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Malmö FF 1-2 Chelsea, Europa League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s much needed away win

First half

Malmö made an aggressive start to the match to try to take an early lead and bring the crowd into the game. They pressured in numbers, with the ball-side wing-back pushing up high to press Chelsea’s fullback, leaving the winger behind, while the front two and midfield three would shift over to the side of the ball as well. If Chelsea established possession in midfield, Malmö dropped back to a 5-3-2.

With the ball, Chelsea kept their wingers wide and waited to make combinations or movements in coordination with each other, while the central midfielders moved deep, to the sides, and forward. This left Giroud isolated in the middle and up against three defenders — Chelsea would need to find movements from the wingers or wide central midfielders towards the box and central areas to support Giroud and play off him in order to get the ball inside Malmö’s defensive block.

With deep numbers against few attacking players, the game saw a lot of Chelsea possession outside Malmö’s defensive block, with the midfielders dropping deep (alongside the defenders), moving the ball side-to-side, holding on to the ball, and waiting for runners going behind.

The key to Chelsea’s chance creation was getting behind Malmo’s backline, either from midfield runners breaking into the box (which lead to Barkley’s goal), or getting to the byline and playing low crosses into Giroud positioned at the near post (which lead to his goal).

Malmö, on the other hand, where playing for broken moments where they could press and recover the ball high and counter or look to create from set pieces. In particular, corners presented good opportunities, where they had players in space on the edge of the box to sustain attacks and attempt long shots on goal — Chelsea’s deep zonal defending not shifting up quickly enough to close down the edge of the box.

Malmö continued pressing high throughout the half, but Chelsea were able to maintain possession, work the ball through their midfielders or draw fouls to push Malmö back to their own half. Chelsea created a few opportunities with Malmö stretched in the final third, after playing through the high press, but failed to take advantage of these opportunities to create chances or score.

Second half

Malmö continued to aggressively press high in the second half, but Chelsea maintained possession of the ball and finally took advantage of breaking through the high press to create and score their second goal of the game.

Sustaining the same pressure for the whole game was always going to be difficult for the home side, but especially after having done so for long periods in the first-half and still going two goals behind. As Malmö dropped deeper and deeper as the half wore on, Chelsea, as a result, could open up and continue to create opportunities in the final third to extend their lead ... but without being able to convert these opportunities to actually extend their lead.

While dropping back allowed Chelsea to open up and create, it did also open up more spaces for Malmö to counter when they were able to win the ball and quickly attack in numbers. Malmö had created counter-attacking opportunities earlier in the game, too, but then Chelsea had numbers back to defend them (fullbacks deep). But at this point of the match, with fullbacks higher up to create, Malmö’s front two and supporting midfielders ake took advantage and pulled back a goal going into the second leg.

Conclusion

Chelsea coped well with Malmö’s aggressive start to the game, and didn’t concede what could’ve been a catastrophic early goal. Had Malmö scored, they could’ve built momentum and continued Chelsea’s recent run of very poor away form. From midfield, Chelsea needed movements in the middle to support Giroud and get into the box, especially with the wingers remaining wide, and Barkley took advantage of this to score and have another chance in the second half. Malmö continued to press high in the second half, but Chelsea continued to break through their pressure and took advantage of one of these opportunities to extend their lead. For the remained of the match, Malmö dropped back and allowed Chelsea to open up and move the fullbacks higher up, which allowed Chelsea to create chances to extend their lead, but also left fewer players back to defend counters, which Malmö took advantage of to reduce Chelsea’s lead going into the second leg.