With their fifth consecutive win over Cardiff City, Sarri’s men sustained the top spot of the table. Dominating in possession and passing, Chelsea played 652 passes – more than three times that of Cardiff’s 200 – thus depriving the opponents with as many chances as possible. In our tactical analysis, we look at Chelsea’s game against Cardiff City in the Premier League. The tactical analysis will explain how Chelsea dominated over Cardiff City and ended up with an overall goal difference of ten, just one behind Manchester City, from the games played so far in the league – thanks to Hazard’s hat-trick.
Chelsea played with their usual 4-3-3 while shifting to 4-5-1 during defence, while Giroud staying with the opposition backline to disturb their build up from the back. Hazard and Pedro, often came back as Chelsea’s build-up stuck in the middle pulling the defenders back along with them.
Cardiff City played with 4-4-1-1 set up while shifting to 5-3-1-1 during the defence. In the second half, the away team’s centre-mid Arter got replaced by Richard who intensified the check on Hazard while the Belgian was free to move across the wings.
Chelsea cutting into vertical lines
Chelsea executed their passing set up to penetrate to the opponents’ defensive zone by having one man going up wider and the other going up medially to get into the attacking play and pull defenders towards him. Then the third one from behind cut the lane between the two to bump start the attack while the defenders were still to follow the players went up earlier to execute the attacking play.
In the match-shot below, Kovacic went wider while Alonso cut from the width into the depth. While Alonso was attempting to dribble up the ball out of the defenders so as to execute attack deep inside the box, Pedro ran up cutting the vertical lane between Kovacic and Alonso. This prompted Alonso to play a lateral pass to Pedro instead, who was unmarked. Before the winger got marked, he put in a cross to Giroud. The attacking play led to Hazard’s second goal.
On one hand, at the left, the fullback Alonso cut inside to let the wingers or the respective wide centre mid go wider, while at the other hand, at the right, Pedro dropped back which pulled the opponent defenders along with him thus allowing Azpilicueta, and sometimes even Kante if possession is retained, to bump up the open wing. However, whilst the build-up is still in the first half, the three central midfielders remained close to the back line unless it reaches up to the offensive half.
These wider movements of the wide centre-mids and medial cutting of the full backs or wingers as the home team’s possession stretched to its offensive half didn’t let the opposing defenders impose man-marking rigorously. This often kept the away team’s defensive lines flat in its half as a result.
Chelsea’s defence-dissolving passing play
Chelsea played with a typical Sarri style short and mid-range passing, with an accuracy of 87 per cent, forming the offensive patterns in concentrated regions. The home team concentrated their passing structures to a specific region for a short lapse which kept the opponents engaged there. This opened up a large side of the other vertical half of the pitch. Due to this, there was a frequent switching of plays across the two vertical halves. This led to dissolving of opponent defence many times.
Chelsea created these defence-dissolving passing plays via quick passes or one-touch passes. Almost throughout the game, Sarri’s men played with single touches to keep the ball frequently moving thus ensuring dynamic rather than static possession. They were also arranged in a manner to be available to receive and play back the one-touch passes accurately to their teammates. This quick touch-and-play arrangement couldn’t give enough time to the opponents to make interceptions.
These frequent passing plays can be demonstrated in Chelsea’s pass map from Wyscout.com where every player has been central to a passing play carried out around his mean position.
Kovacic’s role as an attacking midfielder seems to be a strong determinant in connecting Chelsea’s midfield and attack and transiting the play backwards and forward around the midfield. The position allowed him to be very responsive to loose balls and put them back into the play. Other than his position, the passing range of Kovacic is also worth notifying. The Croatian played not only short passing but also extended passes which stretched the play across the wings as shown in his pass map – taken from Wyscout.com – for the starting 50 minutes played before he got replaced by Barkley.
Chelsea’s short passing and the tactic of dropping back of the wingers to make them part of the passing play pulled Cardiff’s defensive midfielders close to Chelsea’s midfield which left spaces behind them in front of the opponent backline. As the home players were already ready to quickly transit the play into open spaces, they exploited those regions.
Another defence dissolving move by Chelsea was the cross-shift in the position of the wingers. Since Hazard was free to move to demonstrate his dribbles and passing, he was frequently found to drop off the right half of the pitch. This not only concentrated Chelsea players there but also the opponents leaving the left half of the pitch empty. To make use of it, Pedro started shifting to Hazard’s wing as the later came to his thus not letting the opponents structure their marking scheme.
Chelsea is getting quicker and more dominating with Sarriball. With 87 per cent passing accuracy and 76 per cent possession against Cardiff, they played highly offensive football. Cardiff City, on the other hand, could rely only on penetrating through the widths and with the passing accuracy of only 58 per cent, they couldn’t give any significant attacking threat to the home team.