The two halves of this match were almost disparate, and much of that has to do either with our emphasis on possession or the decisions that Raheem Sterling was making - both in defense and in the final third. Granted he was given the MOTM award, and deservedly so, but his first half performance would not have led one to believe that would be the end result. He was partly at fault for the goal we conceded and was continually wasting chances in the final third due to wrong decisions on the ball, often seeking the goal for himself when a better opportunity was there.
The positional adjustments made in the last few matches by Mauricio Pochettino is certainly extracting the best from our midfield trio, and I for one never truly understood bringing Enzo Fernández farther forward into the no. 10 spot. Conor Gallagher is more of a two-way midfielder or traditional no. 8 than Enzo, who thrives from seeing the play develop from deep to pick the right pass and can read the play equally well defensively to challenge the opposition’s advances. The high pressing that Gallagher does so well means he ought to be in the more advanced position, and the ability of Moises Caicedo to position himself in passing lanes, challenge for 50/50 balls, and to put in a tackle when necessary gives Enzo that freedom to help orchestrate our attack from deep, similar to a regista. Each of these three players contribute tremendously to our success by complementing each others’ abilities.
By having Caicedo covering defensively as the single pivot (CDF in the image above), Enzo is more free to get on the ball from passes out from the back and often to turn with it to bring the attack upfield with his insanely capable ability to find the ideal penetrating pass. In fact, Enzo is given space by our congestion on the right, and with that space you can note that he is the single player to have hit passes to every other player on the pitch. Also, by overloading that right side with the comfortably interchangeable abilities of Palmer and Gallagher, two things were achieved. Firstly, it isolated Sterling on the flank against Vitinho, which obviously was part of the plan and worked well. Secondly, it concentrated our attack on that right side and facilitated the interchange between Gallagher and Palmer, of which there was plenty. It confused Burnley’s marking scheme and created space between their lines that would be occupied by either Gallagher or Palmer playing in a central midfield role, which helped facilitate getting the ball forward. The image below essentially shows the entirety of what I’ve just discussed.
In addition, Christopher Nkunku and Carney Chukwuemeka are certainly more traditional no. 10s, which does leave one wondering what will become of that midfield once Pochettino has a fully available squad. If they do not counterpress as well as Gallagher, their offensive output must outweigh Gallagher’s defensive contributions. Despite both displaying fantastic form earlier this year, they will produce a good problem for Pochettino to have moving forward. He’s also got fantastic competition in other attacking positions, too. Similar to Gallagher, Cole Palmer’s innate ability to interrupt an opponent’s play might make him tough to drop - and that’s not considering his recent contributions offensively. Quality competition in positions of influence are often what causes players and teams to thrive, so let’s hope this is the case moving forward after the international break, where the competition is stiff to say the least.
For the third consecutive match, and at least for the impactful portion of this one, Pochettino has not cared as much about possession than he had previously. Considering the results he has achieved, it is entirely warranted. In the first half, where Chelsea were a bit toothless, we also enjoyed 68% possession. In the second half, and especially in the first 20 minutes (during which we scored two goals), it fell to 43%. Unsurprisingly, our possession did pick back up later in the second half once the result had been secured and we were trying to dictate and slow down play. That tactical flexibility will also be crucial in those upcoming games, many against teams who will want to control possession. Concession of the ball certainly played into our hands on recent occasions.
Why it was particularly effective against Burnley is because, even back to last season during their promotion run, they have played deliberately out from the back. Amazingly, only Manchester City have a slower direct speed in attack than Burnley. And while Burnley were able to achieve that to amazing success in the Championship last season, it has been a hard run in the Premier League with the same playing style. Our PPDA was a very low 7.9 for this match, much lower than our average of 9.7, and letting them have the ball while pressing wisely caused them to have an outrageously high 10 high turnovers of the ball, and Cole Palmer is actually a large reason why that has been effective in these three matches.
Cole Palmer is also winning possession back in the final 3rd more times (2.2) per game than any other Chelsea player in the Premier League. Understanding how to use his body. #CFC pic.twitter.com/mdP64n09gY— Mozo Football (@MozoFootball) October 7, 2023
And Cole Palmer has also done well offensively, but Sterling’s influence and indeed his goal (12 now in Chelsea blue) actually makes him our highest goal-scorer amongst the entirety of the squad, and his impact on the game was to terrorise Vitinho on that flank. Vitinho simply could not handle the direct runs of Sterling, yet many of those runs in the first half amounted to nothing due to some poor decision making with Sterling’s final touch. But before any of that, Sterling got lazy on tracking his mark to allow Burnley to transition into our half and score from their only shot on target in the first half.
This entire play comes after Sterling had just tried a curler from outside the 18 which ended up going wide for a goal kick. They play it short and there is decent coverage that should have prevented a easy outlet, but we are carved open simply because of the space afforded to Vitinho by Sterling combined with the vacated space of Colwill stepping up to mark Mike Trésor. In the below image, although Broja should have been tighter on Ameen Al Dakhil, his passing outlets are few, and so there is no clear issue.
Al Dakhil plays a ball down the line to the winger Trésor, who is being tracked by Colwill, and Vitinho becomes aware of the space in behind that he is able to carry into. A quick layoff from Trésor and a lack of awareness and effort from Sterling allows him to get into our half against a now weakened left sided defense.
Despite Lyle Foster having ample coverage by Axel Disasi, even with Thiago Silva a little behind the play and without the pace to catch up, all Foster had to do was get the ball to Wilson Odobert, who was giving Marc Cucurella a hard time all night long. Odobert’s shot is weak and should have been closed down a bit more by Cucurella, but the entire play is a result of Sterling’s defensive irresponsibility. He makes no effort here and we are punished for it.
Thankfully, it seems as though he was made aware of his culpability and contributed offensively thereafter. Sterling is a controversial figure, and it has been pointed out by many that when he plays well, Chelsea play well. For the first 42 minutes, he was wasting chances with a bit of greed. I mentioned above how the entire attack above came after he made a curling effort from outside the box that went wide, but he did have passing options to both Gallagher and Palmer making runs into the box. Especially considering his ball played across the box resulted in an own goal, it becomes glaringly obvious that he should not be taking on chances with such a tight angle as below. This is just one of two circumstances where this happened.
Credit to him for continuing to make those runs, but similar to having possession without a true threat on goal, making the runs doesn’t matter if there is no end product as a result. In the second half he truly came out with more intent and drive, and while I noted that our possession percentage fell dramatically, it seemed like he was the main outlet for our attack. In that second half, Chelsea were second best not only in possession but shots, and yet 5 of their 8 came from outside the box and their open play xG only hit 0.16. However poorly we had been finishing prior to this game, we had 4 shots from open play and all 4 were on target (2 being goals) and we hit a 0.71 open play xG from them, with an xGOT (on target) a whopping 2.69 as a result if you include Palmer’s penalty.
The international break may not have come at the best time considering it seemed like we were just hitting our stride, but if we come back healthier and with the same level of confidence, we may get better results than expected in those upcoming difficult matches.