Eight goals conceded and two scored in the first half in the last six Premier League matches. This is the first time in 28 years we have gone winless in six consecutive home matches at Stamford Bridge, amazingly only earning 3 points there in 2 months of football. 5 points and 3 managers since April 1st. The gods of football have forsaken us.
Knowing that Nottingham Forest spent lavishly this summer to replace the army of players they received on loan last season to earn promotion, we ought to have expected them to fight (as they did) tooth and nail in order to stay as far away from relegation as they could. Knowing that they are third lowest on goal differential, had only scored as many as Chelsea this season, and have been pretty miserable away from home, the naive of us could have expected this to be our last win of the season while the realistic of us cannot forget the facts of the first paragraph.
Nottingham Forest are highly unpredictable in both formation and personnel. They are the only squad to field more players (33) in the league than we have (32) and their formations have been variable all season long, quite literally alternating between a back three and a back four each match. The above setup for them is actually a bit inaccurate as well, because with both our possession of the ball and the middle third of the pitch, they pulled both Danilo and Morgan Gibbs-White more centrally to create a deeper block and essentially a box midfield. They heavily relied on long passes and counters, and amazingly only connected 147 passes at a 59% accuracy. You’d think that would bode well for us, but then if you delved a bit further you would see we connected exactly 666 passes and were doomed.
Joking aside, because of their low block and boxed up central midfield, our attack was heavily dependent on the contributions from Trevoh Chalobah and Lewis Hall, and they duly obliged with 11 and 8 progressive passes and an aggressive drive to them on the ball. As could be expected, with complete dictation of the match, Enzo Fernández led all in that regard with 16, most to either Conor Gallagher or João Félix. The more lethal ones came to Raheem Sterling, the chance in the 18th minute springs to mind, but 10 of Enzo’s misplaced passes were to the left and only 3 were out wide right. Both of his key passes in the game came to the right side as well, but Sterling finished with both of our goals and that 18th minute chance was a golden opportunity for a third.
They were highly committed to the press through the midfield through a man-marking setup (hence crowding it with that withdrawn box) but also to getting numbers forward when they had offensive chances, again noting how much they’ve spent and how direly they needed points. Their first goal is a direct reflection of that, with the numbers forward you can see here for this throw-in, only leaving 2 players back to mark Félix and essentially going man for man.
They utilise their high midfield pressing (look at close marking by the players behind the ball, even on the offensive) to take the ball off Mateo Kovačić, who initially comes away from the skirmish with the ball at his feet. Orel Mangala slides in and pokes the ball back into that congested area, and Danilo, another player crowding that space, hits a pass out to the opposite flank to Renan Lodi who is breaking down into that vacated space.
Madueke’s run to cover that pass takes him far too centrally, and so with the time to pick it out, a deep and hopeful cross into the box is launched. I don’t care what your opinion is on the fact that both Thiago Silva and Benoît Badiashile lose this aerial dual, Édouard Mendy not only hesitates, but horribly misreads this cross and his footwork is atrocious before coming for the punch. If you watch it back in slow motion, he hesitates to come initially, but then side steps left, clearly unsure of depth of this cross. That insecurity is surely down to lack of game time, but it also isn’t doing anything for his reputation or resale value or Lampard’s team selection choices. Notice how little power or direction Awoniyi was able to mustre on the header as well - had Mendy done nothing and remained rooted to the ground, he would have made the save easily.
And so with a goal on their first chance on target and we were challenged to come forward a bit more. Our decent chances largely sprang from either longer balls or through that right flank, mostly via Trevoh Chalobah, and advancing down the right to play in crosses. There was a clear directive for them to get deep and play the cross on the ground, noticing the height differential of their defense versus our attack. In fact, look at the direction and location of all of our right sided crosses. The problem with most of those was that, against a side that is set in defensively, a quick cross had a much better likelihood of connecting with its target by catching them off guard, whether it was on the ground or in the air.
