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Chelsea 1-1 Wolves, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s latest disappointing, but this time tactically intriguing 1-1 draw.

First half

Chelsea maintained possession, played high up the pitch and prevented Wolves from creating counter attacking opportunities in the first half, but without being able to break down Wolves’ deep defence to create chances to take the lead.

Wolves looked to push up in the middle when Chelsea had the ball in midfield, anticipating the square passes across to the other central defender, in order to isolate the man on the ball and recover it in positions to counter. Chelsea avoided many of these situations and insead, David Luiz looked for the longer passes out to Azpilicueta advancing on the far side.

Unlike in the recent matches, when Chelsea’s full backs could take advantage of these situations by losing their man (opposition winger remaining higher up or drawn inside), Wolves’ back five ensured that they maintained control by having the man back in a deep position early, which prevented Chelsea from using the width to create overloads and get behind the opponent’s backline.

Instead, Chelsea would need to create chances from the wingers moving inside between the lines, receiving long ground passes from David Luiz, before combining with Higuain. The usual route here was Pedro dropping to receive the ball, which would draw Boly out of Wolves’ backline to pressure him. From there, Pedro would play the pass inside which would then allow Hazard to cross over from the left to the right in order to run into the space vacated by Boly to create an opportunity (space between Coady and Doherty). However, Wolves’ backline would drop enough for Hazard to not be in a shooting position after receiving the ball back inside the box.

The other options for Chelsea to create came from set pieces and early balls into the box. Although Wolves didn’t concede many fouls, Chelsea had a number of corners from which they created very little. Early balls into the box for Pedro and Higuain created some good opportunities, as well as one moment on the second ball for Hazard following up inside the box, but no goals.

Chelsea 1-1 Wolves xG Timing Chart
Understat

Second half

In the second half, Wolves finally broke through with a counter — using combinations between their front two to take the lead. Up until that point, Chelsea’s central defenders had pushed up well and aggressively to stop counters in midfield, or fouls would be used to stop the attacks.

Chelsea continued with possession, won a number of set pieces, with similar results as in the first half — not only did they create few chances for Chelsea, but also provided counter-attacking opportunities for Wolves.

Loftus-Cheek was Chelsea’s first change, which gave Chelsea another player to carry the ball past opponents, draw players in and win free kicks. This would open up more opportunities for long shots from switches to the right after he would carry the ball, with Pedro having one shot. However, this option to create didn’t last long as soon after his chance, Pedro was replaced by Hudson-Odoi, who he would remain wide on the right to create crosses — ball falling to Azpilicueta in these situations instead.

Chelsea’s final change was to switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Jorginho being replaced by Willian, Hazard moving centrally and both Kante and Loftus-Cheek as the deep midfielders. This allowed Hazard to support whichever wing the ball was on, in order to create chances from wide areas (two wingers and the fullback combining, rather than one of the central midfielders), gave Loftus-Cheek opportunities to join the box from deep for crosses, and kept Kante back in a deep position behind the ball to recover it when Wolves attempted to counter.

After countless corners played into the box without success (just one opportunity for Higuain) Chelsea finally switched to playing a quick and short corner in stoppage time, which gave Hazard the opportunity on the edge of the box, to shift the ball and shoot to score the equaliser.

Conclusion

Wolves maintained good control defensively throughout the match, prevented Chelsea from getting behind their backline, flooded central areas, and cleared Chelsea’s set pieces when the ball was put into the box. Chelsea stopped all but one of the counter-attacking opportunities, which would see Wolves take the lead, and force Chelsea into changes, including a late switch to a 4-2-3-1, which see Hazard supporting Higuain in the center and Willian and Hudson-Odoi on both sides, before finding space on the edge of the box to score a late equaliser.