Chelsea v Arsenal match analysis reveals Wenger’s mistakes and Chelsea’s strengthes

Last time Arsenal and Chelsea met, The Blues were in middle of the table and eight points behind Manchester City at the top. The final third of that match saw Chelsea three goals down as Conte introduced 3-4-3 formation and never looked back again. That was the end of September and, after yesterday return clash with Arsenal, The Blues are running away with the title.

Coming to Stamford Bridge Arsenal had to win the game in order to keep themselves in the title race. It was always difficult as they were on low morale after shock defeat against Watford at Emirates. Injuries to Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny away with Egypt squad made it even tougher challenge. In the end, Wenger had little to chose from. He opted for Oxlade Chamberlain alongside Coqueline and Mesut Özil in the midfield. Iwobi and Walcott were kept on wings while Sanchez kept his place as a central forward. Rather unusual pair in the center of midfield had to face the best center midfield pair in the Premier League – Kante and Matić.

On the other side, Conte had no worries regarding his first eleven. No injuries, no suspensions and only doubt was Willian or Pedro. In the end Spaniard got the place as the right sided attacker.

Chelsea doesn’t change the first eleven, and they didn’t change their approach to the match against Arsenal compared to the previous game when they faced Liverpool. Conte has full confidence in his team when the opposition has the ball and Chelsea was happy to give it to Arsenal.The host came out of the dressing room with clear idea to sit tight and get Arsenal on counter attack.

Wenger, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the nerve, desire or confidence in his team to sit out the match and play counter attacking or any kind of patient football. He is all about possession and that is what he wanted on Stamford Bridge.

When Chelsea had the ball in their defensive third Arsenal was resolute to press them tight and win the ball high up the pitch from the first whistle. Once they were in position to set up an attack, Arsenal were pushing the defensive line very high. At the beginning they started with Özil on the left and Iwobi in the center, presumably to keep physically stronger players against Kante and Matić. Shortly after they conceded they had reverted back to Özil in the middle.

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17 players in about 20 yards of depth. It is difficult to find space if there is no space even whe you face a lesser team than Chelsea

Above we see Arsenal in attacking third looking to find a way around Chelsea defence. Central midfielders are connected with red lines while attackers are blue. You can see how Walcott was cutting inside while Iwobi holds his position on the left touchline to keep five men defence stretched (full back Gabriel holds the other side). Throughout the match Özil was exchanging place with Sanchez trying to drop deep and unsettle the defence. However, the central area was covered with two disciplined defensive lines. As none of creative players or attackers on Arsenal team sheet were particularly inspired, the visitors found hard to get anywhere despite pushing numbers forward. Note also the space where almost both teams are positioned, it isn’t more than 20 yards in depth.

In circumstances where Arsenal had to meet the top team in the league after a loss, and they needed the win to keep their hopes for the title alive, they often committed eight to ten men on Chelsea’s half. After going a goal down their desire to get an equalizer pushed them even more forward. However, the pressure really got to them as none of their advanced players had shown any inspiration to threaten the hosts.

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Arsenal relentlessly pushed forward looking for an equaliser, however, they left Diego Costa and Hazard 2v2 with their two center backs. A source of constant counter attacking threat to their own goal

The image above really illustrates how Arsenal’s impatience and pressure were benefiting such an organized team Chelsea is. As whole squad pushed forward very high they really compressed the space (those 20yds from previous image) reducing themselves possibility to move around Chelsea’s defence. As Arsenal defensive line is very high up the pitch, and both full backs advanced into the attacking zones, whenever Chelsea managed to win the ball in their half (15 times), they had 2v2 opportunity in the center of the pitch. From these positions Chelsea was able to create numerous counter attacking opportunities since Koscielny and Mustafi couldn’t cope with Diego Costa and Hazard. Once Pedro, Alonso and Moses got higher up the pitch as well, Arsenal was often a man short while defending.

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The true strength of Conte’s side. Even when third of the team changed their positions within seconds, the overall organization remained uncompromised. 

If we take a look again at the same situation we can see another feature of Conte’s team. David Luiz has stepped up into the midfield to make a clearance, Moses recognized it and didn’t run forward to his “normal” position at the right wing. The same process went on with Pedro who held back his run forward in order to keep the team shape intact. This might be a small adjustment but it tells us how well organized Chelsea is. They are very fluid in their movement when situation calls for it and in few seconds a third of a team change their lines but the team overall organization remains intact.

This kind of concentration in defence gives confidence to two forward players who can then be fully creative and free to play to their instincts. In the end, Hazard scores a wonder goal few moments later.

To conclude, Chelsea wins again due to their impeccable team performance while Arsenal crushes under the pressure unable to create anything substantial while the game was still in their reach. Without the patience to shift Chelsea around and organize slowly they pushed forward in numbers disregarding the counter attack threat. This in the end only helped Chelsea to achieve one of the easiest wins this year.

