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AFC Bournemouth 1-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Safe from the depths of relegation despair

AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Good vibes FC
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

It is hard to decipher Frank Lampard’s and the club’s main stratagem based on his lineup and substitution choices. If the intent had been to ensure safety from relegation (which likely was going to happen regardless) or to be sure that players with actual futures with the club were able to gain minutes and confidence, both of those were satisfied with the exception of prospect Lewis Hall. If we are trying to gain better market value for imminent departures, we have also somewhat achieved that via a few of our substitutions. Achieving all three of those objectives via three goals and points for the first time in almost two months was a breath of fresh air. Although nobody has been happy with the cumulative results, Lampard may actually be on the path towards helping the club more than it initially seemed.

Starting XIs

All blind optimism aside, Lampard finally brought in Benoît Badiashile (thank goodness the early injury scare was indeed just that) and the man came in with purpose and got his first of hopefully many club goals (and songs!), but our defense as a whole could have been more solid. Especially when their outside backs contributed to the attack, we were defensively disorganised.

The Cherries did have a wise formation with the three attacking midfielders, as especially in the wider areas they were finding space and offering dangerous counters. They are in the top four of the Premier League as far as direct speed of attacking play is concerned, and so the game was largely spent in transition as we contrived to give the ball away 26 times, often on the wings, which they were happy to quickly convert to a counter. In fact, the game could have gone a lot differently if, in just the first 5 minutes, either of their two counter attacks produced a goal. Thankfully Matías Viña failed to get a shot off (at least this time) and Jefferson Lerma, fresh off a brace last weekend, put the ball wide with his dangerously close long range effort.

Stats show how close this was if you ignore possession and finishing

For all our possession and the fact that only 25% of the game was played in our defensive third, this game was far too open and even. In fact, our passing down that right hand side, 45% of our attacking effort, was based on an overload and some actually progressive passes to get heels on the touchline. And yet getting into those threatening positions hasn’t been the issue lately - it has been having someone available in the box to finish off those movements and actually justify crossing the ball.

As could be expected, Lampard has relied upon Enzo Fernández to distribute our offensive attack, but clearly the intention of the attack was on our right wing and that the attack from our left was almost always sprung from a deep position while we pushed Chilwell farther up the pitch.

Pass map

This also shows the isolation of Mikhailo Mudryk and Ben Chilwell, essentially linking play between themselves via Badiashile. Chilwell was much more instrumental in any productivity down that left flank than Trevoh Chalobah was on his - Chalobah was often the distributor of the ball while Chilwell was often on the receiving end of the ball in attack. The attacking formation became quite asymmetric as a result, and it exposed that left side to counters much more than the right via the congestion of players, so just as we hit them for 45% of our attack down the right, they hit back at 43% down their right.

And because of that, it wasn’t necessarily that Noni Madueke was more effective than his counterpart, but he was seeing literally twice the amount of the ball and thereby getting twice the opportunities to impress. He duly delivered, wreaking havoc on their left-sided defensive and linking quite well with those around him. He may not have gotten a goal, but he was subbed off surely due to the effort and exertion he was demonstrating relentlessly and might have gotten one if he hadn’t been removed for the final 15 minutes - when both of our other goals came.

For once, with players attacking the ball in the box, it was smart to try to play with crosses. Bournemouth have been dreadful at defending set pieces and corners this season, conceding 21 goals in total, 16 from corners, and 5 more than any other team in the competition. Thankfully, with a stronger presence in the box than we typically have and a willingness to cross the ball, we would head ourselves into the lead early on thanks to Conor Gallagher’s meandering and finding himself in the right place, unsurprisingly unmarked.

Their equalising goal would be simply due to their quicker transitional play and our inability to cope with the runners that they were pushing forward from the deep flank. Their quick passing on the occasions that they pulled them off were effective and breaking down our defense, and even though N’Golo Kanté tactically fouled Ryan Christie in their initial quick counter and got a booking for it, they picked up their play right where they left off. Take note that the only players behind Kanté are Chilwell, Fernández, and Dominic Solanke, and their positioning makes this was dangerous before they even venture into our half.

Kanté with the deliberate and tactical foul that did nothing to slow their attack

But seemingly a lack of coordination between marking, tracking, and coverage all combine to capitulation via a nice passing sequence and that lack of communication is the direct defensive issue that any incoming coach needs to address. For the third time in 20 minutes our right sight was completely dismantled, and with Kanté, Thiago Silva, and Trevoh Chalobah on that side, those concessions are inexcusable - it had been the route for their first two progressions into our area that imbalanced us and nearly nabbed a goal. The professional punditry has put their goal down to a feat of precise passing and a perfectly placed posit, but it really came from a lack of organisation of our back line and midfield marking setup. And let’s also not ignore how easily that worldly shot could have been a pass to a completely open Dango Ouattara for a tap in.

Kanté has truly gone walkabout here and we only have 3 players behind the ball

The middle frame of this game was not great for either side and, having let them equalise and knowing this squad, the end result was probably not what most expected. The xG timing chart can tell the rest of this story for me, but until the substitutions were made and Chelsea gained some impetus as a result, there was a lull in the game. Thank goodness the denouement was favourable to the good guys.

xG timing chart

I am not going to get too much into the details of the later goals because I’ve already pointed out that Bournemouth are terrible at defending set pieces from wider positions and even though he stands quite tall at 1,94 metres (6’ 4”), he ended up scoring a volley. The ball from recent substitute Hakim Ziyech was perfect, and for him to do things like this while likely on the way out is ideal in regaining some of that market value. I do like the positioning and movement of Thiago Silva in this move, too - he is both forcing the positioning of their defenders to compensate for his presence but also he drifts, onside after the Badiashile touch, to the near post in case the ball was played back across for an easy tap in, there were multiple options to score from this chance.

Brilliant ball from Ziyech, brilliant from Silva, someone’s been drawing up plans for free kicks again!

It is important to note that the João Félix goal, just like the previous, was assisted by (and in this case scored) substitutes, it was late in the game, and it showed both a drive from the players themselves even with the game already won. Lampard’s decision to go even more directly at their defense by bringing on fresh attackers late in the game paid off. Once Raheem Sterling was brought on, we started to utilise the left side a bit more, and this goal was made via a few tight and intricate passes leading him to have a direct run at the defense that goes virtually unchallenged. These direct movements are often lacking and it made for great entertainment, with a nice side foot finish to polish off the movement.

Novel idea torun at a defense that’s not properly set

And so that directly leads into something about the players’ game that needs to improve apart from the finishing has to be the number and speed of any counter that we create moves. Long gone are the days when we would quickly send the ball wide to an attacker or forward to a striker who would drive directly at goal, and now the preference is to slow down the play and get the team involved in the attack. Chelsea are the only team without a counter-attacking goal in the league this season, but also press the most and have only had 40 shot attempts from our pressing and counters this season according to The Analyst. All that pressing and nothing to show for it.

There has been much ado about the appointment of Lampard, but if he was supposed to be a harbinger and nothing more, this was a good start. And so, points secured, relegation avoided, and the best bet is that we will finish where we currently stand, with a 58% chance of 11th, and a 5% and 26% chance to finish 10th or 12th respectively. Mediocrity at its finest, but this isn’t too odd noting the rigmarole involved in rebuilding a squad. Even with our 3 goals and points, this is our form of late:

And our defense hasn’t been that great lately - we had conceded 2+ goals in our previous 5 matches

Shout out to the travelling fans that took the mickey out their home supporters throughout the match and gave those not in attendance something to smile about aside from the win. Well done!


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