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West Ham 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down Chelsea’s win in the battle for fourth place

First half

West Ham set up with their front two playing between Chelsea’s wide central defenders and central midfielders, Fornals covering one of Chelsea’s central midfielders (positioned between), and the central midfielders behind him rotating: one moving up to pressure Chelsea’s spare central midfielder while the other covering the space for long passes into Chelsea’s frontline.

Chelsea had a lot of the ball from this setup, but it meant that to change the speed of the attacks they needed an attacker to beat their man upon receiving a long pass to feet through the lines. This gave West Ham opportunity to continue competing for the ball and push Chelsea back when the pass forward reached its man (in order to drop back in numbers behind the ball upon the backwards pass), as well as chances to recover the ball in dangerous positions to counter (Chelsea open, on the ball).

Chelsea often kept the ball well in these situations, but this would see West Ham dropping back deep and defending around their box in numbers, leaving Chelsea to create from slow play using crosses into the box and individual dribbling to beat a defender to create space for the man on the ball.

West Ham’s counters coming from deep had speed and dribbling players to hold the ball, as well as Fredericks running behind on the left and causing problems, although lacking quality when arriving to the box on his weaker left foot. Chelsea controlled a lot of these situations well to either recover the ball quickly after losing it or fouling to stop the counters progressing further.

Without West Ham building from deep and giving Chelsea opportunities to win the ball high up, Chelsea were quite restricted in their chance creation. However, they did eventually take the lead before halftime through Werner turning past his defender to break through West Ham’s pressure and put them on the back foot, allowing Chelsea to attack their box quickly and with fewer numbers back to defend. Both for the goal and Werner’s chance earlier in the half, Azpilicueta’s movement inside the box to attack the post created the space inside the box.

Second half

West Ham started the second half aggressively, playing in Chelsea’s half, pressing into the corners to pressure Chelsea’s backline and win the ball high up, and keeping the ball in midfield to push Chelsea back.

Chelsea had difficulty holding onto the ball when playing through the pressure from the back, especially thanks to rushed passes forward from the touchlines into the frontline, and would have to spend more time dropping back to defend deep. From these deep positions Chelsea had to face a number of balls into the box and set pieces, but coped well, and when recovering the ball had some opportunities to counter quickly into spaces. Chelsea would go on to have a few opportunities in the final third to extend their lead without success.

With more of the ball from midfield, West Ham brought on more individually creative players to increasing the possibilities of creative chancing through individual quality against Chelsea’s deep block. Chelsea’s response was to bring on Ziyech for Pulisic and switch to a front two (freedom for both to create from counters with spaces to find and attack) and move Mount back into a midfield three to provide more defensive stability.

Following the change there was the red card for West Ham, which didn’t change the game for them in terms of attacking numbers, but left them with one less at the back to be exposed through counters and fast attacks. Chelsea could now play with more comfort with an extra man (although still having to defend some dangerous situations) and had a number of opportunities to keep the ball high up in the corners to run the clock down and to go for the second goal. However, one goal would be enough for a crucial victory.

West Ham v Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

West Ham set up to defend in numbers, play inside Chelsea’s half to not give them the opportunity to press and win the ball high, and have opportunities to counter attack by inviting long passes from Chelsea’s backline into the frontline to win the ball and break. Chelsea controlled these situations well in the first half and managed to get a goal by breaking through the pressure from the pass into the frontline. West Ham were more aggressive in the second half and Chelsea had to defend deep, leaving opportunities to counter attack. West Ham had brought on more creative players to break Chelsea down (Chelsea moving Mount back to help defend midfield while looking to counter attack) but Chelsea, helped partly by the red card, held firm.