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Atlético Madrid 0-1 Chelsea, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s important away leg win

First half

Atlético set up to press high in moments with the front four, which saw Chelsea make a few errors with the ball that opened up a few opportunities for Atlético. Other than those mistakes, which could have been costly, Chelsea maintained possession and played through with the ball to push Atlético back.

From midfield, Atlético dropped back into a 6-3-1 with the wingers moving onto their backline and Felix joining the midfielders. Here the spaces would be in the wide areas for Chelsea to get behind the midfield line, with Atlético’s wingers pinned back by Chelseas wing-back’s — Mount dropping into these spaces before combining with Hudson-Odoi to start a number of attacks. Atlético attempted to push up and press towards the underload side when possible, with midfielders pushing up aggressively to join Suarez, but Chelsea were able to consistently work the ball through the pressure, break it, and use their overload and find a spare man.

Moving into the final third, Chelsea would again find spaces on the wings while moving the ball from left to right along the sitting midfielders and back three. In doing so, Chelsea would draw pressure onto the ball before finding the spare man on the outside of the overload, and then look to make the decisive passes behind for runners with only Atlético’s flat backline of 6 to break through on the edge of their box. However, a number of these attempted passes behind were overhit and saw the opportunities come to nothing.

Since a lot of Chelsea’s lost balls in the final third came from the overhit passes, Atlético didn’t recover the ball high enough up to cause problems from counters. Instead, it was easy for Chelsea to push up and press (not having to get back quickly to recover the ball) and often force Atlético into simply clearing the ball and give it back to Chelsea. However, Atlético are quite comfortable in such situations, where their goal is protected and they will wait for their opportunities as the game goes on.

Second half

Atlético played with a more aggressive approach in the second half, holding their lines in midfield and closing the distances in order to pressure the ball with numbers higher up. But Chelsea were generally able to hold the ball under pressure, before either playing through to create opportunities with Atlético’s backline stretched, or holding the ball until Atlético dropped deep. The few times Chelsea were unsuccessful with either, it did allow Atlético to combine with more support and counter with a shorter distance to Chelsea’s goal than in the first half.

The decisive moment in the game would arrive from Atlético’s high pressing, where Chelsea broke through the pressure by playing off Giroud (Alonso long ball up to the striker) before arriving to the box with Atlético’s defence stretched and Giroud taking advantage of the loose ball inside the box to score.

From that point on Atlético had more of the ball and Chelsea had to manage the game defensively, while looking to extend their lead through counters. Chelsea brought on players with defensive and counter-attacking qualities, as well as taking Kovačić off to avoid the possibility of both of the starting midfielders being suspended for the second leg, and saw the game out to go into the second leg with the 1-0 advantage.

Conclusion

After a few mistakes in building up from the back at the start of the match, which could have been costly, Chelsea were able to comfortably hold onto the ball and push Atlético back to defend deep for the majority of the first half. Chelsea created openings to play behind Atlético’s backline but were unable to find the right weight on the passes to create chances.

Atlético’s more aggressive approach in the second half opened the game up for them to counter when they won the ball (rather than being stuck inside their own half), but also left them stretched at the back when Chelsea broke through the pressure. From this shift, the decisive moment would come for Giroud to give Chelsea the lead going into the second leg.