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Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

On Giroud’s impact, Hazard’s freedom, and Chelsea’s continuing issues in dealing with the high press

Chelsea with the ball

The introduction of Giroud and Fabregas into the starting lineup provided Chelsea with greater forward passing options and gave Hazard more freedom to influence the game unlike the past couple matches when he played striker.

Some of Chelsea’s usual issues remained however. Starting from the back, short building from goal kicks was once again unable to deal with the opposition’s pressure. After a number of unsuccessful attempts through around-the-corner passes from the wing-backs and Pedro attempting to dribble past pressure, Courtois decided to start playing long for the remained of his goal kicks in the first half.

Through playing long, Chelsea saw the immediate advantage of having Giroud as a target man. He is strong enough to both hold off and push defenders back, even a defender the size of Hegazi (6’5”), to compete for the first ball. He could flick the ball on, receive to chest, or play lay-offs. Even when the passes weren’t successful, they would be into areas where Chelsea could compete for the ball. Similarly when Giroud couldn’t win the first ball, he was able to cause enough problems physically to prevent West Brom’s defenders from having clear headers to find teammates.

When playing in midfield, Chelsea found spaces by moving the ball from side-to-side, playing forward passes into the front three, playing off Giroud, and by Hazard dropping deep for the ball on the sides.

Fabregas is a clear difference-maker for Chelsea when they are attempting to play forward from midfield, which has been a problem during in the previous two defeats. He also makes the best use of Azpilicueta advancing on the outside, both in giving him to ball to advance or using him movement to open space for himself to receive the ball on the inside with time to face play and make forward passes.

By moving the ball side-to-side in midfield Chelsea could draw West Brom’s three central midfielders (and Rodriguez dropping ahead of them) all to one side, which would then open space for the opposite wide central defender to advance into space.

Hazard dropping back into central midfield to collect the ball, Kante moving wide to the left, and Zappacosta moving high on the left would create the possibility for Hazard to draw players towards him, before playing switches to the right in these situations, with Azpilicueta and Moses as the options—where Evans would be too deep and often occupied to move up to pressure Azpilicueta, and Gibbs caught in-between the two. This provided opportunities for Azpilicueta to attempt his early crosses into the box for Giroud, with Zappacosta attacking late beyond the far post when the ball went across the face of goal.

When playing from the right, overloading or rotating with Pedro, with Fabregas in support, Hazard would apply himself differently. On the left he acted as a third midfielder, while on the right he rotated with Fabregas, allowing the latter to make runs beyond him. Hazard could then find Fabregas with the ball behind the opposition midfielders.

In the final third, Chelsea had the option to play off Giroud in and around the box, where their combinations and flicks would present opportunities to shoot on goal, resulting in the first goal for example.

West Brom with the ball

West Brom had a number of chances to score before Chelsea took the lead in the first half, where they managed to sustain attacks high around Chelsea’s box, with multiple shots, while also taking advantage of Chelsea’s individual mistakes. Ultimately, these missed opportunities would cost them.

On their attacks from the right, they could find Phillips in positions to put the ball into the box early, They would also play quick free-kicks out to him to play the ball in first-time, and have Dawson on the overlap on the outside to create space for crosses.

On set pieces, where they would always put numbers forward, and maintain some players forward to help sustain attacks. Hegazi staying in and around the box during these moments caused some problems, and his lay-off lead to a chance for Rodriguez.

When West Brom lost the ball, their high pressure and numbers forward would often cut off Chelsea’s short passing options around the ball and could force Chelsea into mistakes when trying to pass through pressure. Playing long to Giroud as an outlet was helpful for Chelsea in these moments, where they could play over West Brom’s midfielders and pressure, which would provide the opportunity for counters if they were able to support Giroud for the second ball—or he could win free kicks to break pressure.

Pedro’s defensive contribution saw him make a number of recoveries to start dangerous counters from midfield, press high to prevent West Brom from playing short from Foster in open play, and provide extra support to the central midfielders.

Second half

In the second half, West Brom made a change to bring Burke on for Brunt, which switched their shape to a 343, matching Chelsea in all areas of the pitch. With Burke and Rodriguez playing off Rondon, they could isolate Chelsea’s back three individually in 1v1 situations and cause them more problems in physical match-ups.

Rodriguez and Burke could make diagonal runs behind and on the outside of Chelsea’s wide central defenders, which would create one dangerous crossing situation, requiring Azpilicueta to cover across quickly to clear the ball.

Later on in the half, Chelsea brought Cahill to help compete with Rondon physically, as well as giving Christensen rest in a game which required a lot of intensity to match Rondon—a similar situation against Bournemouth, where he had to make many sprints, saw him pick up an injury that’s still a concern.

Moses, who has been having issues consistently beating opponents on the outside in recent matches, found freedom on the inside to dribble with the ball and create chances. Since the defenders he faces have been overcompensating to prevent him from clearly beating them on the outside, going on the inside could provide a better option for the short-term, as well as provide more variation in his game to cause defenders more problems.

Conclusion

West Brom had a number of chances to score, especially at the start of the game, but both poor finishing and a good save by Courtois kept them out. Chelsea saw improvement with the ball compared to their recent performances, where they were able to play forward passes to Giroud, and both Fabregas and Hazard could create chances through movements and passes.

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