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Valencia 2-2 Chelsea, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Wednesday’s chance-a-minute draw at the Mestalla

First half

Chelsea made a good start to the game. Their pressure on Valencia’s buildup play, stopping the ball from getting to the central midfielders, forced Valencia to clear the ball long and provide Chelsea with possession to start attacks. Valencia, on the other hand, were unable to cause such problems from high pressure, and instead would drop back to defend deep with numbers inside their own half and own box.

Chelsea would advance up the wings with Willian and Pulisic moving inside to receive and hold the ball between lines, while wide central midfielders or fullbacks would progress high up in the space vacated on the wings. Chelsea created a number of chances from early crosses by James and combining centrally to work the ball into the box, but were unable to take the lead.

Valencia came into the game only in the moments when they could get Parejo on the ball to start their attacks, either through keeping the ball against Chelsea’s pressure or winning free kicks to push Chelsea back. With Parejo on the ball, Valencia could move forward with the ball and break through Chelsea’s lines, where they created chances that should have resulted in them taking the lead.

Valencia began to play direct from goal kicks later on in the half, where the outfielders would be in positions to compete for the second ball high up. Following an excellent save by Cillessen, Valencia would profit from this direct play by winning the ball high up on the wing and creating problems for Chelsea’s backline with a quick attack on the right. Once again, the left footed delivery from the right caused Chelsea problems inside the box, as Rodrigo shifted ball onto his left, with Zouma out wide pressuring him, and found Soler for the finish.

A quick response to draw level saw Kovačić score his first goal for the club, then miss another chance to take the lead — finding space on the outside as he had during the early stages of the game — and the game would go into the break level at 1-1.

Second half

After an aggressive start to the half by Valencia, where they pressed high and kept a high block inside Chelsea’s half, Chelsea countered from a defensive corner to move into Valencia’s half, win a corner, and take the lead from it.

Valencia continued to control the game after going behind, as Chelsea were unable to force long clearances from the back through their high pressing. With Valencia now moving forward with the ball as a team, they could once again create problems through long passes by Parejo at Chelsea’s backline — dealing with first and second ball continues to be a problem.

Chelsea, on the other hand, were very aggressive when they recovered the ball to try to score immediately, rather than to regain the control they had during the first half — moving forward as a team into the final third and sustaining their high position. This would see Valencia easily moving forward and immediately having chances at the other end whenever Chelsea lost the ball.

Valencia’s initial changes saw Wass move to right back, Rodrigo out to the right, Torres into central midfield (later replaced by Coquelin), and Gameiro on for Costa as striker. Chelsea’s changes were to switch to a 3-4-3 with Emerson on for Jorginho, which would allow for a fifth man in the backline when defending, but also see the team become split between the frontline and the backline when attempting to press and during attacks — Valencia’s central midfielders still able to receive the ball and move the team forward. Valencia would add to their midfield control and numbers inside the box during attacks with a further change to a 4-3-3 with the introduction of Lee (frontline narrow to attack the box and fullbacks high), before going on to find the equaliser through Wass overlapping on the right.

The final stages of the match were really open and end-to-end for both sides, but with neither team able to find the goal to win the match.

Conclusion

Chelsea controlled most of the first half, as Valencia couldn’t get their central midfielders on the ball to move forward as a team or create chances, while Chelsea could. But Chelsea didn’t take advantage of their chances and Valencia would go on to create problems from long passes at the Chelsea backline, missing chances of their own before taking the lead. Chelsea responded quickly to regain control, equalise and have another chance to take the lead before going into the break level.

Valencia made the better start to the second half, but it would be Chelsea taking the lead during this period through a corner. Valencia continued to control the game following the goal, moving forward as a team through the central midfielders and continuing to cause problems for Chelsea’s backline through direct play. Chelsea’s substitutions made them more split as a team, while Valencia could attack and defend with numbers. They eventually found an equaliser, and could’ve even won before the game during the open and end-to-end final stages.