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Chelsea 4-4 Ajax, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down the madness

First half

A fast start saw Ajax take the lead and Chelsea instantly respond to win a penalty and equalise.

Chelsea remained very aggressive and intense, using a lot of energy to press high against Ajax’s possession in their own half. However, whenever Chelsea would win the ball through pressing, they were unable to either hold on to it or create a chance from a counter attack.

Kovacic regularly broke through Ajax’s pressure on the ball from midfield — where both sitting midfielders pushing up to Kovacic and Mount would leave spaces behind to exploit — and created chances in the final third from Chelsea’s possession, including for Abraham’s offside goal.

When Ajax reached the final third with the ball, they attacked with numbers (Ziyech overloading the wing, Van de Beek joining box), and when Chelsea’s energy levels dropped off after their fast start, Ajax took the lead again by creating a similar situation to their offside goal from the previous meeting — Ziyech moving inside onto his left foot from the right would see him find Promes running off the back of Azpilicueta at the far post to finish.

One notable feature of the first half were the many fouls, from both teams: Chelsea when Ajax attacked the wings, and Ajax when when Chelsea broke through in midfield. Ajax would profit from winning another wide free kick to extend their lead before halftime, while both of Ajax’s central defenders picking up yellow cards would have an impact on the game during the second half.

Second half

Chelsea’s change at halftime saw James going on to play as right back and Azpilicueta moving over to left back. James at right back provided more early crosses into the box for Chelsea to attack (along with scoring from a corner), while from left back Azpilicueta was joining the box regularly and went on to score (almost twice) from doing so.

Chelsea again started the half aggressively and, unlike in the first half, when they pressed and recovered the ball, they were able to both keep it and create chances from it.

However, despite Chelsea’s chances and attacks, it would be Ajax scoring first trough Ziyech again joining the right to collect the ball, before finding Van de Beek inside the box to extend Ajax’s lead.

Azpilicueta’s touch at the far post pulled a goal back for Chelsea (Pulisic now playing behind Abraham and Chelsea in a 4-2-3-1), but the real turning point in the match came later, when Chelsea won a penalty (converted by Jorginho) and both of Ajax’s central defenders were sent off for second yellows.

Ajax sacrificed the wings to install Schuurs and Martinez (dropping back from midfield) as the new central defenders, with Alvarez playing ahead of them, and Tadic ahead of Promes and Van de Beek in midfield (4-3-1). When dropping back to defend deep, Tadic joined the midfielders, leaving Chelsea’s defenders and midfielders time and space on the ball to play forward and find switches to the wings (1-v-1 situations) to then cross the ball into the box.

Chelsea quickly found the equaliser from a corner, and had a further goal ruled out, before becoming even more attacking in the final minutes of the game, with Jorginho holding midfield on his own, while Pulisic played behind both Abraham and Batshuayi as strikers (Batshuayi replacing Kovacic). Chelsea created a number of chances, but ran out of time to find the winner.

Conclusion

An incredible game.