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Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea punished for not taking advantage of chances created

First half

Chelsea sustained their high position and possession for the majority of the first half, taking the lead and creating chances to extend their lead.

Wolves maintained their 5-4-1 deep defensive block where they had a block of four on each wing to prevent Chelsea from creating wide overloads, defended their own half with tight and compact lines, and applied pressure with increased intensity onto Chelsea’s forward passes to force them to play back (pushing up to press higher as a team) or win the ball.

In attack, Wolves used the speed of the front three to counter by carrying the ball and making runs behind Chelsea’s defenders, while the wing-backs moving forward quickly would arrive in support on the wings. Wolves managed to attack well from a few counters during the first half, and when they sustained the attacks in the final third they pressed Chelsea’s attempts to dribble out with the ball well, either winning the ball or fouling to prevent a counter.

In the opening stages, Chelsea’s possession saw them predominantly attacking on the wings since there was little space between lines. Rotations and dribbling from the wingers were the main way of creating from the wings, and it was from a wide attack that they would take the lead.

After going ahead, Chelsea began to find more space between lines as Wolves pushed higher up defensively and tried to press Chelsea inside their own half. Wolves did well to block the forward passes or stop Chelsea’s progress upon receiving between lines on a few occasions, but usually, when Chelsea got the ball facing play in these spaces they created chances ... without extending their lead.

Wolves 2-1 Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Second half

The state of the game was similar to Chelsea’s previous league game against Fulham, where Chelsea had a lot of control during the first half and a lead, but without extending their lead to take the game away from the opponent.

The second half continued as the first ended, with Wolves pushing up high and leaving space between their lines as a consequence. Since the game was open and Wolves were trying to be aggressive and push up high, they used (and were allowed to use by the referee) a large number of fouls to (intelligently) break Chelsea’s play with the ball to prevent clear opportunities from being created. Despite the fouls, Chelsea still created chances and exploited the space between lines, with a number of opportunities to score a second to take the game away from Wolves ... which once again they did not take.

Unlike against Fulham, not taking these chances came back to haunt Chelsea on this occasion. With pressing high up from the midfielders, Wolves drew the pressure onto their backline before Coady played a long pass up to Doherty advanced on the right to move forward and open up the opportunity to attack. From this, Gibbs-White exploited the space left in the middle by Chelsea’s midfielders being high up to press, before finding Jimenez running between Christensen and Alonso to score.

Soon after, Wolves took the lead. First, Christensen’s misplaced pass gave Wolves the ball to counter. Willian recovered but lost the ball as he attempted to dribble out to launch a counter attack. Chelsea were disorganised and expecting a foul, and Wolves were quick to take advantage of this.

Wolves would continue to press high when they could, but could now remain deep and defend around their box in numbers with a lead to maintain. Chelsea made two early changes which didn’t have the same impact as in the Fulham game, and they couldn’t find a way to build their momentum back into their game.

Wolves used the wings to counter, and Helder Costa going on to play on the right gave them a fresh player to run behind Alonso and draw fouls — he’d wait for Alonso to dive in before putting his body between Alonso and the ball — and likewise Doherty continued to run behind Alonso from wing-back to stretch Chelsea and draw fouls.

Wolves remained focused and managed the game well, especially with a number of players on yellow cards. Their final two changes saw Moutinho moving up higher and Dendoncker (on for Jimenez) playing behind him to provide Wolves with a player in the middle who could make a foul without the risk of being sent off.

Chelsea did create a few opportunities against Wolves’ deep defensive block during the final stages of the game, mostly through long shots and set pieces, but were again unable to take advantage of any of them.

Conclusion

Chelsea made a good start to the game and had control of the first half. After taking the lead they had countless chances to score as Wolves opened up and attempted to press high. Having not taken any of these chances, Chelsea were punished in quick succession with Wolves scoring twice — a blow from which Chelsea were unable to recover.