While the difference in individual quality between two London teams isn’t so great, the difference in team organization, ideas of how to break the opposition and concentration to stick to the plan shows who is really the team and who is much less so at the moment.

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Liverpool v Chelsea match analysis: Bastard free kick not enough for Chelsea

The “bastard” free kick and amazing penalty save from Mignolet put a stamp on the most interesting Premier League clash of the week which ended the nightmare Liverpool was experiencing this month.
Chelsea came to Anfield at the worst moment for the hosts who barely won against a fourth division team this year. Even for that they needed second leg replay. Liverpool had lost three consecutive games, dropped out of two cups in three days and had to face the best team in country.

However, Liverpool had already beaten Chelsea this season and the good news was that Sadio Mané finally returned from the African Cup of Nations and the whole squad was fit to play. Chelsea, on the other hand, had few problems before the match. All players fit, excellent form this year with only a loss against Tottenham. While Liverpool had a lot to lose in this match, Chelsea could take it calmly, keep tight at the back and wait for their chance and that is exactly what they did.

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Chelsea sitting tight at the back letting the hosts keep the ball

They sat back leaving Liverpool with the ball and little idea how to break down the defense.

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Liverpool game plan involves a lot of movement of midfield and forward lines in order to create the right sequence of passes and movement to get into a scoring chance. A difficult task against so well organized opposition

If we look at the same image from the Liverpool perspective we see the general idea Liverpool uses in their attacking third. Forwards (red lines) constantly change places. Coutinho is dropping back while Firmino and Lallana are more flexible and take turns in dropping deeper and making forward runs. In this instance it is Lallana who starts from deeper position and makes a run behind the defense.
Midfielders (blue lines) operate under broadly similar principle. Henderson plays as a holding midfielder while Wijnaldum and Can are making turns in forward runs from deep. In this instance, it is Can who breaks behind the Chelsea midfield line.

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Liverpool went down the left side in order to reach the middle third which they did very effectively. However, Chelsea was as effective at limiting their passing lanes in the attacking third (source: @11tegen11)

Above we see the Liverpool positions and a passing map that reveals James Milner as a link between the defense and the midfield. If you keep in mind the Chelsea formation that is quite a reasonable choice as down the flanks Liverpool has natural man advantage. However, once the ball gets to the central area, to Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, links between players perish.

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In first half Lierpool persisted at trying to break the defense via movement in central area

If you get back to the second image, you see why as well. Eight Chelsea players are behind the ball and three most advanced Liverpool players are cut off between them. The only space Liverpool has is in wide areas and Chelsea is happy to concede in order to keep the middle of the pitch sealed off.

Note also the positioning of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard who are both high up the pitch not participating effectively in the defensive phase at the moment.

While Liverpool did well without the ball, closing Chelsea down and forcing mistakes and clearances, they had a lot of trouble getting in the goal scoring position.

However, after conceding that free kick, Liverpool was playing quicker, with more will and desire but didn’t substantialy change their approach. They were always looking to get into scoring position by outplaying packed middle.

The second half didn’t see a significant change from Chelsea but Liverpool made an important addition to their attempts to penetrate the defense.

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A shift in fortunes happened as Liverpool added a new way to get into the box. A diagonal ball to the left side after overloading the right flank finally unlocked Chelsea

Liverpool recognized a weak spot in the zone defended by Moses and Azpilicueta. There was not only a potential height advantage when Can made his forward runs in the area, but also a weak link when Liverpool would overload the right flank and quickly shift the ball to the other side – behind the back of Moses.

This move was performed four or five times and each time it was more dangerous than anything Liverpool did in the first half.

Once Liverpool equalized the match went into the realm of will and work rate and both teams were on brink of scoring. Chelsea kept the pressure on counter attack with great help from Kante who managed 16 successful tackles (of total 29) in a match that sprung quick counter attacks. Liverpool, on the other hand found confidence after scoring and kept pushing.

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Expected goals (xG) tekk us that, on normal day, Chelsea would need three matches to score a goal from chances they had created against Liverpool (source: @11tegen11)

Image above expresses the expected goals from created chances. You can see that, despite everything, the hosts created much more than Chelsea with 1.44 goals against 0.3 (penalty not included). Numbers tell us that, on average game, Liverpool would certainly score a goal from created chances while Chelsea would need three matches to get lucky enough and convert one of their chances into a goal.

However, football isn’t statistics only and the situation on the pitch is heavily affected by the result. In the end, Chelsea got what they wanted while Liverpool will be happy to have avoided the fourth defeat in a row.

 

This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.

How Pochettino lost the battle he already won, Chelsea v Tottenham match analysis

We finally saw a glimpse of a system that might be able to stop Chelsea when Tottenham decided to flush everything down the toilet. A match between London teams at Stamford Bridge ended with yet another win for, what seems to be, unstoppable Chelsea.

