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Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea fail to kill off another game, but collect all three points

First half

With two options on the wings injured, Chelsea made changes to the starting lineup from recent games, moving Hazard back out to the left and Willian to the right, with Giroud restored at striker and Barkley coming in for Kovačić in midfield.

Chelsea had a high amount of possession again, but this time the building from deep and midfield were different, since Palace didn’t push up through the middle or try to block passes to Jorginho as other sides have this season. Instead they allowed Jorginho to have the ball and keep their lines tight and compact — Palace had the same approach against City as well; not special for Chelsea — making him take more touches of the ball to slow play down and try to intercept attempted passes played through lines.

Palace’s backline maintained good distances and concentration to control the spaces in all directions throughout the first half. They were quick to close down switches to the wings to prevent crosses, matched Chelsea’s numbers on the wings to prevent overloads, kept Chelsea’s front three ahead of them as they attempted to play combinations upon receiving the ball between lines, and controlled the space behind them to prevent passes in-behind.

This saw Chelsea keep the ball with many short passes between lines and under pressure (Palace’s backline and midfielders always pushing up to force them back, but with numbers in cover to prevent depth being exposed when they did) and moving the ball to the wings, but not being able to create good opportunities from open play. Kante created two chances to shoot, while there were a number of good opportunities from set pieces.

Chelsea actually missed the depth that Hazard has been offering at striker, and his ability to get behind the opposition from midfield when Jorginho would be on the ball in space — Giroud is more suitable for the short depth runs close to the box—which, when found, were called offside in both the first and second half—and couldn’t take advantage of moments where Palace’s central defenders were both pushing up and higher than the fullbacks (diagonal runs behind from the outside).

Defensively, Chelsea pressed and recovered the ball well on their right, blocking forward passes up the line and not allowing Palace to get behind. On the left, however, they were open and Palace could move forward with the ball into positions where they could isolate Alonso initially before defensive support arrived, which they dealt with well in most situations — preventing cross or not giving away set pieces to provide Palace with a chance to move up, put the ball into the box and create a chance. Otherise, Chelsea controlled many of Palace’s attempts to counter, prevented the game from becoming stretched and open, and prevented Zaha from causing problems and getting the ball in dangerous areas.

Second half

Like in the last game against Watford, Chelsea made a fast start to the second half and took the lead quickly. Luiz moved forward with the ball in midfield before finding Kanté as he he arrived into the box, having made a diagonal run behind the central defenders from the outside — which Chelsea had failed to take advantage of in the first half.

The game then opened up and became a little stretched, where Palace were playing with more aggression defensively and Chelsea made a few unforced errors that gave Palace the ball to open up as a team to attack more often than they had before that point.

Long play to Kouyate from Palace’s goal kicks had been well controlled by Chelsea up to this point, both in terms of competing for the first ball and recovering the second ball quickly. This reduced the amount of platforms from which Palace could build attacks and maintained control of the game. But Palace caused more problems later on in the half thanks to changes made from both benches, and Chelsea not killing the game by taking the chances they created to extend their lead.

The first change was Wickham on as striker and Zaha moving to the left. This made Chelsea’s control of the long play up to the left far more difficult to control, since now Rudiger and Azpilicueta were up against Kouyate and Wickham for the first ball, while Zaha on the left was in a much easier position to get the ball, where he would use his great shielding and dribbling ability to hold onto the ball. It would also provide Palace with the opportunity to play long to Wickham on the right or centrally, with the three midfielders in close support of him to compete for the second ball.

The final significant changes were by Chelsea, with Emerson going on to play on the left, in place of Willian, and Hazard moving to the right. The defensive error Chelsea had made from this change was quickly apparent, where Azpilicueta was up against Zaha and Van Aanholt was free to make overlapping runs on the outside to advance to the final third and create overloads on that side. Added to that, with Meyer having replaced Kouyate before this change, Palace now had additional technical qualities to join the left (or McArthur when they rotated) when Palace got the ball in the final third. After a few dangerous attacks from the left, Chelsea solved the problems by switching Emerson to the right to cover Van Aanholt, brought Kovacic on for Barkley to cover the left and allowed Hazard to play freely with Morata as offensive outlets to see the game out.

Conclusion

Palace maintained good defensive control in their own half during open play in the first half, and limited Chelsea to creating opportunities from set pieces. Palace had a few opportunities of their own to counter on their right flank, but Chelsea recovered these situations well and went into the break scoreless. Chelsea took the lead early on in the second half where Kante made a run which Chelsea were mostly lacking in the first half. But without extending the lead and killing off the game, Chelsea left the door open for Palace to come back late in the game, where key substitutions gave Palace a number of successive chances before Chelsea rectified the mistakes and found a solution to regain defensive control and see the game out.