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Hull City 1-2 Chelsea, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s narrow win in the FA Cup fourth round

First half

Hull made a very aggressive start to the match, quickly attacking with numbers straight from the kick-off and pressing Chelsea high with intensity. With their high pressing, they would recover the ball in midfield when Chelsea tried to play passes forward from the backline to the midfielders or wingers dropping back for the ball, and this provided Hull with platform to start attacks high up with Chelsea open defensively.

Hull would press with Bowen moving inside from the right with Tomori on the ball, while Honeyman would shift over from the middle to cover Alonso. This situation would allow Hull to push the midfielders up when in high areas, but would also allow for Chelsea to get Kovačić on the ball in space when Chelsea moved up as a team. From here, Kovačić was able to find Azpilicueta’s early run forward on the wing (getting behind and leaving Wilks high up) to set up the situation that provided Chelsea with the early lead.

As the half went on, Chelsea began to hold the ball against Hull’s high pressing from goal kicks, which would allow them to move up to midfield with possession. From midfield Chelsea then could continue to find spaces and well timed runs behind Hull’s backline from the frontline and advanced midfielders — but neither chances from crosses and nor direct 1-v-1s were taken.

Meanwhile, Hull still countered and pushed up aggressively at any given opportunity, looking to always get numbers forward and create chances from counters. They got into some good situations with Bowen carrying the ball forward quickly on the right and Wilks as an option to hold the ball on the outside and cross into the box from the left, but the game would go into the break with Chelsea 1-0 ahead.

Second half

Hull adjusted their pressing for the second half, with Bowen staying wide on Alonso (rather than pushing inside to Tomori) and Honeyman remaining on the inside (2v3 against Chelsea’s central defenders and Kovačić) which would bring them much more success. Chelsea could no longer hold the ball when making forward passes like in the first half, while Kovačić wasn’t allowed the same time and space on the ball with Honeyman central. Instead, Chelsea would more often have to find a spare central defender on far side, with which they were having some difficulties — often resulting in early long balls under pressure.

Hull would go on to have a lot of the ball high up from midfield and looked to create their own chances. The fullbacks moving forward and Bowen’s quality to combine, dribble and go inside onto his left foot created some good situations on the right for them. Chelsea had great difficulty recovering the ball without the defensive characteristics of Kanté in midfield, and were pinned back inside their own half.

However, after Hull dominated the opening 15-20 minutes of the second half, Chelsea were still able to extend their lead. They broke through Hull’s pressure by Barkley dropping back to hold the ball before finding Zouma as the spare man on the far side. From here, like in the first half, runners behind caused Hull a lot of problems, and Zouma’s pass to Mount running behind won the free kick from which Chelsea would go on to score their second goal of the game.

After changes made by both sides, Chelsea began to break through Hull’s high pressing (still high up but less intense), and in doing so would advance into midfield with spaces to exploit and attack with numbers. Barkley and the front three began to combine to break through and create a number of chances here, but without being able to extend Chelsea’s lead.

After Hull’s goal from a free kick, the opportunity was there for them to score a late equaliser, as Chelsea again had difficulties stopping their counter-attacks progressing into the final third, but the one goal advantage would be enough to see the game out and progress into the next round.

Conclusion

Hull’s aggressive start to the game saw them press high and with numbers, recover the ball from Chelsea’s forward passes from the backline to the frontline, and generate opportunities to counter from high up. However, their pressing left Kovačić in space in midfield and he was thus able to set up a number of attacks by playing long passes to runners. Hull’s tactical change for the second half reduced this possibility, but it would still be Chelsea scoring next to extend their lead. Hull had the opportunity to equalise late on in the game, since Chelsea once again hadn’t taken advantage of a number of chances to increase their lead, but the one goal lead was enough to see out the game eventually.