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Ajax 0-1 Chelsea, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

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Similar approach from both sides, decided in one moment of quality

First half

An aggressive half for both sides, pressing high and keeping distances close to the opposition without the ball, where the difference in approach would come from the progression forward with the ball.

Ajax played forward on the wings (usually their right), with ground passes and combinations to advance through Chelsea’s pressure and move forward as a team into the final third — where they could then attempt to create chances and sustain a high position. When they obtained their position in the final third, their distances were close and this allowed them to pressure and recover the ball in groups. This kept Chelsea deep inside their own half and did not allow them to open up their block quickly enough to move forward or keep the ball.

Chelsea were more aggressive in their approach, playing earlier into their frontline (knowing they could hold on to the ball under tight pressure) before switching the ball wide and creating an opportunities to attack the box quickly. Chelsea’s switches from these positions often found Hudson-Odoi on the outside, where he could take the ball forward to Ajax’s box, but both Dest and the covering central defenders/midfielders prevented Hudson-Odoi from moving inside onto his right foot with the ball, stopping many of Chelsea’s opportunities to create from these situations.

Both sides recovered the ball high through their pressing and had opportunities to counter from inside the opponents half, but neither were able to take advantage of these situations and the game went into the break 0-0.

Second half

The intensity of the game was lower in the second half, with more possession moments from midfield for both sides, but still with similar patterns to the first half. Chelsea’s changes, once again, made a strong impact in the game, where Pulisic and Batshuayi linked up well to create chances and eventually score the winner later on.

Where Hudson-Odoi was having difficulties moving inside onto his right foot when Chelsea had attacks on the left in the first half, Pulisic found success. Moving inside he would combine with Batshuayi as a target man to receive the return pass and shoot on goal from the edge of the box, or he would carry the ball inside after using the overlap of Alonso on the outside to create a 1-v-1 against Alvarez (covering on the inside) and take the ball into another shooting position, resulting in the deflected shot inside the box for Batshuayi’s chance. Finally, taking the ball forward down the line on the outside (while Alonso underlapped into the box) and playing a low cross back across into the box created the goal for Batshuayi.

Following the goal, during the final stages of the match, Chelsea held on to the ball well with numbers on the left wing, running the clock down, and even creating some opportunities to extend their lead and seeing out the result.

Conclusion

A very aggressive and intense first half saw both teams try to press high and recover the ball to set up opportunities to attack. Chelsea were more aggressive with their approach to play earlier to the frontline and create quick chances to attack the box (missing a number of opportunities), while Ajax took the ball forward as a team and tried to sustain a high position before attacking the box. In the second half, Chelsea’s changes made a difference in the final third and allowed them to finally take advantage of the situations they were creating to take the lead late on and win the game.