We had been unlucky at the very beginning of the series, with the need to report on a potential 1-0 win that slipped through our hands against Barcelona and back to back losses to the Mancunian teams in the Premier League. But this was not down to bad luck brought by yours
trOOly truly, as Chelsea have finally found their ways back to victory last weekend in their clash with Crystal Palace at the Bridge.
(NB: Chelsea stats on the left — or orange in graphics — and Crystal Palace on the right — or blue on graphics. We didn’t choose these colours.)
On the attacking and possession sides of the ball, “complete domination” would be a good summary for Chelsea’s first half act. With Palace choosing to press only in situations such as goal kicks — which were rather rare for the Selhurst Park side given how little shots they produced in the entire affair — the Blues had little to no trouble with working the ball around.
This was also helped by our opponents choosing to stay deep and narrow off the ball, while lacking the quality to start a proper counter-attack from those deep areas they were all entrenched. At least it served well for them to pad up defensive stats, with 27 clearances and 14 blocks recorded in the first 45 minutes of the affair.
Palace’s second half adjustments, which had manager Roy Hodgson bringing previously injured and main offensive outlet Wilfried Zaha to the pitch in place of whatever is Christian Benteke these days coupled with the change to a three-man midfield with Jaïro Riedewald’s entrance and more appropriate pressing had Palace levelling Chelsea in intensity.
But the Blues quickly found their footing back into the game, and went back to their incisive ways. Still, Palace would keep racking up clearances (7) and blocks (15) in their attempts to keep the game within a slight grasp.
They ended up picking a consolation goal via former Blue left-back Patrick van Aanholt on a collective failure from our defensive system, in a period where Palace were starting to grow more dangerous. Thankfully, the final whistle was blown before things could get uglier!
Chelsea continue to get a high volume of their shots from outside the box, with almost half of them coming from that area at 44%. Not that it will draw any complaints from us, since Willian’s latest goals against Barcelona and Palace have come from those long ranged attempts.
Nevertheless, Chelsea just trounced Palace in this aspect with 3 times the number of total shots recorded by Palace (27 vs. 9) and a much better success at finding the target (41% vs. 22%)
xG map for Chelsea - Crystal Palace. It is truly spectacular that those two stupid goals were the two Chelsea goals among all those clear scoring chances. pic.twitter.com/YNCgFqUma9— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 10, 2018
As shown by the Expected Goals map above (and you can find an explanation on how it all works here), Chelsea not only had a high volume of shots but also created some good chances to score. Unfortunately for them, there was always something — or rather, someone — in front to stop them from racking up goals.
As it has been the case in many of our latest games, Willian continues to be the main man on show in our attacks. With the help of wing-back Davide Zappacosta, who was finding it easy to burn Van Aanholt on his work alongside the Brazilian to fulfil this duty, Chelsea concentrated 38% of their offensive forays on the right flank.
Their advances went unpunished for most of the game. But once Zaha and Riedewald were brought onto the pitch to reinforce Palace’s left flank, things changed for the better for the visitors. And so Van Aanholt, combining with his teammates, monopolised Palace’s attacking action on their left side (46%).
Dribbles attempted and completed by Palace were mostly made on the flanks of the pitch, with their fullbacks constantly looking for overlaps whenever the ball was in their grasp. As for Chelsea, their dribbling was a bit more spread across the pitch, but also more concentrated on wide areas. And the clump of orange dots at the top-right corner are attempts from Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso in beating their markers. You don’t need to guess who was more successful in doing so...
It was a day ending in “y” and that being the case, Willian was once again on fire. He was tied with the team’s main show-runner Eden in number of dribbles completed, although it felt as if the Belgian star was not at his best against Palace despite creating 6 key chances in the game.
Props go also to striker Olivier Giroud, who showed why he was held in such high regard by Arsenal fans. His smart runs to attack crosses flooding in from out wide, as well as his ability to win challenges both on ground and in the air against Palace’s defenders, should have wielded him a goal. He left the game at minute 72 with 7 shots attempted, one more than Willian who had a better aim on the target (4 vs. 2 shots) and eventually scored the game’s opener.
Despite being only 45 minutes on the pitch, Zaha managed to have more dispossessions than any other Palace player on the pitch. That is certainly a feat!
Nevertheless, they were not very good on the offensive side of things. Save for the minutes of desperation from Chelsea’s defence allowing them to grow, they did not provide much going forward.
Whereas Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was not really put in high demand by Palace’s (lack of) attacking prowess, his counterpart Wayne Hennessey was on the exact opposite side of the scheme. The Englishman made 7 saves to Courtois’ 1, and was putting on a good performance — as is usual with goalkeepers whenever they face us — to keep us goalless until two shots deflected by his teammates made their way past his line in the first half.
As for the distribution side of things, not many surprises here either. At first Courtois and his teammates were allowed to build from the back with short passing, but it all changed with the second half adaptations from Palace. Since the Belgian is not the best at finding his teammates on punts, he found little success in his long passes with only 5 of 15 attempts completed.
Hennessey however was always going long. His distribution is also too accurate, as he went 7 of 22 in his long range passing success to be 1% below Courtois’ mark in this category (33% vs. 32%).
