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Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Another tale of two halves

First half

Chelsea had difficulties during the opening stages of the match, where United were able to press high, recover the ball, and create chances from counters and set pieces.

United pressed high and into the corners, and would then recover the ball in midfield and start attacks. Chelsea were only able to break the pressure through Hazard receiving the ball to either combine or dribble, before drawing fouls or finding switches to Azpilicueta and Willian.

When United had the ball, Chelsea found it difficult to press and close the distances, which allowed Pogba to use his physical and technical qualities to hold onto the ball and draw fouls and keep pushing Chelsea back to defend deep inside their own half. Additionally, without being able to close the distances (leaving time and space on the ball) and the speed of United’s front two, long passes behind Chelsea’s backline into space would present United with opportunities. Quick combinations on the left would continue in the final third, through one which United took the early lead.

Following the goal, Chelsea began to improve with the ball and were thus able to play higher up. United set up with a diamond, with the strikers dropping back to cover Chelsea’s fullbacks when defending deep positions, which allowed Chelsea to use the fullbacks (moving forward to receive in space) when they broke through United’s initial high pressure. In doing so, Chelsea could move up and push United back to defend deep, from where Chelsea could create chances on the left and recover the ball with closer distances to press.

Although playing higher up with the ball provided Chelsea with more success, the threat of United’s counters in wide areas were always present, and when they could get through with the ball into space they would win set pieces and create opportunities. By winning set pieces, United could then go on to once again sustain their high positions from earlier on in the half until Chelsea found a way through with the ball again — offsides pegging Chelsea back on a few occasions.

However, despite United’s better start to the match, Chelsea and Alonso were able to take advantage of a mistake at the end of the half to equalise and go into the break level.

Second half

United were unable to press high with the same intensity as they had in the first half, and as a consequence the game became more possession based, which suited Chelsea more.

Chelsea could now play with possession and recover the ball high when they lost it — or use fouls to stop counters — while Hazard was able to have a greater influence on the game in the final third.

Injuries forced a few changes for both teams and the delays slowed the game down a little, until the final stages of the match when it opened up again. McTominay replacing Mata (Pogba moving up to the top of the diamond) brought more energy and intensity to United’s midfield, while Loftus-Cheek replacing Kovacic provided Chelsea with a long option in the air use when building from the back and United managed to close the distances and press high.

Both United and Chelsea had late chances, through a corner (Rojo’s header) and Higuain’s movement and chance inside the box, but neither were able to capitalise.

Conclusion

United made a better start to the match, using aggressive and physical pressing to keep Chelsea pushed back in their own half, and taking advantage of space behind Chelsea’s backline when they were pushed higher up. Having taken the early lead, United had chances to extend it, but without doing so, Chelsea grew into the game and established possession later on in the half, going on to take advantage of a mistake to equalise before halftime. The second half saw United unable to play with the same intensity to press high, which allowed Chelsea to take possession forward and create opportunities. However, neither team was able to take their chances late on in the game to win all three points.