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Brighton & Hove Albion 1-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s opening day victory

First half

Brighton had a lot of possession throughout the game, as Chelsea were unable to match their numbers to press them high effectively, instead dropping off, looking to shift to the sides from midfield, and wait for mistakes to recover the ball.

From Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 when defending, the difficulty to press a back three comes from the need of the front two to press to the sides (waiting for first pass out to spare man) to leave the far-side central defender free but not an option to play the ball to. The wingers are then occupied with the wing-backs moving forward (standing to block passing lanes between positions) and the central midfielders have to push up high to pressure the deep central midfielders (spaces left behind them for Lallana to find, requiring Alonso to close him down) which makes the team’s shape quite flat and difficult to maintain pressure on the ball.

Brighton dealt with these situations well, passing back to the goalkeeper, with the two central midfielders also finding angles to receive the ball and hold it or find a spare man — Chelsea would often not be able to pressure as intensely from the front. However, when moving through midfield and into the final third, Brighton weren’t much of a goal threat. Lampty caused the most problems with his speed, dribbling and combinations from the right, but not many shots were generated.

Instead, Chelsea were clinical to take the lead after a mistake despite not playing at their best level — Jorginho quickly played in Werner first-time when recovering the ball to win the penalty.

With the ball, Chelsea found spaces for the fullbacks to collect the ball initially. Lallana moved over to the right when defending, so from midfield he would be able to cover Alonso, but James had a lot of space on the right for the most part (March staying back deep with Havertz).

Brighton applied good pressure onto Chelsea’s central defenders, midfielders, and players looking to receive between lines, but with the spaces for the fullbacks Chelsea had another option — early passes behind Brighton’s backline to find the runs of Werner. This would see Chelsea getting the ball forward quickly, but not having a platform to build from to maintain possession.

Second half

Brighton started the second half with the ball in the final third, which gave Chelsea much more problems getting out than during the first half. They couldn’t hold onto the ball in deep positions for long enough to open back up as a team, while their long passes or clearances were not in good positions for Werner to get onto. Pressing from the front was again the same issue as the first half (4-3-3 would’ve allowed more pressure on Brighton’s back 3 with a narrow frontline) which would see Chelsea clearing the ball only to drop back to defend deep inside their own half.

Brighton took advantage of their opportunity in the final third through a long shot by Trossard, but their equaliser would be short lived with James scoring from a long shot of his own with Chelsea’s next attack to restore their lead — again taking advantage of being free by moving inside to collect the ball rather than only being a wide option.

Chelsea began to play long with the ball from goal kicks after not being able to keep the ball in the opening stages of the second half. Loftus-Cheek became the target man in these situations when he was on the field, but after he went off the other attackers didn’t have the required qualities for long-ball play, giving the ball back to Brighton on most occasions.

Barkley picked up where he left off last season, going on to make an impact in the game from the bench to attack from counters (Loftus-Cheek losing the ball too often during counters in the first half) and keeping the ball from possession. Chelsea reached the final third more as a team in the later stages of the half, which saw Havertz finding passses for James to overlap and play crosses into the box, before James’ corner found Zouma inside the box to score with a deflected shot. The intensity of the game continued to drop after that goal, with Chelsea looking to extend their lead through counters until the game was over.

Brighton vs Chelsea xG timing chart


Chelsea struggled to get on the ball during the opening stages, with Brighton working the ball through pressure to find a spare man and make Chelsea drop deep. But Brighton were unable to create many chances in the final third, and the first mistake they made with the ball during build-up would be costly, with Jorginho and Werner quick to take advantage to win a penalty. Brighton were playing high up and pinning Chelsea back during the opening stages of the second half and would this time find a goal, but would be put behind immediately by James’ goal from distance. The intensity of the game dropped following Zouma’s goal, allowing Chelsea to see out a game that they won without playing at their highest level.

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