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Chelsea 2-0 Atletico Madrid, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down the intricacies behind Chelsea’s RO16 second leg win

First half

Atletico made a very aggressive start to the game, and they would maintain their intensity in the final third throughout the half. They pressed Chelsea high with the midfielders pushing up onto Chelsea’s back three and the fullback’s closing down Chelsea’s wing-backs. When they had the ball from midfield or from recovering it high up they continued their aggression and intensity, with runs behind Chelsea’s backline and always looking to play an early first ball to find the runners to stretch the defense.

Atletico caused some problems with their intensity and work rate with and without the ball in the opening stages, continuing the press onto back passes to Mendy and reaching Chelsea’s box from counters, only with Chelsea being able to match this intensity from their backline and deep midfielders to cut out the danger of these counters as they got close to the box or stop the attack early.

Chelsea calmed the game through their possession, to either break through Atletico’s pressing to reach the frontline and move into the final third, or hold onto the ball with circulation around the back until Atletico dropped off or there was a free man to take the ball forward. Upon reaching the final third Chelsea had good control of the game with the ball, where they moved it to wait for openings to create, move into the box, or get behind Atletico’s backline, but also to keep Atletico deep and in a tight block where the distances can be closed quickly to be able to stop any attempts of counter attacks.

Havertz, Werner, and Alonso (leaving the wing) made movements into the box, while on the right Chelsea would have deep crosses from Azpilicueta while James would play crosses in from the wing. Ziyech played passes for James to get the run forward and play crosses in from behind Atletico’s backline, and they would be joined by Kate, Azpilicueta and one of Werner and Havertz to combine and create from the right. Although Chelsea moved into some good positions, they didn’t really create anything threatening with the ball, but maintained good control defensively with it, after already having the lead from the first leg.

The decisive moment of the half (not counting referee decisions) came from broken play, with Werner moving quickly to close down and block Trippier’s attempted ball into the box from a short free kick, before Havertz came alive to recover the loose ball and start the counter attack, which would see Werner going on to find Ziyech inside the box to finish.

Second half

Atletico made a change at halftime with Hermoso replacing Lodi and switching to a back three — Carrasco and Trippier as wing-backs, Llorente joining Suarez and Joao in the front three. They could press 1-on-1 across the pitch by matching Chelsea’s formation, but Chelsea again would work the ball through to push Atletico back, or they would find an outlet to stretch Atletico’s backline — such as Werner making runs into the corner for Azpilicueta to find.

With three at the back, the spaces really began to appear for Chelsea to find during broken play for the frontline to begin creating chances. Ziyech looked for the decisive passes for Werner’s runs behind when he received the ball, while Havertz really showed his quality receiving, turning and carrying the ball to move forward past players, and draw a number of fouls. The front three continued their work against the ball during pressing, where Atletico again had problems building from their own half which would see Chelsea recovering the ball in midfield and having more counter attacking opportunities — Kante dominating loose ball throughout the match, in addition to a number of critical recoveries.

Atletico continued to make changes as the half went on, bringing on offensive players from the bench, but were still unable to really sustain pressure in the final third, and cause Chelsea problems with the ball. The red card for Savic would leave them even more open to counters with time running out, and after stopping a number of Chelsea’s counters they were broken by Pulisic carrying the ball, Kante breaking from deep to create the 3v1, with Emerson, fresh on the pitch, finishing with his first touch.


Chelsea coped with Atletico’s intensity and pressure early on before managing the game with the ball. They took advantage of their counters to score both goals, and against the ball, Atletico really had problems building possession and creating from counters over both legs. Chelsea were clear winners of the tie overall.

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