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

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Breaking down Chelsea’s scoreless draw at Old Trafford

First half

Chelsea switched to a 3-4-3 and began the game with a long kick off to the right, rather than passing the ball all the way back to the keeper (inviting pressure without an idea or intent to play forward) before playing long and losing the ball (without moving into the opponents half) as they had in previous games.

Chelsea had a lot of possession in the first half, but it was almost always ahead of United’s defensive block. They often played short passes and didn’t reach the front three, with the only direct option being the first-time ball behind by Jorginho. Although this possession didn’t create many problems for United (and gave them the possibility of taking advantage of a mistake), it didn’t allow the game to be played in an open or transitional way, which would have been much more suitable for United’s strengths.

United closed down and pressed high into the corners when possible, but, for the most part, they were only waiting for Chelsea to make a mistake to counter from. Chelsea were also reliant upon keeping the ball under pressure (or recovering loose balls inside their block) before being able to break forward from the wings (both wing-backs able to carry the ball forward), or Kanté carrying the ball, or finding one of the front three facing United’s backline to create.

With possession of the ball, United could move up the wings quickly and play more direct from the central defenders, where they could draw pressure from Chelsea and then find spaces behind. However, when reaching the final third, United ran out of ideas, and would have to settle for winning set pieces, at best. They managed to create a few chances for long shots and counters, but Mendy had no trouble with stopping these shots on goal.

Second half

The game opened up a little more in the second half, but for the most part the smae patterns remained. Chelsea seemed happy to leave the game go on like this, while United looked to change things with substitutions.

Pogba and Cavani came on to replace D.James and Mata, which pushed Fernandes out to the right (but free to move inside with the ball), and Rashford to the left. Pogba provided much more ability to hold the ball under pressure and find passes to improve United’s buildup, while Rashford was able to get into the game more from the left, especially by being able to run behind from outside to inside (ready for shot on right foot) rather than inside to outside (back to play collecting the ball and to gain territory).

With Chelsea not creating much and passing only to feet, there were two clear options for adjustments to give them something different without changing formation. Kovačić seemed the most obvious choice to go on and be able to use his dribbling qualities to carry the ball forward past United’s pressing and open the game up for the frontline (leaving Werner as striker to attack the spaces after the line breaks). And Giroud would’ve offered a target to hold the ball and allow for a more direct option when needed to break pressure. Instead, Chelsea waited and brought on Abraham and Mount for Werner and Havertz. Abraham is a good finisher and can offer more in the air inside the box than Werner, but not qualities that will make a difference arriving to the box. Mount is much more suited to playing in this formation than where he has played this season, but his qualities are more for starting games and providing energy through his workrate and pressing, rather than making a difference from the bench.

Following the changes, United were better with the ball and began to play higher up and threaten much more for the remainder of the game, while Chelsea stayed the same: possession going nowhere, and getting pushed back without an outlet to hold onto the ball when recovering the ball from deep. Ziyech going on as the final change (Pulisic off) was again another case of the best passer to find runners behind going in when the three best runners behind have all been taken off already.

With United playing higher up, they brought on Greenwood and moved Fernandes into the middle, where blocks by Silva and saves by Mendy kept the score at 0-0.

Manchester United vs Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea had a lot of possession in the first half, but couldn’t find a way to get behind Manchester United to cause problems. United pressed wide after closing down the distances, and waited for mistakes to counter attack, which created opportunities for them which were saved by Mendy. The second half continued in the same way, before United made changes to go for the win, and took control. Chelsea’s changes later on in the half didn’t offer anything different with the ball, and so United continued to play higher up and looked to create chances in the final third, only to be denied by blocks and saves to see the game finish goalless.