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Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s comeback win

First half

Chelsea had a high amount of possession in midfield and the final third during the first half. With Villa having to drop back and defend deep for prolonged periods, Chelsea were tasked with breaking down a deep defensive block in order to create chances.

Villa found it difficult to move higher up the field with and without the ball. With the ball, usually recovering it deep and in a closed block, Davis would be the only outlet and isolated upfront. Christensen, Kanté and Rüdiger maintained close proximity to him to win the first or second ball, while generally avoiding fouls to prevent Villa from moving up (covered closely both centrally and running wide). When Villa’s wingers and higher central midfielders were able to move up and get into the game with the ball they could draw fouls or win throw-in’s, which gave them more success in getting out of their half and they could look to use dead ball situations to build attacks.

Without the ball, Villa overloaded their defensive shape came deep in their block (two central defenders and Douglas Luiz to cover Giroud) while underloading the top. This made it too difficult for Davis and the wingers to close down from the outside to the inside (leaving the fullbacks and pressuring the central defender on the ball) and create pressure for the team to move up and press Chelsea backwards. Instead, the wingers would drop back to follow Chelsea’s fullbacks and the team would look to apply pressure to forward passes and try to intercept or push up on long square passes in midfield (which Chelsea managed to play their way through).

Despite their difficulties with and without the ball in midfield, Villa were comfortable defending deep around their own box in numbers. Chelsea’s attempts to create predominantly came from the right with Azpilicueta overlapping and particularly when Mount moved to the right to join Azpilicueta and Willan to combine and look to get behind Villa’s backline into crossing positions — aiming for Giroud and Loftus-Cheek inside the box.

When Mount was on the left, he could rotate positions with Loftus-Cheek (both staying on the inside) which would leave the wing free. Alonso moving forward with the ball form deep would create the option to play passes for Loftus-Cheek or Mount running behind form the inside of the fullback, but generally not into good crossing situations (stretching for the ball). Chelsea were also unable to draw the fullback forward from the final third to create the opportunity for Alonso to overlap into space — the only time doing so from midfield created the chance for Alonso to shoot inside the box.

As is often the case, after a prolonged period of the half being played in Villa’s half without Chelsea taking the lead, Villa were sure to take advantage of their first real opportunity of the game to take the lead before the half was over.

Aston Villa vs. Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Second half

The second half would again see Chelsea dominate possession and looking for crosses into the box from the right, but this time with Kovačić joining the edge of the box late to provide an extra man. However, his late runs from deep were usually tracked by Villa’s midfielders and thus didn’t create any problems.

The introduction of Barkley and Pulisic changed the game in this respect, which would turn the scoreline in Chelsea’s favour within minutes of them going on the pitch. With Barkley attacking the box — his runs were much more threatening by running between Villa’s backline and drawing Konsa inside to track his run — Konsa would leave Pulisic free on the outside. With Loftus-Cheek and Kovačić, Konsa could always remain marking Loftus-Cheek. This enabled Pulisic to get on the end of Azpilicueta’s cross to equalise.

Having taken the lead shortly after, Chelsea now had control of the game. Villa still posed a threat through set pieces and began to open up more and play with more aggression from midfield, but the one goal lead would be enough for Chelsea to see the game out.

Conclusion

Chelsea established a good position with the ball to create chances during the first half, but struggled to pose Villa’s backline real problems and went behind from a set piece before half time. In the second half, Chelsea’s early double change proved to be a turning point (taking advantage of the current rules) where Barkley’s more aggressive runs into the box opened up the space for Pulisic to score the equaliser, before Chelsea quickly took the lead shortly thereafter.