Chelsea F.C. hit its first no-win of the season against their London rivals, West Ham, ending up the game with a boring goalless draw. Thanks to the pressing tactics of the Hammers! In our tactical analysis below, we look at Chelsea’s game against West Ham in the Premier League. The tactical analysis will explain how the Blues couldn’t make the most out of even more than 700 passes played by them with 87 per cent accuracy and an overall possession of 71 per cent (source: Wyscout.com).
Formation and shape
West Ham played with the 4-1-4-1 formation with Declan Rice sitting in front of the back line in a position free to follow and press Chelsea’s players dropping in between the lines and in the pockets. Noble and Obiang were in the midfield – the position allowed them to press Jorginho who is supposed to be the centre of gravity of Chelsea’s passing game.
Chelsea played with their 4-3-3 set up with Giroud as the striker before being replaced by Morata after 65 minutes of the game played. As Pedro had picked up a knock during his team’s first Europa League fixture on Thursday, Willian played as the right winger. Hazard played at his favourite left wing spot and was free to relocate.
The tactical formations of the two teams convey a lot about their playing shape. West Ham, being not so engaged in intense passing, played wide and flat. Chelsea, on the other hand, played centrally and vertically forming a more coherent shape than the home team – a demonstration of Sarriball. This is also shown in the passing maps of the teams below, taken from Wyscout.com. It can be seen that Chelsea’s reach to the opponent goal area is far more times than that of the Irons. Chelsea was clearly the offensive side of the London derby with expected goal statistics of 1.9 comparing to the opponents’ 1.4, according to Wyscout.com.
West Ham’s pressing arrangement
The home team is already well known for its press against Blues over their last clashes. This season again, The Irons’ boss, Pellegrini emphasised that his players would pick Chelsea players who have their eyes on pockets of spaces to exploit – the likes of Jorginho, Hazard, and even Kovacic.
The home midfielders, Obiang and Noble, did a good job in double pressing Jorginho almost bereaving him of enough range of chances to compose offensive patterns out of his passing game. The main element of Sarriball – carry on the offensive patterns from the back to the midfield and then to the final third – was not achieved as consistently as it should have been which could otherwise lead to creating and finishing chances within the goal area.
The Hammers started with fore-pressing causing Chelsea to compress its shape within their defensive half. Even the home backline shifted a little farther from the goal area during the phase when the play retained in the midfield and beyond. But their focus was not to form a high block. Instead, Pellegrini’s men shifted their press along with Chelsea so as not to let their opponents form and be engaged in offensive patterns. West Ham’s deep-lying midfielder Rice, who was free enough to follow and monitor the moves of the opponent players bumping into the deeper regions or towards the dangerous spot. The midfielder was even dragged too out of position to press Hazard who was dropping far back to help his team.
The Hammers midfield had a numerical advantage over Chelsea’s which often led the game stuck in the region causing Chelsea to compress their shape there. This midfield overload dissociated Chelsea’s midfield and frontline causing the away wingers to drop back most of the time. As a result, even though Chelsea enjoyed greater possession, they couldn’t make their way beyond the attacking midfield too many times. This pressing scheme enabled the Irons to gegen-press Chelsea thus kept interrupting the latter’s passing patterns. West Ham made total 65 interceptions in the derby compared to Chelsea’s mere 43 as per Wyscout.com
Since Chelsea kept on playing centrally and deeply while keeping their structure coherent, the home team shifted from the high block to the mid and low blocks to break Chelsea’s attacking plays. Due to Hammers’ press shifting tactic and the staying low of the defenders, as Chelsea players came into the position of creating chances, the chances got nullified. The home team defenders triple marked Giroud in their box.
Chelsea’s reluctance to shift the play
Chelsea used multiple ways to counter press the Irons – some of the ways went effective too but couldn’t be translated into a successful attack. Chelsea relied on one-touch and quick passes to counter the press but the opponents’ shifting pressing structure and the overloaded midfield didn’t allow these passes to turn into anything threatening. Their passes got intercepted eventually and they couldn’t make play significant smart passes – only 11 per cent of their smart passes were accurate compared to their current season’s average of 43 per cent, as per Wyscout.com. That’s a notably high difference.
However, even at other times, the away team players didn’t shift their play across the other vertical left half of the pitch which was open due to the concentration of the West Ham defensive organisation in the right vertical half of the pitch where Chelsea’s play was on. There were instances in every other possession phase of the game when Alonso was open at the left flank but left under-utilised while Chelsea kept on their possession play at the right side’s planes with Hazard also switched to there. Alonso, despite being a fullback who is supposed to leave his place only after his team gets to the midfield in possession, is still playing comparatively in a more advanced role as compared to his right counterpart, Azpilicueta. His offensive runs could have been well used in the instances when the Hammers were all occupied in pressing at the other vertical half of the pitch.
One of the reasons was this ignorance of Alonso and Chelsea’s reluctance to shift the play vertically was the intense pressing by the home team over Jorginho who is the base of Chelsea’s passing structure. Under the press, the Italian couldn’t show his dictating ability – Pellegrini’s plan worked well on the spot.
Another reason could be the absence of Pedro who tend to shift to the left wing to overcome Hazard’s movement from there and to ensure his team of availability of passing options at the farther side of the pitch. Chelsea’s tactic of bumping up of the wingers and the wide midfielders didn’t work much. Willian didn’t make any such quick run which would have been done by Pedro.
As Hazard’s left spot was not taken care of and the left central midfielder, Kovacic, was also in a more advanced role than Kante, the home team often picked the opportunity of using the open flank to penetrate to Chelsea’s region.
West Ham executed a well-hit pressing strategy especially by targeting Jorginho, Hazard, and Giroud. However, by relying on counters and long balls against Chelsea’s defensive set up – where the full backs are not supposed to leave their place unless their team is in possession up to the attacking region, the Hammers were less likely to win out of these attacking attempts. They couldn’t make another three points of the season at the end of the day. Chelsea, on the other hand, remained unimpressed in finishing. Giroud lost many potential finishing chances. Willian’s and others’ long shots got off-targeted.