Chelsea visited Southampton and won 0-3. Despite it looking like an easy three points for Sarri’s men, it was a bit tougher and showed some interesting aspects. Let’s see what these were.
Southampton’s midfield pressing
Most of the time the home side left Chelsea’s defender to receive the ball from Kepa and build-up from deep. They started pressing around the halfway line instead of moving higher and preventing Chelsea from progressing. Of course, this was due to the threat that Sarri’s great building from deep could impose.
Southampton did not use intense pressing movement, just maintaining the position which was designed to blocks the routes to the midfield. Thus it would prevent Chelsea to use their midfielders in the build-up. Therefore Southampton’s front three formed a narrow shape. Redmond and Gabbiadini would move centrally and stay narrow in order to mark the opponent’s 8’s. Redmond responsible for marking Kante, while Gabbiadini did the same with Barkley.
In this scheme, Ings tasked with actual pressing movement. Nevertheless, he started to press only when D. Luiz had the ball. The vertical pressing run aiming to press the ball-carrier (Luiz), whilst keeping Jorginho in his cover shadow. He focused on covering the route to Jorginho.
In the few occasions, when Southampton moved higher to press they did a really good job to prevent Chelsea for outplaying it. In the instance below, the ball moved out wide to Alonso. The respective wing-back, Soares, pressed the fullback. While the ball-near winger preventing the pass to Jorginho, and Hojbjerg marking the ball-near 8.
Furthermore, Lemina stayed deeper to protecting the 10 space, while Giroud dropped with his marker. On the far-side, Redmond moved centrally to cover Kante.
Chelsea beat the opponent’s press
Since only Ings would press Chelsea’s first line, it allowed them to outnumbered Ings. Usually, Luiz made a horizontal pass to Rudiger when Ings pressing him. Thus it would open the route for Rudiger to Jorginho. Before Ings reached him with a backwards press or Lemina and Redmond tackle him, Jorginho made the pass to Kante.
Consequently, It forced the opponent into a deeper position which would provide more space for Chelsea. Also, Southampton’s centre-oriented positioning allow space for Chelsea in the flanks.
However, it looked goalless for a long time due to Southampton applied defensive manner for this match against Chelsea’s dangerous threat. Therefore they were restricted to counter attacks and massive defence. Since Southampton formed a 5-man backline in the defensive phase, it created tough circumstances for Chelsea. Which resulted in a lack of quality scoring chances. After a lost ball, Chelsea counter-pressing effectively which allowed them to set up a dangerous transitional attack. Mostly by Barkley who tackled the opponent and steal the ball then made a good assist for Hazard.
For the second half, Mark Hughes changed the formation by sending a defensive midfielder in. Oriol Romeu substitutes one of the centre-back (Bednarek), thus Bertrand and Soares dropped beside Hoedt and Yoshida, therefore it becomes a 4-1-4-1 shape.
This led to another change which was the manner in the pressing phase. Another person in the midfield give more security and stability, thus it encourages Southampton to press higher up. Usually, Ings stuck to Rudiger, while Lemina and Redmond marked Chelsea’s 8s tightly. Hojbjerg often pressing Luiz and covering Jorginho. Hojbjerg’s diagonal pressing movement encourage Luiz to pass to the wing or the dropping Barkley, as he did in the instance below.
Despite the huge pressure due to Lemina’s tight marking, Barkley was capable of turn around and pass to Hazard who also had to beat his marker. The backward field of view also help Southampton to defend this situation, however, Hazard’s ability allow him to bypass his marker.
Furthermore, the same situation, Hojbjerg pressing Luiz, but this time Luiz pass the ball out wide. Then the ball near winger pressing while protecting the middle. It would allow Alonso to make a combination with Barkley, but after the vertical pass, Barkley lost it due to Lemina’s tight marking.
Although Chelsea dominated the game, the home side still had chances in both halves. Probably the bigger were in the second half. Like Hojbjerg great opportunity in the box.
Sometimes Chelsea left more spaces in their defensive structure which allowed Southampton to combine through the opponent. So, before Hojbjerg had that chance, Lemina and Gabbiadini created that danger through an open passing lane. Then Gabbiadini had the time to cross into the box.
Moreover, Chelsea often uses the vertical press in the midfield. Usually, this task with the two 8s, Kante and Barkley. Thus the ball-near 8 pushed forward to pressing the opponent, while Jorginho stays in position. This could lead to a situation where both 8s moved out of position, therefore Jorginho becomes isolated in the middle.
When Southampton pass to the wing, they would create a numerical superiority against Willian. Due to Jorginho not shifting to the ball-side it would allow a big space in the flank for Southampton. Then Chelsea quickly collapsed to the ball and became a highly narrow midfield line in order to protect the middle. However, this left space in the far-side.
Overall, they got the exact same amount of shot on target as the opponent had, therefore this victory for Chelsea was not as easy as the result suggested.
Southampton could make a much difficult victory for Chelsea or even a better result with a bigger concentration in finishing or some luck in it. On the other hand, Chelsea had a really good efficiency in scoring. Sometimes just this matters.