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Chelsea 0-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Thomas Tuchel’s first match in charge of the Blues

First half

Chelsea had a lot of possession with their switch in formation and Wolves not pushing up from the front to press the base of Chelsea’s block.

With the back three and two sitting midfielders, Chelsea had a 5v3 against Wolves’ front three (Podence dropping off deeper than the front two), and Wolves would only attempt to press to the sides in moments where they could isolate one of Chelsea’s wide central defenders.

Since Chelsea could take the ball to midfield without pressure, the crucial stage would be moving up to the final third. From the middle Chelsea had several options, with varying degrees of success:

  • long passes by Silva for Hudson-Odoi leaving the wing to run behind Wolves’ backline
  • long switches by Silva to the wing-backs high up
  • passes to Giroud between lines before playing the ball outside to Havertz or Ziyech
  • Kovacic driving through the lines with the ball
  • Ziyech dropping to the sides (Neto and Traore often pushing insides, leaving spaces behind) to collect the ball and play forward passes.

Wolves kept good control of the depth behind their backline from the long passes, so Chelsea didn’t gain much from them. Switches would present an opportunity for Hudson-Odoi to take on defenders and cross the ball into the box (with Havertz and Chilwell joining the box), but on the left Chilwell had a much more difficult situation to take on Semedo in 1v1’s, and Chelsea would instead have to use the movements of Havertz running behind from the inside or play the ball back inside.

Finding Ziyech to the sides in any of the last three situations would present the best opportunities to get behind Wolves’ backline, with his passes on the inside of Wolves’ wing-backs for Hudson-Odoi (especially) or Chilwell runing behind, and by playing early crosses into the box with spaces to attack (the opposite wing-back always joining Giroud and Havertz inside the box).

From these positions, Wolves had a difficult time opening up quickly when they did regain the ball, and this allowed Chelsea to close distances and have an aggressive reaction (as is often the case when changing managers during the season) to recover the ball quickly or stop the possibility of Traore, Podence or Neto carrying the ball forward by fouling.

While Chelsea did create a few chances from crosses into the box after finding passes behind or after Hudson-Odoi beating his man (Chelsea’s main threat during the first half), they otherwise lacked the little bit of aggression to really attack the box consistently and cause Wolves a lot of problems — similar to the main issue Chelsea had with Sarri’s tactics.

Second half

Wolves made a good change to start the second half, with Hoever going on to play as right wing-back (up against a Chilwell for 1v1’s) and moving Semedo over to the left to have a much better 1v1 defender to deal with Hudson-Odoi. However, the possibility to get behind through Hudson-Odoi’s runs and Ziyech’s passes was still there and Chelsea exploited this immediately to get behind and create a dangerous situation.

By putting pressure on Chelsea’s wing-backs when they received the ball with much more consistency (not dropping back every time Hudson-Odoi had the ball), Wolves could play much more aggressively with their pressing and push up from the wings to push Chelsea backwards and close the distances to the man on the ball.

Chelsea also had a few more options to create opportunities in the second half, through Azpilicueta moving forward to play his early crosses into the box (Azpilicueta-to-Morata balls of the past) and rotations between the wing-backs and players on the inside to open up spaces wide and inside the box to create chances — Havertz finding Chilwell inside the box to create the best chance from these.

Chelsea’s three changes all made a good impact on the game, with Abraham more mobile to attack the spaces inside the box when Chelsea got behind on the wings, Pulisic as wing-back (moving Hudson-Odoi to the left) giving Chelsea two dribblers on the wings to get the ball into the box, and Mount in the front three where he can receive on the turn to break behind the last line and play passes into the box.

Wolves had a couple of opportunities from counters in the second half, while Chelsea kept pushing to create, but neither side was able to break the deadlock, and the game finished scoreless.

Chelsea vs. Wolves xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

Wolves set up very defensively, sitting deep and waiting for opportunities to use the qualities of their front three in broken play. Chelsea maintained really good control of these potential counters throughout the match, only giving away a couple of opportunities. Chelsea’s possession created opportunities from the wings, and they created more problems as the game went on, but lacked a little bit of aggression to really cause Wolves’ goal problems throughout the match. Without getting the goal to open the game up a little, Wolves could hold on and see the game out for a draw.