. Chelsea continued to create chances from counters and when they had the ball during this period, but didn’t require the extra goal to win the game on this occasion.

Conclusion

Chelsea played with the ball on the wings in the first half, but couldn’t break down Watford’s strong defence in the middle. Chelsea were able to create opportunities by drawing pressure onto them in their own half and countering, especially when Watford tried to play with the ball in the middle, which is how Chelsea took the lead. Watford responded quickly with a set piece and made a better start to the second half, before Jorginho had his first opportunity to play a pass behind their backline for Hazard and Chelsea took advantage, before seeing out the game with deep defending and creating a number of chances to extend their lead.