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Chelsea 0-1 Valencia, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s disappointing return to Champions League football

First half

Chelsea had difficulties breaking Valencia down during the first half. Valencia set up with a deep 4-4-2 and when defending from midfield they would drop the two strikers off Chelsea’s back three and position them around the central midfielders, which would leave Chelsea’s back three with the ball and a significant numerical disadvantage as they moved the ball forward.

The solutions Chelsea found with the ball to break down Valencia’s deep block revolved around Willian’s individual quality to receive the ball under pressure, combine between lines, dribble past players, and draw defenders towards him (on the ball and through movements) to create space for Azpilicueta to overlap and cross the ball into the box on the right. Pedro provided another option to receive the ball between lines and combine, after replacing Mount early on during the first half, but Chelsea would again be playing the ball into areas with many defenders. Like with Azpilicueta on the right, there were opportunities for Chelsea to get Alonso behind Valencia’s backline on the left, but this would, again, only create opportunities where they were crossing the ball into the box against a number of Valencia defenders.

Without a great deal of pressure on Chelsea’s back three (bar moments where Valencia had triggers to close down the distances and push Chelsea back into their own half), there were opportunities for the backline to move forward with the ball and create spaces for the attacking players, which Tomori took advantage of on one occasion, but they would often instead play passes up the line to the wing-backs which would be easily pressured, and would just results in the ball circulated back across the backline to the other side.

Upon winning the ball, Valencia’s front two made good use of movement to run behind or find spaces to receive the ball (particularly Rodrigo), while their fullbacks moved forward quickly. Rodrigo is quick on the ball when he has space to play and carry the ball forward, drawing defenders to himself before playing passes and making movements to receive a return — he would move to the right as Coquelin tucked inside to join the central midfielders with the ball. Parejo was Valencia’s other creative option with his passing in the final third, playing quick and first time combinations and finding passes behind Chelsea’s backline for runners. However, when Valencia were playing with the ball from midfield and had possession, Chelsea were able to close down the distances towards their central midfielders and central defenders to recover the ball and create a number of counter attacking opportunities — especially dangerous with Valencia’s fullbacks high and wide.

Second half

Valencia maintained the ball in midfield and sustained their position higher up the pitch during the second half, which kept Chelsea pinned back defending inside their own half during the opening stages.

Since Valencia were playing higher up, they had closer distances to press and recover when they lost the ball, and were able to sustain their position — but not create many chances from their possession. This would continue until Chelsea made a change to bring Giroud on for Zouma, with Valencia taking the lead shortly after from a set play.

Chelsea’s change saw them move Azpilicueta back into position on the right edge of the back three, with Pedro moving to right wing-back, and Willian playing behind a front two of Abraham and Giroud in a 3-4-1-2. The change, along with now being a goal behind, changed Chelsea’s characteristics with the ball and provided them with a more aggressive and direct approach. Azpilicueta would often drive forward with the ball and play early passes into the feet of Giroud for lay-offs, while moving the ball forward on the right would find Pedro in positions where he could take on defenders and cross the ball into the box with two strikers to aim for. Willian had freedom to move to either wing to support play and create overloads, while the two strikes would also offer the option to play early long passes up to them in the box, with their backs to goal.

Chelsea maintained good pressure around Valencia’s box during the final stages in their attempts to equalise, along with missing the penalty, and still created opportunities after Valencia brought Diakhaby on and switched to a 5-4-1, but Valencia held on for the 1-0 win.

Conclusion

During the first half, Chelsea’s relied on the dribbling ability of Willian to combine and create chances, or create opportunities for Azpilicueta to overlap and cross the ball into the box. Valencia defended their own half and relied upon counters, while losing possession from midfield when opening up as a team would only provide Chelsea with opportunities to counter. At the start of the second half, Valencia maintained the ball in midfield much better and this allowed them to sustain a higher position, press high and keep Chelsea out of their half. Although Chelsea conceded soon after making the change to 3-4-1-2, the change allowed them to attack much more quickly and aggressively than they had been able to in the first half, but they failed to take advantage of the opportunities to score during the final stages of the game.