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Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s final league match of the season

First half

Chelsea dominated a lot of the first half, moving forward to the final third quickly and getting the ball inside the box, only to fail to take advantage of these opportunities.

Villa set up to block passes through the middle to Chelsea’s central midfielders from the backline while looking to intercept the longer ground passes played into the frontline, or to aggressively press when passes were made into Chelsea’s central midfielders with backs to play after closing the distances — McGinn using his aggression and physical qualities to push up on Kovačić.

Chelsea had spaces to advance on the outside and early passes into depth with potential for second balls ahead of Villa’s backline (dropping) were successful in moving the team forward and pushing Villa back deep inside their own half. Werner making runs wide behind would be useful both when playing up to the wing-backs (drawing Villa’s fullbacks forward) and from early long passes behind from the central defenders, but would leave Chelsea without anyone inside the box to quickly take advantage of the moments where Villa were unorganised at the back (midfield still recovering and backline broken). Instead Chelsea would hold the ball and then look to create from switches and combining to pass or cross the ball into the box, but lacking the killer instincts inside the box to turn these opportunities into chances to score, and also missing the target with the chances they did create.

Later in the half Villa began to have success recovering the ball higher up, which would be their platform to attack — Watkins finding spaces behind during a couple counters being their only other threat, controlled by Chelsea’s backline. Often, the high recoveries would lead to quick long shots on goal, with none of them worrying Mendy. However, with more time spent in Chelsea’s half, they could begin to hold possession of their own (Chelsea not sustaining intensity of pressing from front) and win set pieces to give them a chance to attack the box with numbers. A typical set piece routine with Traoré looping around from the back to attack the low ball into the box (runners ahead blockers) would see them taking the lead just before half-time.

Second half

Chelsea started the second half by again breaking Villa’s backline with one of Werner’s runs to the wings. This time Pulisic was able to get into the box early, but once again the finishing would let Chelsea down. The switch to Chilwell (or Mount when they rotated positions) joining the box was another option, and would even lead to Mount having a shot from Jorginho’s pass, but again without scoring.

Chelsea were punished for missing these chances soon after, with Villa winning and scoring a penalty to put them two ahead and Chelsea needing to score three goals to guarantee a Champions League position.

Chelsea’s first change was to bring on Ziyech for Jorginho. With the game becoming more broken (Jorginho and Kovacic both on yellows that prevented them from fouling to stop counters), Chelsea did not use the usual change of Mount going into midfield. Instead, James would move into midfield (more physical player to deal with counters and loose balls), Azpilicueta would move back into the back three, and Pulisic would move to wing-back to give his dribbling to the wing. Soon after Havertz would replace Kovacic, which would see a change in shape, moving to a 3-5-2 with Ziyech and Mount ahead of James as the holding midfielder.

The changes really made a strong impression in the game with Ziyech finding passes behind on the wings to create opportunities to cross, Havertz finding spaces to get on the end of crosses into the box, and Chelsea now flooding the box with attackers to look to take advantage of the crosses. Chilwell found the spaces at the far post yet again to score and bring Chelsea back into the game with plenty of time to go, but it would be the games elsewhere where Chelsea’s fortune was changing the most.

Chelsea would continue to look to score but Villa held on to take the three points. However, with the results elsewhere going in Chelsea’s favour, the loss made no change to them securing a top four position to qualify for the Champions League next season.

Aston Villa v Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea created a lot of opportunities to take the lead in the first half, but lacked the killer edge in the final third to take advantage of their approach play. As the intensity of pressing and quality of buildup dropped later in the half, Villa began to win the ball high, spend more time in Chelsea’s half, and take the lead from a corner routine. Chelsea again missed chances early on in the second half, and Villa punished them by winning and scoring a penalty. Chelsea’s changes made them much more attacking and allowed them to make fouls to stop counters with the game becoming more broken (taking off both midfielders on yellow cards) but they were only able to pull one goal back.