And my point about the quick crosses was emphasised by young Lewis Hall in the 33rd minute. The similarities between the their goal and this chance are striking. Granted that even though it seems like Félix had virtually no chance on this header, it was our highest generating xG (as high as .28 on some sites) in the first half, so take that for what it's worth - but a 2v1 with them unset is a better chance than when they were set and it was an 8v3.
Through some nifty and quick feet, Hall manages to slip past his defender and get down the left flank in space with time to pick out a cross. Note how many players we have in a position to get into the box and challenge for this, which could help negate our massive height disadvantage.
Put under pressure by Joe Worrall, Hall sends the cross towards Félix, but the header is from around the penalty spot and far too tame for Keylor Navas, who correctly decides to not challenge for the ball (ahem, Mendy.) Both Sterling and Gallagher are just slowly jogging behind the play as Hall advances forward, and neither end up in the box until after the cross is hit. Seeing the pressure Hall is put on under, they should realise a cross is imminent and get create more presence inside the penalty area. In doing so, they might have freed up Félix from one of his marks or even caused a change in how the cross was played. Bear in mind that we are already trailing at this point, so offensive effort shouldn’t be an issue.
The half would end with Chelsea trailing and an injury to Mateo Kovačić which saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek replace him before the whistle with no change in formation. There would be audible dissidence in the crowd and the improvidence of these first few months under new ownership had us set on a course to break another of the worst records, 3 straight league home losses for the first time since 1993. Thankfully, the second half would have a bit of a change of pace to it, and although disappointing, the record would remain in 1993.
The very early stages of the first half saw what seemed to be clear instruction to get the ball wide and then quickly move it down the flanks. Fernández tried a few times to play centrally in that time frame and, from my count, not a single one of them connected prior to the goal that Sterling scored. There was, however, visible drive injected into Sterling from the start of the second half, and finally that directive of getting deep and playing crosses low across the box would pay off, albeit with a hefty dose of luck.
But credit where credit is due, it did seem that there was a quicker pace of play to start the second half, especially wide down the right flank. Through linked passes, Chalobah and Madueke break their line with relative ease. The picture below sums up entirely why, without any luck in the first half, none of those previous chances were converted. Chalobah plays a great ball that takes a deflection on the way to Sterling, whose shot takes a deflection on the way into the top of the net. The movement on and off the ball was faster, their defense was not as well set, and the chance was converted as a result of simply increasing our drive into the final third.
Our aggressive play continued down that right side, and we were forcing errors from them out of our increased endeavour, but once again anything producing something of an xG was being coming down the left, with a shot from Gallagher scooped by Navas and one from Félix skimming the top of the net. Both of those opportunities were generated from high pressing turnovers in their half. Our second goal was after more sloppy play from them, with a lack of communication resulting in the Thiago Silva clearance that started it all. This slip is the error that would cost them, and the turnover, although technically in our half, was due to pressing throughout and quick transitioning, and the finish by Sterling was beautiful.
For their second goal, Hall gets all the blame, perhaps a bit harshly - mind you, he is not a left back for the U21 team. Silva could do no better with the clearance, but as he clears the ball Félix takes a central run and vacates the space that allows the assist (image 1). Hall is a bit slow to clear the lines and also unsighted when the ball comes in (image 2). It quite literally boils down to a height disadvantage, which in turn boils down to the team selection, and that combined with Hall being played out of position is why I feel the blame on him is a bit harsh (image 3).
Our xG flatlined until the 80th minute and so did our speed of play, but perhaps most worryingly was that Lampard only made two additional substitutions. With Premier League football secured for next season, to only add Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech before the final whistle was as disappointing as choosing starters shorter than the Forest players at the off. The selections Lampard made against Bournemouth were very astute and practical, but that cannot be said about this match.
One of the things most disappointing about our return of results is how little time we have spent games in a winning position. Only 70 minutes of our last 11 matches have we been winning, meaning we have been tied or losing for 920 minutes (92.4%) of the time we have been on the pitch. With our remaining fixtures, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, but nevertheless we ought keep our heads high and hope for a true rebound next season under different management with a hopefully trimmed and yet strengthened squad.