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Leicester City 1-2 Chelsea (AET), FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

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A tactical battle that swung back and forth, keyed by Leicester’s press and Chelsea’s response to it.

First half

Leicester started the game by keeping the ball high in Chelsea’s half on the wings, pressuring with intensity (thus forcing the visitors to play through pressure or go long), and creating chances from throw-ins.

Chelsea found it difficult to play out of pressure and move up the field in these moments since they couldn’t hold the ball for long enough to enable their wing-backs to move up and open their shape up. As they gained possession from goal kicks and could open up in their half, they managed to take control of the game with good management of Leicester’s counters.

Leicester’s high pressure often required Chelsea’s central midfielders to quickly play forward passes or dribble with the ball to either go past pressure or keep the ball until the hosts dropped off. Upon dropping off in midfield, Chelsea’s back three and central midfielders could easily keep the ball against Leicester’s front two, which would open up spaces for them to play forward.

When Chelsea lost the ball in midfield, their recovery of the ball from their backline and central midfielders was excellent against Leicester’s quick and direct passes to the frontline, with a number of interceptions allowing them to sustain high attacks and attack against fewer of our opponent’s defenders.

Leicester City v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

From deep recoveries, Chelsea had a few options to counter. N’Golo Kanté and Willian’s speed and dribbling to quickly carry the ball through lines and into space, before drawing players towards them to open up space for the passing options, would see the Blues creating and scoring their first goal towards the end of the half. Going direct to Álvaro Morata had the striker competing against two aggressive and powerful central defenders, which saw him do well to keep the ball and draw fouls when he could.

The final option was Eden Hazard running behind on the left, where Leicester right-back Danny Simpson would move up to pressure Marcos Alonso. This option gave Chelsea a solid outlet, although in the final third it began to slightly limit our attacks upon delays since the transitional nature of the match prevented Alonso from always replacing Hazard in the middle, and so preventing Chelsea from gaining the advantage their front five can have against back fours.

The advantage of the wing-backs and Hazard in the middle was seen later in the half, where a switch to Alonso overlapping on the outside allowed the wing-back to play a low cross to Morata on the edge of the box to create an opportunity for the striker to have a shot on goal.

As for Leicester, Jamie Vardy running off the back of César Azpilicueta to the wing in order to receive and hold the ball before waiting for support were some of their best moments during counters (both of Leicester’s wingers attempting long and diagonal passes behind Chelsea’s backline after moving inside). Wilfredo Caballero’s sweeping ability proved to be an advantage during one of these passes in the first half, by winning and keeping the ball where Vardy would have normally had a shot on goal otherwise — even if Caballero’s mistake during a similar situation in the second half almost lead to a goal.

Chelsea v Hull City - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Second half

Chelsea’s first change was made at halftime with Tiemoué Bakayoko replaced by Cesc Fàbregas. Bakayoko, unlike Kanté, struggled in the first half where quick forward passes and dribbling to beat pressure when he received the ball were required with consistency, and being on a yellow card would be a risk in such a transitional game.

The second half began like the first with Leicester having a high position and pressing high in numbers. Chelsea’s attacks changed where they were more content to sit and try to direct score from counters and attacks over trying to sustain a high position and ball possession.

Chelsea switched to holding the ball more from their own half and midfield to regain the same control as they had in the first half. This helped the Blues initially, before Leicester brought Shinji Okazaki on for Kelechi Iheanacho, which saw the Foxes immediately have more intense and aggressive high pressing to force Chelsea’s backline into making long and direct passes to the frontline.

With Leicester regaining possession inside Chelsea’s half, our midfielders attempted to press more aggressively and higher up, which would see their backline isolated upon Leicester moving the ball wide to Riyad Mahrez. After beating Alonso on the outside to put the ball into the box, where Leicester had five men inside the box (front two, Marc Albrighton, and both central midfielders), Leicester eventually scored the equalising goal through Vardy.

Leicester City v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Extra time

After ending the second half with high pressure, Leicester couldn’t press Chelsea with the same intensity during extra time. The Blues could build attacks again and with Pedro on for Willian managed to find the winning goal towards the end of the first half of extra time.

Pedro moved over to the left to overload on that side with Kanté moving forward, Hazard and Morata higher up, and both wing-backs high and wide. This saw Leicester’s backline open up on the far side from Chelsea’s overload on the left along with the width and height from the wing-backs, before Pedro moved into the open space in order to have a free header inside the box.

Leicester changed for the second half of extra time to put more offensive players onto the pitch, with Albrighton moving to right back (replaced by Demarai Gray later on), and Cheick Diabaté and Adrien Silva coming in to take the midfield. They created come opportunities from crosses and corners, but Chelsea’s defence was able to see the game out.

Conclusion

Chelsea controlled the first half after Leicester’s good opening period, using their midfielders well to dribble and play forward passes to beat Leicester’s high pressure, before scoring from a counter just before halftime.

In the second half, Chelsea waited back and tried to score a second goal through counters, before switching to holding the ball later in the half. Okazaki’s introduction immediately improved Leicester’s high pressing, and from winning the ball in Chelsea’s half they went on to score the equaliser. Chelsea’s winner in extra time came from establishing a high position and possession again, before an overload opened up Leicester’s backline.