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Crystal Palace 2-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s narrow win at Selhurst Park

First half

Palace set up to defend higher up, holding their lines in midfield and pressing up and to the sides when possible — far side midfielder pressing across to overload the side of the ball. In playing aggressively, they didn’t allow Chelsea just to keep the ball, but were also left more vulnerable behind.

Chelsea exploited the space behind Palace’s defensive line early on through Willian’s run — with help from the injury of Cahill — before finding Giroud inside the box to finish. However, Chelsea’s play with the ball for most of the half would result only in winning set pieces or losing the ball in midfield (playing too slowly vs. Palace pressure) and having to defend against fast counters.

Palace also created problems with the ball, moving it quickly and with few touches through midfield and Chelsea’s lines (quick combinations in spaces ahead of Chelsea’s backline), before getting behind on the wings or finding the dribbling wingers to carry the ball up to the final third. Palace reached good crossing positions on a number of occasions, but were unable to find a man inside the box to finish during the first half.

Palace’s counters would lead to the next two goals in the game. For the first, Chelsea recovered the ball from a Palace counter before countering the counter. For the second, it was Palace recovering the ball in midfield, finding Zaha, with space and time on the ball facing Chelsea’s backline, to shoot and score from distance.

Second half

In the second half, Palace had a lot more of the ball. Chelsea had difficulty recovering the ball — too often pushing up high a way that opens the team up more than actually closing spaces — and so would get pushed back to midfield. Palace’s frontline were also able of hold on to the ball, which allowed them to reach the final third, with support arriving on the wings (fullbacks advancing) and attack the box with numbers. Furthermore, when Chelsea got the ball back, they couldn’t find a way to retain it, hold possession and push Palace back to regain control of the game. They would find themselves in counter attack situations in the hope of extending the lead, but would instead lose the ball quickly

Chelsea changes at this point were not ideal. Loftus-Cheek (for Barkley) and Abraham (for Giroud) gave the team fresh players and more speed for counters, and would even result in a goal, but it didn’t improve the team defensively (prolonged periods defending deep) or help obtain control of the ball — continuing to try to win by hope rather than strategy.

Both Pulisic and Willian were required to contribute a lot physically in this half, both having to track the fullbacks (sprinting back) before having to use their speed to launch counters and create chances — frequent intense actions that are impossible to sustain. In particular, after Abraham scored Chelsea, tried to press high aggressively from the kick off. Palace played past the pressing, which left Willian with too much ground to recover on Van Aanholt, who would take advantage to set up the goal for Benteke.

So, after getting the goal they hoped for and having conceded immediately, where do Chelsea go? Only to continue playing the same way!

While improving the defence with an extra central defender or fullback to play a back-five could potentially send out the wrong message, it could’ve helped in managing the workload of the wingers, not to mention the defending in the box. Instead, Chelsea were still trying to outscoring the opposition. And while there are no destroyer midfielders other than the injured Kanté in the squad, so that isn’t an option, other considerations could’ve included moving Christensen or James into midfield and bringing on another defender to replace Gilmour — still a risky option, but aforementioned duo do have experience in that position.

The third option, and the one that Chelsea would go with, was to bring on Jorginho and look to regain control of the ball and possession — but still needing to be able to press aggressively as a team in order to keep the ball away from our penalty area. Jorginho did make an instant impact on the game, with Chelsea dominating possession and going on to create some opportunities to extend the lead.

However, without Chelsea taking advantage of said opportunities, Palace were still in the game arriving at injury time. Chelsea would have to defend deep with the same tired wingers on — unable to properly support the fullbacks, Chelsea were left in vulnerable positions defending the flanks 1-v-1 vs Palace’s wingers. Palace had two opportunities to score, with the first hitting the post, and the second showing that Zouma is not only Chelsea’s strongest defender in the air (in both boxes) but he’s also the strongest defender at the club on the ground.

Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea took the lead in the first half and, despite good play with the ball and dangerous counters by Palace, controlled the game well. The second half was a different story where Palace were in control with the ball, Chelsea were unable to keep the ball for long and had to hope to score from a counter. Conceding immediately after scoring the third only highlighted the offensive and defensive demands on Chelsea’s wingers in this game, before regaining control of the ball through the introduction of Jorginho. But without extending the lead, Palace were still in the game and had opportunities to score, only to be denied by the post and the excellent last-ditch intervention by Zouma to save the day for Chelsea.