Tactical Analysis : Chelsea FC vs Southampton FC

Written by Matthew Mak

The international fixture ended, and we welcomed the return of the Premier League. Chelsea hosted Southampton at the Stamford Bridge, Frank Lampard also had important players returning to the team – Hakim Ziyech was on the bench, Christian Pulisic started the game. 

Despite playing a good first half and having the lead for most of the game, Chelsea did not make the efforts count. With Jannik Vestergaard leveling at the ending stages of the game, Southampton secured a point away from home. 

This tactical analysis dissects the performance of Lampard and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s teams.  

Lineups 

Chelsea started a strong team, perhaps the only missing leader at the defence was Thiago Silva, who travelled from South America. Ben Chilwell started another game for the team. Tammy Abraham was benched, hence, Timo Werner played as the striker with Kai Harvetz supporting behind. 

Southampton were without Stuart Armstrong again. Therefore, the new signing – Theo Walcott started immediately. Vestergaard has restored his position at the team, partnering Jan Bednarek at the centre of the defence. The rest of the team are the most-trusted players of Hasenhuttl already. 

Chelsea offensive plays 

Despite being a player under Jose Mourinho, Lampard seems want to create a team using positional plays more. The club invested a lot this summer, especially at the frontline, probably Chelsea’s board of management wanted the team to play beautifully, but there is a long way to go as the team needed to adapt the tactics. 

Chelsea attacked with a pair of wide full-backs, staying at the touchline to stretch the pitch as big as possible. The build-up shape was a 4-2, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho operating at the centre. The front four were tasked to provide the height of the attack, as well as constantly searching the attacking depth. They seldom dropped too deep in the build-up phase, mostly exploiting the 4 v 4 at Southampton’s back. 

Southampton were the most aggressive pressing team in the Premier League, even with a lower PPDA than Manchester City and Liverpool. The 4-2-2-2 shape has allowed the team to match the build-up shape of Chelsea perfectly. The top priority of the strikers was to shadow the pivots of Chelsea, this must be done before initiating a press. Walcott and Nathan Redmond should protect the half-spaces initially, then jumping to the full-backs if needed. The centre-backs and midfielders of Southampton must work up and down to support each other, especially protecting spaces behind the pressing players. 

The black lines show the linkages of Chelsea ball circulation flow. The Blues ere good at moving the ball from one vertical half to another through passing between defenders. Sometimes Kurt Zouma would play diagonally long to find Cesar Azpilicueta. Since the shape was extremely big, Southampton seldom intercept the ball in this flow. 

Chelsea were using their tactics that also appeared before, the first example below shows Werner dropping into the “holes” as an additional man. Since Southampton only had two midfielders, this extra dropping player behind the midfield could be the unmarked player to progress the ball. Below was the case, as Walcott and Oriol Romeu duplicated their defensive duties, Werner was the option. 

An important shift of role must synchronize in this setup – Harvetz must occupy the height to prevent the centre-backs from stepping up.  

Another very predictable pattern of Chelsea was playing through the right flank. The Blues seldom developed the attack through the left flank as Chilwell does not have enough progressive options, while Kante could not offer the offensive support to the left-back. Through ball circulation, the ball was inevitably playing to the other side of the pitch. 

Here shows the flaw, Jorginho – Azpilicueta – Harvetz. The attack was not difficult to read as the front players only move to one direction at the same time, even though there were two options. Since Southampton played with a high line, many spaces behind the defence were available to attack, but sometimes this failed as the midfielder read the pass early. 

Chelsea played some good football in the first half, especially fully utilized the qualitative superiority of the front players to exploit isolations and 1 v 1 situations. However, the build-up still needs to be improved in terms of the interconnectedness of players. Chelsea players were apart from each other, hence, it was difficult to counter-press or offer passing options around the ball. The team must rely on longer passes or individual ball-carrying ability to progress the ball into advanced areas. 

For example, in the scenario below, Chilwell lacked option when the opposition was pressing from his back. Kante was not alert enough to adjust his position to open a passing lane, while Mount was far away. Apart from these two players, no Chelsea players was supporting Chilwell. Consequently, the left-back tried the same route like the Azpilicueta example above, but this time Romeu was alert enough to intercept the ball. 

Below is another instance of Chelsea’s reliability on individual performance. Pulisic is strong in 1 v 1 situations, but it would be difficult to bypass three oppositions altogether. 