 

CONTEXT

Teams went into the clash from quite different mental positions. Chelsea was on six games winning streak that started in September with heavy loss to Arsenal and change of formation to 3-4-3. High on confidence with standard line up where everyone knows what to do.

Tottenham, on the other hand, is still sore from Champions League in midweek and only one win in last five Premiership games. Unlike Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino had to replace suspended Danny Rose and opted for Kevin Wimmer who started only two games in the league.

 

TOTTENHAM GAME PLAN

Despite psychological disadvantage, Tottenham started admirably at Stamford Bridge.

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Effective high pressing disrupted Chelsea ball circulation and transition in the middle third

As you can see above, Tottenham was defending from front trying to force a misplaced pass or at least an uncontrolled clearance to regain the ball and harass the build up from Chelsea.

However, what made Tottenham look so good in the first half was movement of their players and the way they were able to exploit Chelsea’s weakness in a way nobody has done since they dithced to 3-4-3.

 

IN POSSESSION

The idea of Pochettino was to overload the left flank and exploit attacking mentality of Chelsea right wing back Moses on counter attacks. During positional attacks Tottenham would still overload Chelsea right flank and look to use quick passing between front four to get around the defence- If this wasn’t possible they would look to change the point of attack to Chelsea weak side directly passing to Walker or via a back pass.

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Overload on the left provided Tottenham local numerical advantage in attacking third

Above is the situation where Chelsea is all set in defence. However, speed and technical ability of Alli to burst by his marker from deep allows them to progress into the attacking third. Crucial is the positioning of Heung Min who is sitting on touchline while Kane also moves towards left. This ties down Moses and Azpilicueta forcing David Luiz to close down Alli. Chain reaction continues as Brazilian leaves his position in the defensive line opening space for Eriksen who cuts inside from right and scores for early lead.

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The same situation as above during the counter attack.

The same pattern is used on counter attacks as well. Above is Heung Min receiving the ball while Moses fails to track back in time. Eriksen leaves the right flank to Kyle Walker and moves into central position to create 4v3 overload.

This kind of movement and overloads created in left half spaces were creating all sorts of trouble for Conte’s team that couldn’t cope with them once first line of defence was broken.

So why was the second half so much different? Chelsea did find an equalizer through sheer magic from Pedro and that certainly lifted the team in the half time. However, it did help but doesn’t explain why Tottenham failed to produce same movement.

Match stats shed a bit of light there, though. If we look at positions where front four Tottenham players received the ball in the first half and compare it to the second period, we realized how Pochettino changed his approach after the half time. And failed.

 

CHANGES IN THE SECOND HALF

Analysing the positioning of most attacking Tottenham players, we can see that in second half they were occupying different spaces compared to first half.

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Players have shifted their positions for second half. Only Alli is present on the left in the second half while Tottenham had three players there during the first period. However, notice how Kane didn’t support attacks down right thus there was no overload on that side anymore

Above graph was created with data from positions in which each player received the ball. The emphasis on left flank from first half has obviously shifted to the opposite side in the second part of the match.

What this tells us is that Heung Min changed places with Alli while Kane adopted traditional striker role in the middle of the pitch. This meant he abandoned exploiting Moses’ attacking mentality and shifted his players to right. However, as Kane was firm in the centre of the pitch, Tottenham couldn’t create numerical advantage so consistently and failed to threaten the hosts.

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Shifting players right meant that during second half Tottenham ahas also shifted their attacking emphasis also shifted their attacks down right flank

If we take a look from which side Tottenham approached the game we can see that second half meant they have  abandoned the left flank and shifted over to the right. As we have seen in image before, without Kane drifting to right, this wasn’t creating gaps between Chelsea centre backs and Tottenham lost the edge.

It is difficult to say why would Pochettino make such a change in the half time. Maybe he was expecting Antonio Conte to react and cover his right flank better while surprising him by a hit on the other side. While Pedro was more engaged in defensive duties by helping Moses, Conte didn’t significantly change his approach during the second half.

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Change of approach from Pochettino didn’t work in offensive sense, but it failed in defense as well. Alli struggled to track his wing back who in the end scores the winner

What happened was that defensively less adept player, Alli, failed to help out hi full back leaving Moses with a lot of free space to exploit. Eventually this hurt Tottenham and completely turned the game. Quarter of an hour before the end Pochettino changed Heung Min and Alli, two players that significantly changed their positioning in the second half admitting the mistake. After bringing Jansen in last 10 minutes Tottenham went for 4-4-2 or, more 4-2-4 but couldn’t do much against disciplined defence.

To conclude, Tottenham had Chelsea on the ropes. However, Pochettino wasn’t satisfied with only one surprise and wanted to catch Chelsea on back foot again by changing his approach in second half. This, however, brought him only trouble and let the hosts off the hook. As they say, don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

 

This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.