The unbeaten run of Chelsea was extended this week to a joint record eight games at the start of a season, with the victory over Southampton briefly taking them to the top of the table before Liverpool and Man City played later in the day. Chelsea showed some interesting defensive concepts in the match with Southampton, which allowed their attacking play to have more variety to it this week. Alongside this, they also showed some promising signs of developing their ability counter press the opposition.
Chelsea’s Rest Defence
In the attacking phase of the game, Chelsea would organise their rest defence with two centre backs and one of the fullbacks, depending on which side of the pitch the ball was on. When Chelsea had possession on the right hand side of the pitch Alonso would position himself to create a back three. Due to Chelsea’s left sided focus in this match it was more common to find Azpilicueta creating the back three. This gave Chelsea a numerical advantaged in transitions from attack to defence as Southampton deployed Danny Ings as their lone striker. Having three players positioned in the back line had the added benefit of providing sufficient cover should a Southampton player dribble forwards with the ball and attack Chelsea, as they still had one extra defender in place.
Forcing the Play Wide
Chelsea were happy to defend compactly in their midfield block in order to force Southampton to play passes out wide to their wingbacks, who would often become isolated and have to play low percentage crosses into the box. Willian would often position himself close to Kante to create less space for Southampton to play passes through the Chelsea midfield. This was less prominent on the left hand side of the pitch due to Hazard’s lower defensive work rate.
Forcing the play to the wide players of Southampton had clear advantages for Chelsea as both Rudiger and Luiz were able to defend any crosses into the box. With Southampton playing with one striker their crosses needed to be very accurate in order to reach a teammate in the box.
Southampton lined up with Gabbiadini and Redmond playing in slightly more advanced roles in an attempt to provide Ings with support. Both of these players struggled to make a big impact on the match when in central areas with Southampton’s back three starting formation. When they switched to a back four and adjusted their positions at half time both of them found themselves in wider areas which limited their impact in key central areas.
When Chelsea had an overload defensively in wide areas, they would look to press the ball aggressively providing they had sufficient access to the ball. This occurred often when a wide player received the ball on the touchline with limited forward options available. The ball near centre midfielder would press the ball possessor, leaving open the passing lane into the wide player, whilst Jorginho would most often be the player at the base of the pressing structure to prevent any forward passes. Either full back was then able to press Southampton’s wide player to prevent them from turning and dribbling forwards. This forced turnovers of possession or Southampton to pass the ball backwards into less dangerous areas.
The Beginning of Counter Pressing?
There were a few occasions in the game where Chelsea looked to be more adventurous and counter press Southampton. This was something that Farkhanda commented on in his article ‘CHELSEA VS LIVERPOOL: CHELSEA SHOULD LEARN TO COUNTER-PRESS NOW.’
Just prior to Hazard’s goal Giroud, pressed a poor backwards pass from Hoedt to Yoshida and only the luck of the ricochet prevented the four onrushing Chelsea midfielders from gaining possession and creating a 5v3 overload.
Chelsea found success with their counter pressing for Hazard’s goal in the 30th minute. Hazard received a pass from Kante and tried to dribble pass Hoedt, who made a good tackle to win possession and subsequently played a pass to Hojbjerg just outside the Southampton box. Kante immediately arced his run to force Hoedt to pass the ball in the direction of Hojbjerg. Jorginho cleverly positioned himself across the passing lane Gabbiadini. This enabled Barkley to press Hojbjerg as he tried to turn with the ball towards the wing and make a successful tackle to regain possession for Chelsea. He then played a forward pass into Hazard who was occupying the space vacated by Hoedt, who further vacated his defensive area in an attempt to close down Barkley.
There are still however occasions where Chelsea players make poor individual decisions which leave spaces within their structure. One such occasions led to the best chance of the game for Southampton. N’Golo Kante decided to move inside towards Lemina to prevent Hoedt from passing him the ball; however, Jorginho was already close enough to prevent this from happening. This left Gabbiadini free to receive possession in the space that Kante was previously blocking with his cover shadow. Three passes later and the ball is crossed into the box and Danny Ings should score at the back post.
This was a game in which Chelsea created many opportunities to score from not only their build up play but also with the use of the counter press, which isn’t something that we have seen too often from them this season. It will be interesting to see going forward whether Chelsea continue to use a back three in possession in order to access the wide areas with one of their fullbacks.