Chelsea sustained possession for the majority of the half, but could only create when they were able to play long passes from midfield and break through Sheffield’s moments of high pressure.
Sheffield held their compact block from midfield and put pressure on forward passes to feet. Their front two started on either side of Jorginho (Kovacic having freedom to move higher up) and allowed Chelsea’s central defenders time on the ball inside their own half. When the ball was moved out to the deep fullbacks, Sheffield would close down the distances between the wide central midfielders moving out and wing-backs pushing up high — while the front two would mark the nearest central defender and Jorginho. Chelsea would keep the ball in these situations, but not break consistently and only created one chance for Kovacic dribbling and combining through the deep block.
Chelsea took the lead by breaking through pressure after Sheffield lost the ball from a throw-in and tried to press high up to sustain their position — setting up an opportunity for Azpilicueta to cross the ball into the box when Sheffield were recovering their position back inside the box.
Chelsea pressed high and often recovered the ball quickly to prevent counters. This pressure from the front would force Sheffield to play back for rushed long balls upfield from Henderson in goal, which Chelsea recovered in midfield easily.
In the moments when Sheffield did have possession, they would progress up the wings in numbers, with the wide central defenders overlapping to join attacks, for quick combinations and crosses into the box with numbers to attack the ball — creating one good chance.
Chelsea created the most problems by finding space in midfield and playing long passes up to the frontline, and to Abraham running behind in particular. Chelsea created a few of these opportunities, and would go on to extend their lead from a moment when Jorginho dropped back between the central defenders, Sheffield’s front two switched off and allowed him to carry the ball forward into their half into space, and play a long ball behind for Abraham to recover the loose ball and score.
Sheffield United started the second half much more aggressively, where the front two pushed up on Chelsea’s central defenders from the kick off. This saw them recover the ball as Chelsea tried to play through pressure on the right, before quickly attacking down the wing and finding Robinson inside the box to score.
The remainder of the second half proceeded in a similar way to the previous games this season, with the game becoming an open, end-to-end physical battle. Chelsea attempted many more passes to feet between lines (Abraham began to drop to receive the ball) rather than the long passes to Abraham that had caused a lot of problems in the first half. They would have success in moving into the final third with the ball this way, but instead of creating chances they would instead often provide Sheffield United with opportunities to counter from deep, often against a stretched team.
Chelsea had some opportunities from counters where they only missed the final pass to break through on goal, but didn’t find a way to extend their lead, giving the opportunity for Sheffield United to finally equalise late on, after having a number of opportunities of their own in the second half.
xG map for Chelsea - Sheffield United— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) August 31, 2019
continuing stories of Chelsea (a) being pretty good (b) dominating the shot difference (c) conceding too many good chances pic.twitter.com/dglLX9HiFa
Chelsea created opportunities from long passes up to Abraham in the first half, but then stopped looking for these in the second. Sheffield United’s defensive block was comfortable defending against Chelsea’s attempts to pass through them (except when pressing high up), and their much more aggressive start to the second half saw them pull an early goal back. With the second half becoming a much more physical game, Chelsea suffered against counters and the game was stretched. There were opportunities for Chelsea to counter and create, but with only a one goal lead, Sheffield were never out of it and managed to find an equaliser late on.