In this scenario, Pulisic was trapped at the sideline without any support. Ideally, Kante should call the American winger to provide an option, but this was not the style of the Frenchman midfielder. Meanwhile, Harvetz was too far away from the ball. Pulisic had no choice but to take on all defenders. Chelsea should have maintain closer proximity to allow players supporting each other. 

The last example was about the use of Chilwell. Similar to the Crystal Palace game, Chelsea relied on diagonal balls to hit the underloaded flank. The job of Chilwell is to arrive at those spaces at the right moment, trying to pull the trigger or deliver the ball into the box. 

With Jorginho or Harvetz’s passing quality, Chelsea were good at switching the ball to the opposite flank with just one pass. In the early stages of the game, the Blues got plenty of chances with this pattern of play. 

Werner’s impact 

Apart from using Chilwell to attack the underloaded flank, Chelsea also scored goals because of the individual quality of Werner. As the striker, the movements and positioning of the German international gave Southampton a tough task. 

Werner could drop deeper to receive the ball sometimes, as we have shown in the above examples. Inside the final third, Werner seldom stayed on the shoulder of the defence, instead, always distancing himself from the last line. Werner knows his strength, and he is confident to beat the defence with his pace. 

This was how the first goal was created. Werner dropped deeper and left the zone of the centre-backs, instead, he was nearer to Romeu. When Mount dragged Bednarek out of position, Werner was quick to sense that gap, ran through it before Vestergaard closing it. The key was the starting position, as the centre-backs were expecting Romeu to cover the striker, and this confusion at the defence was the key to success. 

Werner was also good at using his positionings and movements to create spaces for teammates. When moving laterally or diagonally at the backline, the German striker could manipulate the positioning of the centre-backs. 

Here, the gap between Bednarek and Vestergaard was opened as Werner dragged the right centre-back a step wider. Mount read the channel to run into it. 

Southampton’s improvement  

In the second half, Southampton looked better in terms of attack, part of the reason was the conservativeness of Chelsea. Lampard’s side were unable to control the game. From the Saints’ perspective, they were more able to exploit the defensive issues of the pair of Chelsea midfielders to develop the attack. 

More lateral passes were made by the full-back to the midfielder in the second half, the main idea of these passes was to draw Jorginho and Kante out of position. Then, the inverted wingers could enter and attack spaces behind the Chelsea midfield. For example, Jorginho was slow to close the midfielder, hence, unable to prevent Walcott from receiving the ball.  

Another change was the role of the centre-backs. In the second half they needed to bring the ball out of the first line, Bednarek and Vestergaard should be capable of doing so as they were comfortable on the ball. 

This is a tactic that capitalize on the light defensive duties of Werner and Harvetz. The German duo would just stay at the centre to allow the centre-backs progressing. Here, Bednarek’s dribble forced Kante to move higher to cover those spaces. As a result, the attacking channels at the backline was opened, as Chilwell and Pulisic moved wider to defend Kyle Walker-Peters, Walcott could receive the ball at the half-spaces.  

And the last example of this analysis might be a point that Lampard should concern. Jorginho was instructed to cover spaces up and down, leaving his positions to press the ball. However, clearly the Italian midfielder was not the best choice to fulfil this job, as physicality and work rate were not the strengths of this player. 

Since Jorginho was always late to press the Southampton midfielder, the opponents were able to develop the attack through the midfield. This was also part of the reason that Chelsea conceded the second goal, apart from Zouma and Kepa Arrizabalaga making mistakes. 

Here, Jorginho was too slow to reach the receiver, hence, could not stop the long pass. If the Chelsea number 5 continues to carry out this task in the future, he should adjust his positionings to keep an accessible distance with the target.  

Final remarks 

Frankly speaking, Chelsea deserved to win the game more. Southampton were yet to reach their best performance because of missing several important players, or adapting to the higher defensive line. However, the goal gave away near the end of the first half changed the flow of the game completely. This gave the away side hopes to equalize, and the spirit of Southampton did not let them down at the end. From a tactical standpoint, both teams still have the potentials to play better. 

One thought on “Tactical Analysis : Chelsea FC vs Southampton FC

  1. Excellent article well covered.
    But i would like to add something regarding the spaces between the defense and attack.
    This was the major problem as the team didn’t move together (while pressing ) as a unit. Defence stayed deeper and our mid pressed higher this allowed the B/W the line spaces for saints wingers.

    Liked by 2 people

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