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Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge

First half

United started the game with aggressive high pressing, trying to disturb Chelsea’s usual possession and building from the back. United’s front four covered Chelsea’s back three and midfield-two, while the fullback moved up on the side of the ball if Chelsea’s wing-back dropped to collect the ball — leaving United with a back three and two sitting midfielders of their own in these moments.

Chelsea were very comfortable playing against this pressure and kept the ball well, with close distances and numbers around the ball to move it quickly, and players comfortable to turn and move with the ball. When breaking through pressure from these deep areas, there were spaces to exploit, but Chelsea didn’t really have the speed in the middle to take advantage of them. Chelsea have speed on the wings to carry the ball and take on the defenders, but what would often happen in the middle was that they’d carry the ball up to the box gradually, giving United time to recover their numbers and defensive shape — leaving Chelsea to create from crosses or long shots against United’s deep block.

Without the direct threat to attack spaces, Chelsea’s best option in this game was to draw pressure to the sides before playing switches. From these, they could pin United’s far side fullback tight with the position of Mount or Ziyech playing narrow, which would give the wing-back receiving the switch time and space to control the ball and play an early ball into the box for Giroud to attack.

Chelsea’s pressing was very aggressive from midfield and United had a difficult time playing through this, with little space to find behind Chelsea’s backline for the speed United have on the wings. When United were more patient with their possession, they could move forward as a team and push Chelsea back to defend deep, where they were more capable of creating problems from crosses and winning set pieces. United had a good period of this in the final ten minutes of the first half, but were unable to break the deadlock.

Second half

Chelsea made a change at halftime with James replacing Hudson-Odoi, and switched to a 3-5-2 with Mount in midfield and Ziyech up front with Giroud.

Early in the half, Chilwell made an early run behind to be found by Mount, and then found Ziyech inside the box for a shot on goal: the spaces to get behind United’s backline were there throughout the second half for Chelsea as long as they made the runs behind.

United were more direct with their possession and looked to find spaces earlier rather than play through Chelsea’s pressure, and this opened the game up more by stretching Chelsea at the back and increasing the distances between the frontline and backline of both teams — more spaces and an open game suited United’s frontline. United were also much more dangerous with their counters during the second half, and found a number of opportunities where they had a 3v3 in attack only to make a mistake with the final pass to end or delay the attack, giving Chelsea time to recover.

For the majority of the second half, the game suited United more and Chelsea had lost the control they had through possession in the first half. It took Chelsea until the final ten minutes of the game to start causing problems again, with Pulisic and Werner playing strikers and both of them creating chances for themselves. United had the last good opportunity from a counter later in the game, but neither side were able to break the opponents’ defence.

Chelsea v Manchester United xG timing chart


Chelsea were strong in the first half with good control of possession and breaking through United’s pressure, but they were unable to take advantage of the spaces United left behind from their pressing. United were better in the second half where the game was more open and stretched, with spaces to attack from more direct play and counters. With Pulisic and Werner on as strikers, Chelsea began to cause problems towards the end of the half, but United were still a threat from counters late on in the game. A good half for each team meant the draw was a fair result.

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