Second league game in a row where Chelsea faced a team playing with a midfield diamond and attempting to press high. This time, unlike the previous weekend’s 3-1 loss to Spurs, Chelsea had more success in establishing possession and making a better start to the game than they have in recent matches, although against a weaker and less aggressive opponent.
Chelsea found solutions to keep the ball under pressure with Hazard dropping back deeper to collect it, movements and rotations on the wings to open spaces and get behind the pressure, and Jorginho moving from the middle at times to find space and allow for a more fluid midfield three to play through pressure. The movements on the wings would see Alonso on the ball and Kovacic running behind Chambers (up to pressure Alonso) to the wing to receive the ball on the outside, which would allow Hazard to leave the wing and position himself between the lines. The difference from the usual rotation would be that Alonso moved up early to overlap, Hazard moved inside and Kovacic dropped to fullback. This was useful since, as in the Tottenham game, the fullback position would be in space up until they moved into midfield — so Alonso moves higher up, where he can cause more problems, and Kovacic can keep the ball, find passes and dribble past pressure.
Without being able to press successfully, Fulham had to drop back and as a result recover the ball from deep positions, where they had problems transitioning. For quick and direct play they had the options of Mitrovic and Sessegnon moving wide or long to Mitrovic in the air, which caused Chelsea no problems. The other option was to play short and risky passes among the midfielders while the team opened up and the fullbacks moved forward. They had slightly more success when they could get the ball to the fullbacks in this way, but they also lost the ball in dangerous areas. So without being able to create many opportunities with the ball in open play, set pieces were important to win and use to create chances — where they forced Arrizabalaga into a few saves.
About halfway through the first half, and with Chelsea ahead and controlling possession from midfield, Fulham changed their shape to a 4411 with Sessegnon on the right and Johansen on the left to provide more support to the backline and the wings against Chelsea’s fullbacks advancing forward — Chelsea’s fullbacks had a number of chances for crosses, but lacked the execution to find Giroud in the box. This changed allowed Fulham to hold their defensive position higher up in midfield and provided them with better opportunities to attack on the wings and keep the ball. However, this came at the cost of opening up space between the lines for Chelsea’s front three to cause problems.
Chelsea used a lot of energy in the first half, and with only a one-goal lead Fulham were still in the game going into the second half. Fulham made two changes at half-time: Kamara and Ayite going on as the wingers and maintaining the same 4411 shape as they had switched to during the first half.
Chelsea couldn’t sustain the same pressure from their midfielders as they had during the first half, so when Fulham won the ball in this half, they had much more success when playing short passes to hold the ball and opening up as a team to move forward with the ball. In doing so, they were able to then attack the wings with numbers (fullbacks overlapping wingers), which created a few crossing opportunities and sustained attacks.
Furthermore, Kamara was a great outlet for Fulham to advance on the right, where his physical qualities caused Alonso a lot problems 1-v-1, and his runs behind the backline forced David Luiz out wide to cover. Now having the options to play direct to Kamara or play through midfielders, Fulham could create further opportunities with Cairney making runs and Seri picking quality passes into the box.
Chelsea’s substitutions were important to bring energy back into the game and make a difference. Morata added speed and movement with the ball (especially with more space for counters), as well as the ability to press Fulham’s defenders. Zappacosta also brought more speed and allowed Azpilicueta to move over to the left and concentrate on a defensive role up against Kamara. Loftus-Cheek made the biggest impact, making runs off the ball, carrying and combining with the ball between the lines, and more crucially, scoring Chelsea’s second to kill the game.
Chelsea made a good, aggressive start to the match, finding solutions to move past Fulham’s pressing and taking an early lead. Their performance in the first half was good, but used a lot of energy and didn’t achieve in a significant enough lead to profit from it. As a result, Fulham could play through Chelsea’s attempts to press in midfield more often in the second half — Kamara providing them with a consistent outlet on the wing. With Fulham building pressure and creating chances, Chelsea’s substitutions were necessary to make a difference and bring energy back into the game, which they did.