Tactical Analysis

Chelsea officially started their season being beaten by Premier League’s defending champions of Manchester City in the Community Shield. Here, there are some quick points we tactically learned from Chelsea’s defeat and what Maurizio Sarri has to take a look at before the start of the upcoming new Premier League season.

Jorginho troubling

From the moment in which the Blues appointed Sarri, everyone knew that former Napoli boss was going to try to lure Jorginho from his former club. The Italian-Brazilian midfielder is pivotal into Sarri’s system as he is the heart and the soul of Italian manager’s passing game.

The 26-year-old is one of the best pure passes around and he played more passes than any other footballer in Europe’s top five divisions last term, still posting an astonishing 88.9 of pass success rate, all competitions included.

Sarri’s faith in Jorginho is so high that the 59-year-old manager looks set to switch N’Golo Kanté from his natural spot as holding midfielder in front of the backline to a position as interior midfielder. In this spot as deep-lying midfielder, Jorginho would help Sarri to install his footballing vision and make it works.

That said, Community Shield loss showed the risk of this appointment and the troubles Jorginho could meet facing Premier League’s sides. In fact, Jorginho’s performance was poor due to the high speed he faced when Manchester City’s midfielders heavily pressed him. Pep Guardiola instructed his midfielders, mainly Phil Foden, to man-marking Jorginho with Chelsea in possession.

By man-marking the Italia-Brazilian, Guardiola’s team practically thrown Jorginho out of the game. With Foden pressing him in Chelsea’s own territory, the Blues was unable to build from the back in the early phase of their possession and they also became ineffective trying to get the ball past City’s first line of pressure when the Citizens modelled their formation in a de facto 4-3-1-2 with left-winger Bernardo Silva pairing Sergio Aguero up front in order to press Jorginho and both Sarri’s centre-backs.

Chelsea Community Shield Tactical Analysis
City’s front three when out of possession was a 1-2 with Foden as no.10 chasing Jorginho.

It means that Guardiola’s side was able to manipulate Chelsea’s build up. This high pressing hurt Jorginho who lost some balls which resulted in dangerous City’s counter-attacks.

Jorginho already faced and beat pressure when playing for Sarri at Napoli but he simply has not been able to handle the level of intensity City produced this time. It raises some question marks as Premier League’s teams usually keep a high level of pressing and intensity so Jorginho could be in trouble – and the whole Chelsea with him – trying to replicate the composed and structured passing game he’s suited to play under his Mentor Sarri.

Chelsea’s midfield was lost in transition

Jorginho’s troubles lead us to another tactical issue that Community shield highlighted for the Blues. In fact, Chelsea’s problems don’t stop with Jorginho but affect the whole midfield. The midfield three of Cesc Fàbregas, Jorginho and Ross Barkley looked unbalanced and weak on defensive transitions.

Neither the Spaniard or Barkley showed the tactical acumen or the shape that Sarri’s 4-3-3 system requires. Chelsea’s midfield was vulnerable and slow, allowing City to create many scoring chances out from quick counter-attacks.

Chelsea Community Shield Tactical Analysis
Citizens’ second goal came after a counter-attack with Chelsea’s midfielders unable to handle it.

The Blues was particularly troubling when it came to cover the half-spaces at Jorginho’s flanks, which was a weakness in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation at Napoli too.

Chelsea found difficult to cover these half-spaces and City exploited well this opposition’s defending issue. In City’s first goal, Barkley was easily beaten by Foden with former Everton’s player failing to track the 26-year-old run.

Surely, Chelsea’s midfield will benefit from N’Golo Kanté’s come back but, with Jorginho being assured to hold the spot in front of the backline, the Frenchman will have to play as the interior midfielder with Fàbregas, Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek battling for last starting spot in the middle of the field.

Usually, a Sarri’s side was strong defending against counter-attacks due to the strong gegenpressing they adopted when Napoli went out of possession. Their positioning and focus allowed them to shut down opposition’s counter-attacks and immediately regain ball control.

By the way, it didn’t happen against City. Instead, Chelsea’s ball possession was not nicely structured so, when the ball was turned, the Blues wasn’t able to press the Citizens in order to win the ball back. Furthermore, their whole high pressure was tenuous and Guardiola’s men easily beat it.

Both Fàbregas and Barkley’s play at Wembley was subpar but the whole Chelsea’s midfield lacked dynamism and shape to deal with Foden and Bernardo Silva.

As Fàbregas recently told reporters, Chelsea’s players need time to re-adapt to what Sarri wants. Question is if Sarri will be allowed the needed time to install his loved and highly praised passing style.

It will take some time to learn Sarri’s defensive approach

Antonio Conte grabbed the title in his first season at the helm of Chelsea playing a system that surprised his rivals. This Conte’s 3-4-3 formation featured two high-level wing-backs in Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso and a strong defensive trio at the back that converted Brazilian David Luiz from expendable to a pivotal piece of this three-man backline.

Now, Sarri reverted Chelsea back to a four-man defence. The way Guardiola’s team easily beat Chelsea’s backline in the Community Shield raised questions about Blues’ defenders’ adaptability playing this way. Particularly, Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz struggled at centre-backs.

That said, Sarri’s defensive scheme is highly demanding. In fact, the Italian manager plays a strict zonal marking system in which the main focus is on the ball position and not the forwards.

You can call it a ball-oriented system. In that system, defenders have to be focused on ball position and the whole backline has to play as a unit. It means that defenders’ movements are determined by where the ball is or where the ball is moved.

Chelsea Community Shield Tactical Analysis
A typical defensive situation for a Sarri’s side: with the ball so deep in their own territory, Chelsea played a so labelled negative defensive diagonal with players covering assigned zones.

This is a great leap compared with the system Chelsea’s defenders was suited to play under the previous regime. In fact, under Conte, Chelsea not only ran a different formation with three centre-backs and two wing-backs rather than two centre-backs and two full-backs but also the played a man-oriented scheme in which had to chase opposite’s forwards.

How much harder it is to play in Sarri’s defensive system was highlighted by City’s opening score in which both Chelsea’s centre-backs troubled understanding the situation that led to Sergio Aguero’s goal.

Chelsea Community Shield Tactical Analysis
Rudiger wrongly collapses behind rather than push forward to face Aguero.

In Sarri’s defensive system each defender is linked together with his backline’s teammates so a single misunderstanding can damage the whole defence.

Conclusion

It was just the begin of Sarri’s regime at Chelsea, and the Community Shield is just more than a fancy friendly game. Furthermore, Chelsea lacked some important players. That said, it also can work as a strong reminder to Sarri on what he needs to improve on his team.

Sarri’s approach represents a radical change from Conte’s days and Chelsea’s players need time to learn their new roles and the way to play for their new manager. How long until they will learn Sarri’s way could be the dividing line between a successful season and a bad one.