During the first half, Chelsea escaped Sheffield United’s high pressing well, to move forward with the ball and play with a high block often. From this high block, they were again not very aggressive in the final third to create chances, but it allowed them to control the game defensively with the ball, and have close positions to recover the ball quickly when lost, cutting out all of Sheffield United’s counter attacks.
Chelsea tried to create spaces on the wings after drawing in pressure from Sheffield United’s midfield three. Well-weighted passes out to Hudson-Odoi would give good opportunities to put crosses into the box, and were even more dangerous when they were able to entice the defender out in the belief that they could intercept the pass out from Hudson-Odoi.
Although Chelsea didn’t create chances from the balls into the box, where Sheffield United were very strong in defending the middle of the pitch with numbers, the winning of corners would lead to Chilwell’s ball back into the box going into the net to give Chelsea the lead in the game.
When losing the ball to Sheffield United in the final third (goalkeeper holding the ball or a dead ball situation that they can’t press immediately) where they couldn’t recover it at first, Chelsea would again have success when Sheffield United attempted to get the ball forward. Building short from the back would be a struggle once reaching Chelsea in midfield and having to break the lines with passing, often losing the ball in dangerous counter attacking positions, or having to take a more direct route to the strikers where McGoldrick could use his strength to hold onto the ball before finding runners going behind on the wings, but few of the long balls to the forwards were able to find their target, or be in areas where they could compete for the second ball.
Where the Blades had success was in the final third, where they could move into the corners and when playing aggressively with the ball. With early balls into the box, Chelsea weren’t entirely convincing in clearing or dealing with the second wave of attacks after the clearance, and this would also see them winning corners to again give them the chance to put the ball into the box with numbers to attack.
When less aggressive with the ball in the final third, and looking to wait for an opening, Sheffield United would be pressed back deep into their own half very easily and often forced into making pressured clearances with a broken shape to cope with the second ball and potential counter attacks by Chelsea. Despite winning the ball in dangerous areas later on in the half, Chelsea would only be able to take a one-goal lead into the break.
The second half was a different game, where Chelsea missed opportunities to extend their lead, lost control of the game with the ball, and saw the game become an open and physical contest, which is much more suited to the qualities of Sheffield United.
Chelsea’s backline found themselves stretched and under pressure from the balls behind them, and Zouma in particular was really good at cutting out a number of dangerous situations early, before they developed into goal-scoring chances.
Without being able to control the game with the ball, along with pressing intensity dropping off (players looking tired when attempting to press), Chelsea had to suffer against a number of attacks and balls into their own box. However, with the chances Sheffield United created they were either unable to get their shot on target, or were denied by Kepa on the line. After prolonged pressure in their own half, Ziyech would go on to receive a ball from Chilwell, before scoring in injury time to kill off the game.
Chelsea had good control of the game in the first half, where they didn’t create many chances with the ball, and didn’t take the opportunities they had from recovering the ball high up. Sheffield United were able to impose a more physical game in the second half with Chelsea’s pressing dropping off and not being able to hold onto the ball when playing through the midfield as they had in the first half. Despite a number of chances, Sheffield United were unable to find an equalizer, before Ziyech’s late goal sealed the win to send Chelsea into the semi-finals of the FA Cup.