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Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s latest loss, this time at home to Manchester United

First half

Chelsea broke through United’s attempts to press high, controlled many of their counter attacking opportunities, and had opportunities to score, but United maintained defensive organisation around their box and were clinical in the final third to go into the break with a two-goal lead.

United shifted their front three to the sides and pushed up their midfielders to try to pressure Chelsea into the corners and into tight spaces, where they would be able to recover the ball, but Chelsea broke this and advanced up to midfield by switching the ball from fullback to fullback.

As Chelsea moved up, they would look for Hazard, moving inside, to create — United of course pressured him with aggression, intensity and numbers, where he drew a number of fouls as he carried the ball. This was similar to the previous games between the two teams, but Chelsea did not get the ball to Hazard as often as they had before, to really cause problems for United’s defenders on yellow cards.

In their defensive third, United covered the wings well with their midfielders shifting over to cover the fullbacks (while, notably, keeping the central defenders inside the box organised and ready to stop crosses), which prevented Chelsea from getting behind them from the wings. The only opportunities Chelsea created from their possession were from Hazard moving inside and combining to have shots from the edge of the box, and two early passes played into the box for Higuain — but no goals.

United’s speed on counters was a prevalent threat, but Chelsea controlled this well during the first half. United would instead create their chances from possession attacks, where they could find passes to the front two (Rashford and Lukaku) and Mata between lines to advance their position up to the final third, before looking to create from the wings with numbers.

It would be two similar goals at the end of the half which would give United the lead, where United’s far-side central midfielder joined the box and score headers at the far post.

Second half

For the second half, United defended deep for the majority of the time, with both Rashford and Lukaku dropping back on the wings to provide defensive support, along with Mata just ahead of the central midfielders. Upon winning the ball they would open up quickly to break, where Rashford and Pogba caused a lot of problems when carrying the ball forward.

Chelsea won many set pieces without creating anything from them, and a high amount of these would instead become good counter attacking platforms for Rashford to carry the ball forward past Chelsea’s defenders.

With Willian, on for Pedro, remaining wide on the right, Hazard would begin to leave his wing and try to overload on the right, as well as making more runs behind United’s defence from the middle. Barkley for Kovacic didn’t make the same difference from set pieces as it had in the previous meeting, while the final change of Zappacosta for Azpilicueta gave the option of being able to get behind United’s defence (using his speed), but again the same changes without actually making a difference in the final third — for example, Giroud and Higuain together would have provided more presence inside the box for crosses, especially given the number of set pieces Chelsea were winning.

Instead, Chelsea would continue with a high amount of ball possession in the final third, putting the ball into the box with few attackers and a high amount of United defenders, and winning a number of corners without being able to create chances to score.


In the first half, Chelsea broke through United’s pressing, prevented their counters, and had opportunities to score, but, once again, didn’t take advantage. On the other hand, United were clinical in the final third, with runners from midfield finding spaces inside the box to take a two-goal lead before halftime. In the second half United defended deeper for longer periods with the entire team back, where Chelsea were only able to win corners, but little else, when playing into the box. United had some success with counters from defensive corners, and had some opportunities from them to extend their lead, but their deep defending remained focused and organised to keep Chelsea from breaking them down.

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