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Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff City, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Eden Hazard’s quality lead Chelsea to overcome Cardiff’s clever tactics

First Half

Chelsea opponents Cardiff had a good start to the match through their direct play, pressuring Chelsea’s short building-up, and slowing the game down to suit the way they play by winning a number of set pieces to create chances from.

Cardiff would play long from former Chelsea Academy goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, on both dead ball (from goal kicks) and open plays. The former would see Cardiff’s front two of Bobby Reid and Danny Ward moving off each other and not staying in the same starting position. That allowed the player not receiving the ball to get a run on the backline to attempt creating space. Behind them, the central midfielders pushed up to compete for the second ball, where they were joined by the winger closest to the area of the first ball.

From open play Etheridge would carry the ball forward until he was pressured. With the backline high on halfway, Olivier Giroud would be offside and out of the game if the first ball was headed back over Cardiff’s backline from a Chelsea player, allowing Cardiff to keep playing inside Chelsea’s half and not allow them to press high with numbers.

In the final third the fullbacks could move forward and overlap. On the right, wide midfielder Victor Camarasa made outside diagonal runs behind Marcos Alonso from the inside when right-back Bruno Ecuele Manga was on the ball. With support from centre mid Joe Ralls on the inside, they could work space to put crosses into the box with the two strikers and left midfielder David Junior Hoilett competing for the ball, or win set pieces.

Cardiff’s initial setup from Chelsea’s goal kicks prevented them from taking the short option, and they were quick to shift across to press. Reid used his power and intensity to shift to the sides to press, while the wingers and central midfielders pushing up joining the pressure could block Chelsea’s forward passes.

But these would mostly result in throw-ins where Chelsea could easily find a spare man and Cardiff would need to drop back to defend. They would again try to block the middle and show Chelsea to the sides, preventing Jorginho from getting into the game. However, that allowed Eden Hazard and Pedro to move centrally and create overloads for Chelsea to keep the ball, break pressure and move forward.

From long throw-ins, Chelsea maintained their general shape with the only adjustment being Giroud dropping back to compete for the ball in the air ahead of the front post.

Cardiff’s main target inside the box was centre-back Sol Bamba, using his strength to push through blockers and ability in the air to compete for the ball. Ward was closely marked by Antonio Rüdiger, while David Luiz was looking to attack the ball in the air. Reid would stay close to the goal and move onside from starting in an offside position to try to find space to compete for the second ball inside the box. Hoilett and Camarasa were also in positions to compete for the ball either side of the penalty spot, leaving the remaining numbers around and outside the box to sustain attacks or prevent counters.

Corners saw in-swinging delivery from both sides (Hoilett from the left), and the delivery was often to the three defenders attacking the ball at the far post. Reid was again on the goal line ready for the second ball to have a tap-in. Ward would run to the front post, and the ball would be put into the position he would leave with a run, so the three defenders could attack.

Giroud was again ahead of the front post to attack the ball. Luiz would switch with Rüdiger to again attempt to attack the ball in the air, leaving the German defender to look for the second ball or make blocks. Midfielders N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho would attempt to block the runs of the three central defenders, but were overpowered. And that would lead to Cardiff having a run on Chelsea’s defenders, finding free headers at the far post.

Free kicks from both sides would also have the same takers to play in-swinging balls behind Chelsea’s backline to the far post. Centre-back Sean Morrison getting the run on Alonso, with Hoilett also beyond them to sustain attacks, allowed him to win the ball at the far post and play it back across for Bamba to score Cardiff’s first goal.

With this play, Bamba was forgotten by the central players since he starts in an offside position. The ball is played to the far-side to shift their attention away from Bamba, which allowed him to run off the back of the Chelsea players. Our back-four mirrored their usual setup and were all wide on the left, leaving Giroud and Jorginho as the players around the penalty area to defend the second ball into the box.

After going behind, Chelsea almost responded immediately with good chances to score, only to be denied by good saves by Etheridge moving quickly off his line to close shots down. Cardiff did well to keep stopping play and prolonging their lead to frustrate Chelsea.

However, through sustained possession and Hazard’s influence, Chelsea were eventually able to score an equaliser. Minutes later, they took the lead before halftime with a first-time lay-off and combination play between Giroud and Hazard.

Second Half

Much of the play in the second half was Chelsea being patient with the ball in midfield as they waited to create a chance to extend the lead. But only on a few occasions were they able to break Cardiff’s backline. Maintaining the score would provide Cardiff a great opportunity to equalise late if Chelsea were unable to extend their lead.

However, the quality Chelsea could bring onto the pitch made a difference. Pedro had a few good chances but couldn’t find the finishing touch to get a goal. He was replaced by Willian, who went on to cleverly win a penalty by drawing Bamba in to make the tackle before moving his body between the defender and the ball, giving Eden Hazard his hat-trick. Then, he finished off Chelsea’s scoreline by himself with a thunderous effort from long range.

Conclusion

Cardiff’s good start to the match saw them winning a number of set pieces, from which they caused problems and took the lead in the match. Chelsea’s quick response and the quality of the combinations between Hazard and Giroud saw them take the lead before halftime. After that, Chelsea became a little complacent in the second half until winning the penalty and extending their lead beyond Cardiff’s reach. 4-1, Blues.