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Chelsea 2-0 Southampton, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

A (rare) straightforward win for the Blues

First half

Chelsea had a high amount of possession throughout the match, as they looked to break down Southampton’s deep defensive block in the final third, while needing to control Long and Austin during counter attacks.

Chelsea’s possession was focused on finding space in wide areas before trying to progress forward, since Southampton would flood the middle with their three midfielders shifting to block passing lines, as well as the front two dropping back to add extra numbers for defending the middle. The wing-backs (rarely deep) would be followed by Southampton’s, so when they were high they would open space behind them on the wings for Chelsea’s central midfielders to move wide to collect the ball (pressured by Southampton’s wide central midfielders moving up) or Chelsea’s wide central defenders carrying the ball forward on the outside of Chelsea’s central midfielders (when narrow) to look for forward passes.

When playing the ball into the front three to feet between the lines, they were met with instant pressure and were required to dribble or play first-time passes to get out of pressure. Playing long passes from Fabregas to Giroud or Hazard was another option to create, which would create disorganisation through the diagonal runs into space made by the frontline for the second ball. In the final third, Azpilicueta again provided another option where he would advance on the outside before looking to play an early ball into the box.

As alternatives to receiving the ball in pressure and risking forward passes through lines, Hazard and Willian could both drop on the outside of Southampton’s central midfielders to collect the ball. This gave them the opportunity to directly dribble forward or combine past opponents in order to get behind the midfield line with the ball. They could also move wide by rotating with the wing-backs, where they would once again be in a position to collect the ball out of pressure and look to dribble or combine.

Counters and quick free kicks also gave Willian and Hazard opportunities to either receive the ball behind Southampton’s midfield line in space and quicky take the ball forward to create chances, or accelerate past the final Southampton midfielder to again get behind their midfield line and face the backline at speed.

Southampton’s play with the ball consisted of direct play up to Long, running behind Chelsea’s backline and jumping early to compete for the ball in the air, with Austin supporting from behind for the second ball. Austin could take quick shots when he was able to win the second ball, usually during counters, but Chelsea often had the numbers back to recover the ball quickly both from Southampton’s possession play and attempts to counter.

Second half

The second half started with an early goal for Chelsea from one of the ways in which they had threatened to create during the first half: a long pass forward form Fabregas up to Hazard and Giroud around the box.

Southampton’s response was to move the wing-backs higher up to open the field more with the ball, as well as Hojbjerg and Lemina closer to the front two to support the second ball—both ahead of and behind Chelsea’s backline. In doing so, they could create more pressure around Chelsea’s box, win set pieces to put the ball into the box, and create a chance for Long, but they would also be increasingly vulnerable to counter attacks. They also took more risks defensively, where they became more aggressive and would pressure Chelsea on the ball with one of the central midfielders moving up to join the front two to create a 3v3 against Chelsea’s backline, while the rest of the team would match Chelsea 1v1 over the field.

They then maintained the same style but changed the characteristics of the players with their double substitution, where Redmond and Tadic joined Austin in the front three of a 343. Chelsea also made a change the same time as this, with Bakayoko going on for Willian to switch to a 352 (thus reversing the starting formations of each team).

The next changes saw Pedro going on as a central midfielder in place of Fabregas, before Southampton made their final substitution to open up and switch to a back four with Gabbiadini, Redmond and Tadic in support of Austin to try to score the equalising goal. However, Chelsea would be the team to score from their final change, with Morata scoring via the early cross by Azpilicueta—which has been a rich source of goals all season. The game then opened up completely and saw both teams with chances to score, but unable to take them.

Conclusion

Chelsea were dominant during the first half and created chances to take the lead, but couldn’t finish any of their chances. They started the second half with a goal, which then saw Southampton change their approach to playing more aggressive, matching Chelsea’s numbers defensively, and opening up with the ball. Southampton pressed and created chances to equalise, however, unlike a number of games this season, Chelsea were able to find the second goal through the Azpilicueta-to-Morata ball and extend their lead.