Huddersfield’s defensive approach to the game caused Chelsea a lot of frustration and made breaking them down to create chances very difficult. Their deep defending in numbers was aggressive and physical, but also intelligent as they intercepted the ball on a number of occasions.
Chelsea’s attempted to break down Huddersfield’s deep block via three primary approaches:
- looking for crosses into the box (both early and from wide)
- attempting combinations centrally
- winning set pieces
Azpilicueta maintained a wide and high position on the right to keep himself open to receive the ball and to then look to play forward, but Huddersfield were often able to shift over quickly to cover him. Huddersfield’s front two were narrow and close to their midfield three, but one of them would often be ready to shift out to pressure Azpilicueta to prevent his early crosses, while Billing and Lowe could also move up to close him down or intercept the pass.
Fabregas and Willian were also on the right to support from the inside and Fabregas managed to find himself in space and facing play to play forward into the box, but couldn’t find Morata. Willian couldn’t dribble on the inside with his first touch, and was often forced outside where the ball would ultimately end up going backwards. Zappacosta could take Lowe on by using his speed to get outside of him and attempt to cross, which would often win corners. These corners provided some of Chelsea’s best opportunities to score, since when they were making crosses into the box they would only have Alonso and Morata to attack the ball in the air, while during corners they had all of their best players in the air to attack the ball and keep it alive inside the box.
Alonso would often leave the wing on the left to join the box, providing an opportunity for Pedro or Willian (after rotating) to move wide and look to beat defenders to put the ball into the box, but they would often find themselves receiving the ball with back to play and pressure from behind to prevent the direct 1v1 situation.
Central combinations and passes both faced a high amount of physical and aggressive pressure from Huddersfield’s midfielders and backline, where Chelsea’s front three were outnumbered, had a tough time holding the ball under the pressure, and made errors with the weight of their combinations between each other as they tried to increase the speed of their play to break down the defence. Isolation inside the box was even more apparent when Willian and Pedro moved wide and deep to collect the ball out of pressure to attempt to create.
Chelsea without the ball
Chelsea’s reaction to losing the ball was strong and aggressive, where they could regain the ball consistently and maintain their high position for prolonged periods. Since all of Huddersfield’s players were back deep they struggled for outlets and the opportunity to open up when they won the ball back, but that wasn’t so bad since when they lost the ball, they would all be back in position already to continue to deal with Chelsea’s attacks.
Huddersfield did have some success with the ball both from open play and from counters, which they would use to their advantage. They could use the strikers to run up and behind on the wings to get behind Chelsea’s backline, push Chelsea back and attempt to win free kicks or throw-ins. Even when the free kick or throw-in was awarded to Chelsea (or during Chelsea’s goal kicks), Huddersfield would use these moments as opportunities to push up and try to defend from midfield or apply pressure inside Chelsea’s half.
From Huddersfield’s goal kicks, Depoitre would move wide to receive the ball in the air, while their three midfielders were on the inside and in support to compete for the second ball if it were to go there. On the wing (outside Depoitre for the flick on behind) Van La Parra could run behind to again try to get the ball in the corner and use that as a platform from which to attack, win set pieces, and play higher up.
In the opening stages of the second half, Huddersfield played more aggressively and higher up. This allowed them to recover the ball higher up and disturb Chelsea’s possession before they reached Huddersfield’s half, but it would also give Chelsea the opportunity to attack fewer numbers inside Huddersfield’s half when they won the ball and beat the first line of pressure. However, it would be Huddersfield to benefit from taking this risk — so when Willian broke quickly into Huddersfield’s half with the ball, but lost it, leaving Chelsea open, Mooy could find the powerful Depoitre running behind the defence to score.
Chelsea’s reaction was to bring on both Giroud and Hazard for Pedro and Zappacosta, switch to a 424/442 from the traditional 343. Azpilicueta would remain high and wide from right back, allowing Willian to move inside or support him from behind; Alonso would leave the left wing to move inside the box and join the strikers, giving them the another extra option in the air; Hazard was free to roam and create; and the two central defenders and central midfielders were left to build play and recover the ball from counters or long clearances.
Through the change, Chelsea found lots of space on the wings — with Alonso joining the frontline, they would occupy Huddersfield’s back five with the ball on the left, before quickly switching to Azpilicueta on the right, with space and time to receive and cross the ball into the box from the right — which would see Chelsea find the equaliser.
Hadergjonaj coming saw Huddersfield switch to match Chelsea defensively, moving to a back four with Pritchard and Hadergjonaj dropping back from the wings to provide extra support (almost a back six). Chelsea continued to push high and create chances through set pieces, attempt to play on the second ball from Giroud, and combine centrally with Hazard, but they couldn’t break Huddersfield’s defence for a second time.
Huddersfield’s defensive approach paid off by restricting Chelsea to few chances, especially in open play, and they were able to push up inside Chelsea’s half enough to not have to consistently deal with pressure inside their box. Chelsea missed opportunities from set pieces in the first half, before Huddersfield’s aggressive start to the second half saw them take the lead. Chelsea’s change allowed them to find an advantage on the frontline in order to put crosses into the box, where they equalised, before Huddersfield switched to match them. Chelsea had further chances from set pieces to win the game, but good saves and defending denied them a winning goal.