Chelsea continued to make short work of qualifying from Group L, with another routine home victory over BATE Borisov last Thursday. A much-changed Chelsea side produced another dominant display to secure a 3-1 win and make it three wins from a possible three. With 23 shots on goal and 69% possession, Chelsea were rarely troubled by a BATE side who managed just 5 shots in the match.
BATE Borisov Tactics
BATE lined up in 4-4-1-1 formation out possession, which morphed into a 4-1-2-2-1 when in attack with Dragun the deepest of the midfielders. BATE’s right midfielder Skavysh was often the more advanced of the two wide players often finding himself providing closer support to Signevich up front.
In transition BATE pressed Chelsea high up the pitch, attempting to win possession close to Chelsea’s goal. They, however, struggled to do this with any regularity due to the poor positioning of their players during the press.
BATE would commit men to the press but far too often they failed to prevent Chelsea from bypassing this easily. In the above picture, BATE have forced Chelsea backwards but instead of keeping them playing that way they allow Chelsea to find Kovacic in an advanced area who can turn and set Chelsea on the attack. In this instance, the BATE number 15 (Skavysh) fails to press onto Kovacic, which allows Chelsea to easily play through the press.
When Chelsea had secure possession of the ball BATE would retreat into a mid-block with the striker positioned just inside their own half. They were very passive in their defending allowing Chelsea to progress through the pitch without deviating far from their zonal setup.
The team was particularly compact horizontally, with the idea being to crowd central areas and prevent Chelsea from being able to play vertical passes into their number 8’s positioned higher up the pitch. They were however not compact enough vertically which allowed Chelsea and Fabregas (who completed 134 passes) in particular to receive the ball and find teammates in advanced areas.
Chelsea’s increasing use of the wings
Due to BATE’s horizontal compactness, Chelsea began to adapt their style in play to take advantage of the open wide areas on the pitch. This had two positive outcomes, as the BATE fullbacks or wide midfielders shifted towards the ball it created more space centrally for Chelsea to access. The other outcome was that it created lots of chances for Chelsea to create overloads in wide areas and exploit the space behind BATE’s defence.
Zappacosta was increasingly used to overlap on the right-hand side of the pitch and play low crosses into the box from near the byline. These caused particular issues for BATE as they struggled to track the runs of the Chelsea midfielders breaking into the box. Over the course of the game, he played nine crosses into the box in comparison to Emerson who made five.
As the match progressed the more Chelsea would look to shift the BATE defensive structure with passes into wide areas. This is a big improvement in their game understanding from earlier in the season where they would stick stubbornly to playing passes through congested central areas.
Chelsea Counter Pressing
This match showed more progress for Chelsea in their counter pressing movements. Earlier in the season, this was an area of the game that they often neglected, instead being easy to bypass due to poor compactness or retreating backwards like in the match against Liverpool.
In recent weeks it would appear that Chelsea are beginning to better apply this concept. In order to effectively counter press Sarri prefers his side to be close together in the attacking phase of the game as this enables better access to the ball when possession is lost. With the players positioned closer together they are able to immediately move towards the opponent players to prevent passes from being played forward.
Not only are the players now better prepared tactically to press, but there also seems to be a change in mentality with more players reacting quickly to possession being lost. To counter press effectively the player closest to the ball has to apply pressure to the ball immediately. This requires all players to be mentally prepared to do so, knowing that they are unlikely to be the player who regains possession.
Loftus-Cheek steals the show
Having started just one match this season in the Europa League and making just three substitute appearances in the Premier League there was beginning to be a few stories in the media suggesting that Loftus-Cheek may need to move in January to play football. Sarri explained the reasoning behind this in a recent press conference.
In this match, Loftus-Cheek stole the show by scoring a hat-trick. It wasn’t just his goals that impressed in this fixture, he was also heavily involved in the build-up play completing 70 passes with 91% passing accuracy. He also used his impressive dribbling skills to carry the ball into advanced areas of the pitch, which is a skill he brings that Kovacic, in particular, doesn’t possess.
Another routine victory for a much-changed Chelsea side, which puts them in a very strong position to win their group and therefore receive an easier draw in the knockout stage. Despite the changes to the side, it’s clear to see the impact that Sarri has had not only on the first choice players but also those on the fringes of the first team. Hopefully, Sarri will feel confident enough to use these players in Premier League fixtures when required to prevent the burn out from the first 11 that occurred at Napoli last season.