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Manchester United 4-0 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s heavy defeat to start the new season

First half

Chelsea made the better start to the match through their progressions and attacks from the right wing, before United began to find space during broken moments to attack and utilise their speed upfront.

Chelsea made progress on the right by drawing United’s front four towards the ball in the middle or on the left, which would draw Rashford inside and open up the space for Azpilicueta to run off the back of him, to receive the ball and bypass United’s frontline — the distance for Shaw to close down the ball was either too far, or he was pinned back by Pedro.

As Chelsea advanced on the wings behind United’s front four, United’s two central midfielders would shift side-to-side to support the fullbacks and apply pressure on the ball, along with cover from the central defenders when the fullbacks were pushed up high to close down the ball. Chelsea had good success in these moments, drawing United forward (especially their backline) and opening up spaces behind on the wings to exploit.

An early example of Chelsea progressing through pressure saw United with Pogba higher up to cover Kovacic (Martial pressing Kepa), and Rashford on the inside to pressure Christensen — leaving Azpilicueta free. Shaw pushed up to pressure Azpilicueta and left Pedro for Maguire as United’s backline shifted over, while Mount moved inside to offer to receive the ball.

Mount then found Pedro (dropping towards the ball to draw Maguire further forward) first-time before making a run forward, while Pedro played the ball into Abraham early to create the situation for the striker to return the ball to Mount running behind into space on the wing.

Chelsea advanced into the final third and created a number of opportunities to score, but, like last season, didn’t take advantage of these moments.

After Chelsea’s good start, the game became transitional (a state that suits United’s physical characteristics) and spaces began to open up for United to attack — which would see them take the lead. During this period, Chelsea were pushed back deep inside their own half much more often than during the early stages, and couldn’t hold on to the ball for long enough to open up as a team and maintain possession. Meanwhile, United’s higher position would provide them with close distances to press as a team and force Chelsea into mistakes or clearances from the back.

During the final 15 minutes of the half, Chelsea regained possession and opened up as a team to regain the control they had during the opening stages. Like in the first half they again had chances to create and score from the fullbacks moving forward and recovering the ball high from pressing to launch short counter-attacks. But, again, they didn’t take advantage of these chances.

Second half

Chelsea continued to have possession and open up during the second half, but United controlled the wings better defensively by dropping the wide men back to allow Chelsea’s full backs to receive the ball ahead of them (in deeper positions) rather than running off the back of them and breaking their front line of pressure.

Chelsea would still move to the final third with the ball, but, with United much more organised and compact defensively, they didn’t create the same chances that they had missed during the first half.

Additionally, having established the lead, United could play with patience defensively and wait for opportunities to win the ball and break at speed from deep. Rashford had a major impact from this point, where he broke forward with the ball to set up the situation for United to extend their lead to two, before his perfectly timed run was found by Pogba to score United’s third goal shortly after.

The remainder of the game was very open and transitional, which would again provide United opportunities to counter, and bring more speed on to the pitch. Daniel James gave them even more of a threat to attack the spaces, and would go on to score their fourth.


Chelsea had the better start to the match through their possession and advancing fullbacks, but failed to capitalise upon the chances they created. United took advantage of the majority of the moments where they could counter attack and exploit spaces or speed advantages over Chelsea’s midfielders and defenders, where the two successive goals in the second half took the game away from Chelsea.

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