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Malmö FF 0-1 Chelsea, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

Pivotal Win


A fortnight ago, despite losing our two recognized strikers during the game, Chelsea used the match against Malmö FF to fix a sputtering attack and roll to a 4-0 victory.

Yesterday, against the same opponent and still without our two recognized strikers, we regressed back to a sputtering attack, demonstrating the need for said strikers to return.

Starting formations

Most lineups show Malmö in a 5-3-2 or a 3-5-2 formation, but for good portions at the start, they were trying to push up the flanks to prevent our wingbacks from getting forward, almost mimicking our 3-4-3. It is no secret that Azpilicueta has a knack for assists and that Alonso can score at will, after all.

While trying to pin them back was a failed objective for Malmö in the end, they did minimize our potency from wide early on.

Malmo trying to keep our wingbacks in check

The narrative of Chelsea being incapable of breaking down a low block will always gain weight when there are limited chances and wasted opportunities against teams using such an approach.

Although we were concentrating firmly on breaking down Malmö’s left side, there were quite a few long balls over the top throughout the game that also asked questions of their center backs and defensive line.

The formation we used is perhaps not the best for players like Hudson-Odoi or Ziyech, as they both prefer to start wide with the ball at their feet. In this 3-4-2-1 and with them playing as the two central No.10s, their overall effect on the game is limited — as also evidenced by a necessary halftime adjustment, which we’ll look at a bit later.

Stretching their back line with chipped passes

Despite being able to lavish praise on Havertz the past few games for not only his goal but his contributions to the team, be they penetrating runs or link up play, when the majority of the highlights involve him missing sitters, the lack of a natural forward becomes apparent. That’s not to say he didn’t contribute to the goal, keeping his balance and picking out a nice pass to Hudson-Odoi. However, in this and the past few games, Havertz has missed chances that could have put the games to bed.

His chance in the 28th minute comes to mind, when he was put through on goal by Loftus-Cheek. The run was excellent, similar to the one he made in the Champions League final to score, but the finish was more similar to previous efforts from similar positions this season — taking one touch too many or too heavy.

Great run and pass, but the finish was lacking

Two pivotal decisions were made in this game, one before kick-off and one at half-time.

The first was starting Ruben Loftus-Cheek in one of the pivot (or No.6) midfield positions. He had a great day: from near-goals with flicked headers and curling efforts, to possession and progression of the ball, or just outright dominance of midfield in general. If Havertz had on his shooting boots, Loftus-Cheek might have had a pair of assists.

There is still room for growth and he had a pair of concerning turnovers in the middle of the park (10th and 64th minutes), but he is more and more starting to dictate the game through his play and continuing to cause disruption to opposition defences.

The second pivotal change was during the break, as Hudon-Odoi and Ziyech switched flanks to play on their “natural” side.

Tuchel credited his assistant Arno Michels for the idea, which was to reduce the number of touches necessary to deliver a ball into the box, and speed up our play in the process. Cutting inside was predictable and it slowed our ball movement, and as a result, was also ineffective.

For the goal, Hudson-Odoi didn’t just pick up the assist by playing a right-footed pass from the right flank, he also started the sequence with some good pressing.

Malmö were having a brief spell of possession in our half, but Hudson-Odoi applied the press on Brorsson and forced a suboptimal pass that Christensen intercepted and cleared.

Top: Hudson-Odoi forces a turnover. Bottom: their wingbacks are caught out of position with the turnover

Malmö regained possession, but turned it over again immediately as Soren Reiks tried connecting with a one-touch pass to Nanasi. Jorginho read it well and his quick smart pass the other way got Chelsea moving forward.

Jorginho intercepts an errant pass and springs the counter.

After forcing the initial turnover, Hudson-Odoi was now showing for the ball. After collecting and combining for a nifty one-two with Havertz at the halfway line, he was then free to scamper down the right wing.

Without the need to cut in, Hudson-Odoi was able to find Ziyech in the left channel with a pass that could have literally threaded a needle. Ziyech couldn’t help but bury the shot with ease.

What. A. Pass.

Malmö immediately made like-for-like changes in hopes of injecting some urgency into the game but to no avail. After their changes, we actually had the best of the next few chances from both open play and set pieces, including a lovely little flick from Thiago Silva on a corner that required a goal-line clearance.

Chelsea’s changes in the 74th minute prompted a slight adjustment in the formation. Barkley slid in behind the striking pair of Pulisic and Havertz to essentially become a 3-5-2. This formation allowed both Havertz and Pulisic to excel in breaking the back line, though neither could capitalize on chances handed to them on a platter.

Malmo FF v Chelsea FC: Group H - UEFA Champions League
Pulisic back on the field
Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Havertz had his second glorious chance of the night spurned after a lovely move in the midfield from Loftus-Cheek.

After Pulisic shows for the ball and opens up space, Loftus-Cheek chests the ball into his own path and draws out the defense. A glorious chip then sent Havertz in on Dahlin for the second time but he again shot straight into the goalkeeper.

The dink over the top from RLC is beautiful, Havertz really should do better

Pulisic’s wasted chance came with literally the last kick of the game.

A direct pass from Silva, one of the countless many played throughout the game testing the stability of Malmö’s defensive line, was flicked on from Havertz to Pulisic, sending him through free on goal — but he was only able to shoot into the outside of the net.

Havertz flicked header sends Pulisic through on goal

That said, the last 15 minutes showed how effective the 3-5-2 can be, which might give Tuchel something to think about. Perhaps with the players available at the moment, that is our best formation to create goal scoring opportunities.

Wasting so many chances may one day come back to haunt us — even if we rarely even concede a shot on target, let alone goals. It is also comforting to know that when we do, there is a man who, even after play is whistled dead (see below), isn’t letting anything into his net.

You cannot pass.


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