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Chelsea 1-1 West Ham United, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea dominate, fail to win.

First half

Chelsea had a high amount of possession and dominated large parts of the game, where West Ham remained defensive and dropped back into their box, had the midfielders drop back to pressure Chelsea’s front three, and then had numbers back to block shots.

West Ham would allow Chelsea to have the ball with their central defenders, leaving their front three to cover Chelsea’s back three and two central midfielders with the ball. In doing so, they could maintain a 5v3 advantage over Chelsea’s front three when Chelsea then played forward, where they would have extra cover if one of Chelsea’s front three were able to go past a defender with the ball.

To create, Chelsea would initially play slower with their possession at the back to draw West Ham forward and wait for one of the front three to find space between, behind, or to the sides of West Ham’s central midfielders to receive the ball. Upon playing forward, the speed of Chelsea’s play would increase through quick and first-time combinations, dribbling, and movements off the ball.

West Ham’s backline wouldn’t remain tight to Chelsea’s front three upon receiving the ball as long as their central midfielders were close enough to pressure them on the ball, which would force them to drop back and allow chelsea to take the ball up to their box more easily, but would also allow them to have numbers back to cut out the angles for shots, crowd Chelsea around the ball, and make a number of blocks. Another advantage they saw from this approach was that they could allow Morata to receive the ball, have numbers to prevent him from finding short passes to Willian and Hazard, and make passes back to Chelsea’s central midfielders and wide central defenders risky, leaving him with switches to Moses as the only passing option—where he was covered by Masuaku and forced to pass backwards upon receiving the ball.

The moments where Chelsea’s frontline could create their best chances was when West Ham’s back three would try to pressure them and remain tight 3v3. In these moments, usually when West Ham’s central midfielders were too high to drop back to cover them, Chelsea’s front three could display their individual and collective qualities in order to dribble, combine, and move off the ball to create space. They created a number of opportunities to score, only for the final action to let them down.

Chelsea’s high amount of possession was also helped by their capacity to regain the ball high up and quickly when West Ham attempted to counter. Aggression from Chelsea’ back three and Kante covering ahead of them allowed them to win the ball back and sustain attacks. Kante’s support in these situations aided recovery a lot, where he would allow his teammate (already engaging to win the ball) to apply pressure while he was patient to wait for the right moment to easily take or get a foot to the ball to dispossess his opponent, rather than trying to be too aggressive and providing the chance for West Ham to beat them or win free kicks to force Chelsea back.

In the moments where West Ham were able to cause problems with the ball in the first half, they were usually through long and early passes over the top of Chelsea’s backline for Arnautovic to chase, where his physical and technical qualities can cause a lot of problems. Playing into the corners would also allow them to put pressure on the ball when Chelsea’s defenders would recover it, before positioning themselves up the line to intercept and win the ball as Chelsea’s wide central defenders attempted to find passes up the line from the corners. The final area where they could cause problems with the ball was keeping the ball alive inside the box, from early balls into the box and set pieces.

West Ham’s pressuring of Chelsea’s short building from goal kicks also caused Chelsea problems, where they couldn’t find a solution to use consistently—resulting in them losing the ball when playing forward.

Second half

Chelsea had a good start to the second half, where they continued to create a number of chances to score, but were unable to increase their lead.

Upon winning the ball from West Ham, Chelsea’s counters were quick and would instantly create a good opportunity, where the front three could find each other at speed to sustain the momentum of their attacks. Similarly, forward passes up to Morata improved as he was able to find Hazard and Willian in space on the outside to maintain the momentum of the attacks, rather than only having the option to switch to Moses. In finding Willian and Hazard, the pair of them can carry or play forward with the ball (such as passes behind West Ham’s backline for the wing-backs to run onto), where the switches to Moses in the first half would see the ball passed backwards, allowing West Ham to get numbers back.

After dominating most of the half, and not finding the second goal, Chelsea’s continued problems from goal kicks from the first half came back to bite them. A long ball to midfield with no competition for the initial ball or to pressure the second ball allowed West Ham to start with a high starting position with the ball and play a long and early ball behind Chelsea’s backline and into the box, where they kept the ball alive from Cahill’s attempt to clear, before Hernandez found space inside the box to score.

Chelsea switched to a 442 and a open game to in their attempt to get back into the game. The match became more transitional, saw Chelsea getting more numbers forward for attacks and counters, and relied more upon the players finding practical solutions individually rather than going their their normal routines with the ball. However, West Ham’s defence remained strong to continue to ristricut Chelsea to bad shooting positions (with numbers behind the ball), where Hart could save any of the shots that made it through on goal.

Conclusion

Chelsea created a number of chances and dominated the game for long periods, without being able to create enough of a lead to secure the game at any point. West Ham stayed in the game by ensuring that they were in positions to block as many of Chelsea’s shots as they could, rather than trying to break up their play higher up, and waited for moments in the game where they could attack quickly with the ball. With Chelsea unable to extend their lead in the second half, despite improved creative play, West Ham were able to stay in the game for long enough to have and take the chance to equalise, before holding out for a draw.