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Chelsea 0-2 Brentford, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

When seeking honey, expect the sting of bees

Chelsea FC v Brentford FC - Premier League
What happened?
Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Prior to that dismal display in April of last year, a 4-1 defeat which saw Antonio Rüdiger score a rocket to open the second half scoring met by 4 unanswered Brentford goals, we hadn’t lost to the Bees since 1939. In fact, we had only a single draw in the FA Cup in 2013 in between. Fast forward to now and we are winless in four straight against them, and three of those are defeats at Stamford Bridge. Our defeats have been down to two things: Brentford sitting in a very low block and making no effort to do anything but defend with numbers behind the ball and our attack being about as slow as molasses honey.

Starting XIs

Brentford’s 3-5-2 was a 5-3-2, and they aimed to frustrate and slow our attack while keeping the play in front of them. Chelsea played relatively narrow football, which is surprising because overloading and attacking a particular flank is often the best way through a low block. Instead, we were unlocking their defense via lofted balls from Cole Palmer or from crosses, but rarely were those crosses from the byline and typically came from deeper positions, and even less rarely were they while we had beaten their defensive line. We only completed two crosses into the penalty area but attempted 23. Typically Enzo would have been helpful in breaking down this team - he does usher the ball into wider areas quickly and also does offer the direct threat that Palmer was providing, but our midfield maestro was injured after pulling out of training on Friday but also probably celebrating the birth of his son.


Possession was hugely in our favour and we played decently well in the first half, with over 50% of the game being spent in their defensive third. We were firmly entrenched in their half and nearly all of the Chelsea players average positions on the map above are in the opposition half, but, once again, a well drilled low block absorbed our pressure. We did actually get behind their back line from time to time, but there was no end product.

We did have chances that should have been put in the net, finishing the half with a .98 xG to Brentford’s 0.07, with literally 0.01 of their xG on target. Unfortunately, the best chances fell to not-so-clinical finishers, and the half would finish at nil-nil, and those missed chances you just knew would come back to haunt us as they have so many times in the past. It is amazing when you look at the xG timing chart how much more often we were the more threatening side and yet we contrived to end the match with a lower total xG.

Especially in the second half, Brentford decided to attack Marc Cucurella, who has put in mixed performances this season. 55% of their attack came down his flank and there was a pretty simple yet effective passing scheme they used to break down our left sided defense, noting that he likes to press onto the ball and that opens up space behind him. In the 49th minute we would have a preview of just how they would pass through our defense moments later for their opening goal. We decided to not stop it on either occasion.

In the first sequence, Mathias Jensen finds Mads Roerslev on the touchline with Cucurella initially narrower and marking Kristoffer Ajer. Gallagher comes to pick up Ajer so that Cucurella can close down Roerslev, but a dinked ball to the touchline beats our marking and a cross fizzed across the six finds Vitaly Janelt unmarked with a free rip on goal, with which he honestly should have done better.

Too easy to get into the space behind Cucurella

Fast forward less than 10 minutes and the exact same thing was able to happen, this time with a better delivery, equally poor marking, and ultimately the winning goal.

Mathias Jensen takes a throw in to Bryan Mbeumo, who is marked by Cucurella, and so Mbeumo plays it straight back to Jensen. Cucurella goes on the press assuming that someone would pick up Mbeumo behind him, but they do not. Jensen picks a nearly identical pass to the one played above by Roerslev, outside and around Cucurella to the endline. Gallagher is slower to this challenge, and Mbeumo pings a cross to Ethan Pinnock at the back post. Madueke and Disasi do their best to not challenge him for the run, and it definitely falls more on Madueke’s marking than anything else.


I pointed out in the Arsenal analysis that perhaps Pochettino was not giving minutes to Madueke because of his poor marking. He is doing his best to prove me right, and was pulled after this defensive lapse. At that point, Chelsea went on full offensive with their substitutions, including giving minutes to Deivid Washington to play up top with Nicolas Jackson, who was invisible all day. Nothing worked.

Brentford have proven to be quite the nuisance since their promotion to the league, and it pains me to see things like this being posted.

I am hoping for a strong starting XI against Blackburn in the League Cup, as it may end up being our most viable way into European football next season, especially if we put up results like this in the Premiership.


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