Sheffield United made a very aggressive start to the game, pressing high up with the front two and three midfielders, pushing their backline up high and making the game physical. This required Chelsea to find a way of keeping and breaking pressure through the team’s technical qualities, or panic and lose the ball under the pressure. This approach almost paid off for United with a chance for Burke to score early on, but he was unable to find the target.
Given United’s pressing with the front two and midfielder three, and a high backline, Chelsea needed to be able to keep the ball and find the a free man to play a forward pass behind Sheffield’s backline in order to start creating their own opportunities. Sheffield shifted the front two across Chelsea’s back three to pressure the ball, while there was additional support from the wide players in the midfield three to push up onto Chelsea’s wide central defenders.
When Chelsea managed to keep the ball and begin finding passes behind for the runs of Werner, they started causing United a lot of problems. As has been the case since switching to the back three, Azpilicueta would use his passes to find Werner’s runs behind and start attacks from there, while Kovačić would also find spaces on the ball to look up and play long passes behind.
Werner’s runs behind continued to be Chelsea’s biggest threat throughout the first half, and towards the end of the half they would score from one of them, where his cutback found Mount to finish first-time and give Chelsea the lead.
Tuchel structuring Chelsea's finishing phase using cutbacks:— Josh Bednash (@joshbednash) February 8, 2021
- Deep halfspace run by Werner
- Chilwell pass on outside of WB as he's showing him outside
- Run across front post from Giroud brings 1st defender back
- Opens space for 2nd runner to arrive and finish cutback pic.twitter.com/BP7H4FYYfR
Despite conceding from a mistake at the back early on in the second half, Chelsea’s reaction was immediate, with Werner winning the penalty that would be converted by Jorginho to restore the lead.
Both teams changed formations using substitutions, with United switching to a back four and three strikers (four strikers later on), and Chelsea bringing on Kanté to play 3-5-2 (Jorginho at the base) to help deal with the defensive moments when the game was becoming more physical.
Chelsea controlled the remainder of the half with the ball, and Sheffield struggled to get it back or create moments or real pressure. After their change to a back four, there were a lot of spaces for Chelsea’s midfielders and wing-backs to find as they moved forward with the ball, but they could not create opportunities in the final third to extend the lead. This left the possibility for a late equaliser from any attack or set piece, but the quality of the possession maintained control and helped Chelsea see the game out.
Sheffield made an aggressive start to the game and could have given Chelsea a problem if they had converted their early chances. Once Chelsea began to break their pressing and finding Werner running behind however, the Blues began to cause Sheffield problems and would go on to take the lead before halftime. Chelsea’s error in the second half to concede an own goal was quickly dealt with by Werner winning a penalty to restore the lead, before Chelsea’s control of the game with the ball allowed them to see out the game with a one-goal advantage.