Playing at home and up against a Premier League relegation candidate, Chelsea were more than obliged to be more prominent with actions on the ball. That certainly took place last weekend as the Blues were head and shoulders better than Palace in their volume of passes. Better yet, the area in which more passes were made to was our attacking area, with 277 attempts (42%).
“Ball-hogger”/maestro/midfielder Cesc Fàbregas was picked to start the Palace match, but did not manage to record the most number of touches, passes attempted and completed in the game as the honour fell to vice-captain César Azpilicueta. Although to be fair, Cesc was subbed off at minute 88 for Tiemoué Bakayoko, who was returning from an injury issue.
Still, Cesc was on a rather off day with regards to his long passing accuracy as he only found a teammate in 3 of 9 passes attempted. But fear not, as teammates such as N’Golo Kanté, Eden, Willian and Azpilicueta more than made up for his bad aim on Saturday. In fact, the French midfielder went 6 out of 6 on his tries. Yay!
Defender Andreas Christensen, despite yet another error that almost gifted Palace a goal, was still quite crisp with his passing on a success rate of 96.6% in 58 attempts. Meanwhile, Zappacosta was heavy on crossing duty: 14 attempts, and 3 completions. That was still better than his left wing counterpart Alonso, who got only one right in 5 tries.
Van Aanholt and his teammate at right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were the two players trying the most to make something happen out of Palace’s little time with possession of the ball. Such is that they were both the players with the most number of touches on Palace’s camp with Van Aanholt registering 74, and Bissaka recording 67.
However, neither of them were able to find much success with their crossing. Bissaka managed to find a teammate in his tries only once in his five crosses; while Van Aanholt found no one in four attempts.
In terms of passing success, centre-back James Tonkins got the best rate at 91.9% in 37 total passes. Meanwhile, midfielder Luka Milivojevic had a career day on his long ranged passing with 8 balls completed in 11 attempts.
In tune with the article covering (part of) defence efficiency in the Premier League, Palace just padded their defensive stats last game. Over the two halves, they combined for 34 clearances and 29 blocks, thus constantly frustrating our attacking build-ups and ensuing shots. In comparison, Chelsea made 20 clearances and only 12 blocks throughout the game.
Having Palace not bothering much with pressing in the first half and doing a bit more of work on that area, but upon the backline, in the second one has brought this wide space open in the middle of the pitch in terms of tackles attempted and completed.
And thanks to Giroud’s presence, we won most of our aerial duels in Crystal Palace’s box. Even if crosses are bad as a way of creating chances, one can only wonder how things could improve if we had better players in this category taking charge on wing-back duty.
Chelsea had less to do on the defensive side of things last weekend compared to their previous games and so, the numbers reflect the occasion. The obvious highlights are Gary Cahill’s complete dominance in the aerial game, winning all of his 9 challenges on top of making 9 clearances; and Azpilicueta’s efficiency by completing all of his 4 tackles attempted while intercepting 6 balls from Palace.
Palace meanwhile were much busier in defence, with 6 of their starters attempting 4 or more tackles in the game. In this regard, Tomkins was their most effective player with 5 completions in 6 tries, while also recording the highest number of clearances for his team with 7.
The players position map this time cannot draw help us much with regards to the opposition, since the key changes made by Roy Hodgson in the second half are not entirely reflected there.
Even then, we see Chelsea keeping a high(-ish) line of defenders with both of our wing-backs pushing very high and adding loads of pressure onto the flanks of Palace. In this plan, our midfielders acted a bit deeper, with both coming close to the backline to initiate play.
And on attack, Willian sat close to Cesc and Zappacosta in a scheme to leave Van Aanholt more exposed than he already is on game days. While Eden drew from left to centre to join Giroud, who operated as a through and through target man on the half-circle of Palace’s 18-yard box.
But back to Palace and the parts that can be gathered from their map, we see their bank of centre-backs playing wide but deep while the fullbacks pushed up, but not too much as to (attempt to) not leave themselves too exposed. Andros Townsend, who was initially a wide midfielder, drew closer to centre in the second half to act as winger; and Alexander Sorloth, who started the game partnering up with Benteke, finished the match as a centre-forward battling for balls coming from the sky.
Chelsea’s first half performance would have been much better if the Blues had better luck with all of their shots instead of just two that “pinballed” a path towards the goal. They utilised possession and space to the best of their abilities, creating many chances and being very close to an absolute trouncing of a Palace team that looked more keen on keeping a tight score rather than actively looking for a win.
But once half-time came in, Palace started making trouble in our
neighbourhood half. Things could have gone awry with Christensen’s mistake and Zaha’s constant attempts at beating our defenders, but the game that was almost on a back and forth motion between the two sides was put on hold of Chelsea once again, who were not in the dominant self of the first half but still good enough to keep things interesting and safe for us.
Palace’s haul in the last minute could have been made worse, with Van Aanholt finding the back of our net on our entire team falling asleep for whichever reason. This lack of concentration may have been the biggest negative from the match-up, which was generally fine but still expected upon a clash of titans vs. minnows in the Premier League.
But up against Barcelona today, the inspiration to be carried towards the Champions League tie comes not from us but from our opponents. This is not to say that we should be mostly toothless on counters, but rather to put on a great defensive effort to frustrate the barrage of attacks that will come from the Catalans. And in similar ways to what took place in 2012, may we return from Spain with our European run still intact!