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Newcastle United 0-2 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s solid win at St James’ Park

First half

Chelsea were in control of the first half, with a lot of possession, strong reactions to recover the ball after losing it, and taking an early lead to get something meaningful from their dominance.

Newcastle remained in their defensive block and dropped back from midfield, where they held their lines well. To break down the wall, Chelsea tried to play aggressive passes into the box early, and looked to get behind on the wings where the fullbacks could attempt early crosses along the back of Newcastle’s backline.

Broken play was the key area of the game for Chelsea to control. Playing possession so high up and looking to play aggressive passes into the middle, thus risking losing the ball and the resulting counter attacks from it, requires a strong defensive reaction to maintain control. Saint-Maximin is Newcastle’s main offensive outlet and threat, able to find good positions in the spaces vacated by James, and looking to exploit those immediately with his speed during counters. But Kanté was always alert to this danger and covered the right back position often when the ball broke through to Newcastle’s frontline, though it would be the strong counter-pressing from the players higher up that would make the difference for the first goal — Chelsea recovering the ball quickly after losing it and then scoring from the subsequent set piece.

For Chelsea, Werner comes alive in the spaces opened during these transitions, where he can move into spaces at speed or carry the ball forward quickly himself — finding shooting positions for himself or others. He would have Chelsea’s best chances of the first half without taking advantage of them, but Chelsea would still go into the second half with the lead.

Newcastle United vs. Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Second half

Newcastle were much more aggressive in the second half, where they pressed high up and caused Chelsea more problems than in the first half.

Joelinton held a deeper position on Kanté while the two wingers moved inside and ahead of him to pressure Chelsea’s central defenders to allow for the high pressing, while Newcastle’s wing-backs pushed up high to close down Chelsea’s fullbacks to ensure they could sustain pressing without allowing for a spare man to easily be found.

Although sustaining the intensity of such pressure is the primary problem here, Newcastle were able to make Chelsea suffer when they did sustain it during the opening stages of the half. Chelsea struggled to hold on to the ball when they played to the frontline under pressure, and needed to keep it along the back until the opponents dropped off. Chelsea had a few opportunities to kill Newcastle’s good start to the half, but without taking them, allowed Newcastle to come into the game.

Along with the higher pressing, a more direct approach by Newcastle would see the turnovers now happening deeper inside Chelsea’s half, rather than higher up as in the first half. Newcastle were able to recover the ball in positions from which they could attack, or hold the ball to push Chelsea back to defend from their own box before looking to create. Although Newcastle caused Chelsea problems with the ball in the final third, they were unable to find the goal to bring them level. And the advantages of playing higher up came at the cost of leaving spaces for Chelsea to counter into, and Werner would take full advantage of this to create the goal for Abraham to give Chelsea a two goal lead.

Conclusion

Chelsea had complete control of the transitions during the first half, which allowed them to maintain position high up, create chances from possession, and be able to break quickly when the ball was recovered in the final third. Newcastle’s more aggressive approach gave Chelsea problems in the second half, but Chelsea were able to keep them out with a bit of deep defending. While defending deeper, spaces were made available for counters, and Werner had the speed and quality to take advantage of these situations, setting up Abraham for Chelsea’s second to kill Newcastle’s momentum and seal the game.