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PAOK 0-1 Chelsea, Europa League: Tactical Analysis

Chelsea start well but are unable to add to the lead

First half

Chelsea had a good start to the game by scoring early, before having a high amount of possession and chances, but without being able to convert them to stretch their lead.

PAOK started the game aggressively. They won the ball from Chelsea’s long kick off to the left (Alonso moving up to win the ball in the air and Willian running on the outside of him for the second ball) and quickly attacked the space left by Alonso down the wing. They pressed in numbers and aggressively to the sides inside Chelsea’s half, but Chelsea managed to find the spare man and force them to retreat back to defend from midfield.

With the ball, PAOK didn’t have any good options to play long — the inconsistent distribution by Paschalakis didn’t help either. When they could play with the ball in their half and move up the wings, they did have some opportunities moving forward through wide runs behind Alonso from the front two, but their passing was inconsistent. Léo Jabá was their main offensive threat, with good physical qualities and dribbling ability to move the ball past Alonso and run behind. He could also draw fouls and win set pieces when isolated, giving them opportunities to put numbers into the box, which they wouldn’t have had otherwise just through their possession play. However, these attacks were limited due to Chelsea’s high pressing, often forcing mistakes or recovering the ball in midfield and keeping PAOK from having the ball in areas from where they could create.

PAOK’s defence in midfield at that point had been to block the passes to Jorginho by keeping the front two close to him, while looking to push up and press forward passes made to the wings. As the ball moved to the sides, Shakhov would drop back to mark Jorginho and to prevent him from being found this way.

For the first goal, however, Chelsea were able to find Jorginho in midfield through Rüdiger playing a forward pass to Morata (dropping to receive the ball to feet), before playing a first-time pass back to Jorginho. From there, Jorginho played another first-time pass to the left, where Barkley had moved behind PAOK’s midfield line — leaving Vieirinha 2v1 against the midfielder and Willian.

Vieirinha decided to leave Willian and try to surprise Barkley with quick and early pressure, but the midfielder’s first touch easily took him past the attempted pressure. With Pedro’s wide position keeping Tosca occupied, PAOK were now left with a broken and stretched backline, unable to recover back quickly enough to prevent Chelsea entering their box and scoring.

Chelsea continued to find forward passes from midfield, often finding Jorginho in space to play forward, and would quickly create chances from counters and any time PAOK attempted to press high in numbers and failed.

Rüdiger could play long ground passes to Zappacosta advancing and getting behind El Kaddouri to move into crossing positions, long diagonal passes to Alonso high on the left (Alonso looking for Willian or Barkley making runs behind Vieirinha), and long passes into the box for Morata running around the back of the defenders.

Willian and Pedro moving centrally to receive the ball allowed them to play quick combinations or dribble with the ball to draw pressure and open space for the next pass (especially during counters) and they could create opportunities on the wings.

More bounce-passes from Barkley and Kante would get the ball to Jorginho, where he could play long passes behind PAOK’s backline for Morata. Christensen and Rüdiger splitting PAOK’s front two later on in the half, with Christensen carrying the ball forward on the outside, would again open the pass on the inside to Jorginho in space, before PAOK began to drop back deeper into their own half to defend. Chelsea created a number of chances, but couldn’t extend their lead.

Photo by SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

Second half

Chelsea continued with their high amounts of possession to progress with the ball to creation areas, high pressing to win the ball to start attacks inside PAOK’s half, and opportunities from set pieces, but they were once again unable to extend their lead.

PAOK were first to make a change with Warda replacing Pelkas. He would go on to play on the left wing (El Kaddouri moving inside to play in the front two) and bring energy to the game. PAOK would also begin to play on the front foot and try to press Chelsea high, with their front four pressing high and the central midfielders high in close support behind them to mark Chelsea’s midfield options. Their final two changes would also provide useful qualities to try to score an equaliser, with Prijovic going on as striker and offering them a physical presence inside the box for crosses (as well as the capacity to hold onto the ball as a target man approaching the box) and Biseswar providing good technical and dribbling quality from the left wing.

As a consequence of PAOK’s change in approach, Chelsea’s attacks were now much more direct since PAOK’s midfield were much higher inside Chelsea’s half — leaving space to play into, rather than needing to break down an organised block. Fabregas could make use of this space through long passes after going on for Jorginho, and Chelsea created quick chances to score without being able to kill the game.


Chelsea had good control of the game for the most part, scoring early on, having solutions to break down PAOK’s defence and created a number of chances to extend their lead. This pattern continued until halfway through the second half, where PAOK’s changes saw them switch to play aggressively and press high, with belief to score the equaliser. However, despite having to deal with the pressure from a late free kick for PAOK, the one goal was enough for Chelsea to win this game — and they really should have killed the game earlier on.

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