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This post originally appeared on totalfootballanalysis.com

Chelsea FC continued their savage streak, following their loss against Leicester City, by beating Crystal Palace with a clean sheet. Thanks to Sarri’s tactically flexible approach – and of course NGolo Kante‘s cognizance of the key situations, which accommodated the offensive dynamics of Chelsea against Crystal Palace and turned the game in the favour of his team, as explained in the tactical analysis below.

The home team played with a low block defence using centrally concentrated 4-5-1 formation against Chelsea’s 4-3-3 vertical tiki-taka. This combination of formation plus Chelsea’s tactically dynamic offensive plan put three more points in Sarri’s pockets. The following picture shows the tactical formation used by each team in the fixture.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Crystal Palace’s centrally concentrated low block defensive formation.

Chelsea contracted the play to expand the attack

Sarri men executed their play by contracting the passing in the deep central planes of the outfield. This concentrated the opponent defenders in the respective region allowing Chelsea to eventually expand the play to the open flanks. This contracting of play approach to eventually expand the attack made full use of the fullbacks to penetrate into Chelsea’s final third frequently.

The match-shot below explains how Chelsea is contracting the play by directing it towards Jorginho and Barkley as the deep midfielders and then to the frontline. The passing play ended up with a winger (Willian here) stepped out to expand the play.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Chelsea contracting the play to open the widths.

Here again, Jorginho played a through pass to Giroud who then passed to Hazard who expanded the passing play towards the respective flank to be picked by Alonso.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Chelsea contracting the play to use the wings.

In the match-shot below, Chelsea’s front line is closed down to make space for Azpilicueta at the width.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Chelsea front line closed up to open the space at the right width for Azpilicueta.

This approach was adopted by Chelsea almost throughout the game. The away team enjoyed 86 per cent of the accuracy of passes into the final third by playing this approach. The last time they attained higher accuracy rate in the Premier League was in Chelsea’s home leg fixture against Crystal Palace.

One key spillover effect of Chelsea’s strategy is having enough room for the midfielder N’Golo Kanté to ensure his offensive presence frequently into the goal area. In the match-shots below, Kante can be seen going into the advanced regions while Willian moving back. These movements created multiple tactical opportunities for their teammates, one of which led to Kante’s goal following a brilliant run in the open region.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Kante in an advanced region while Jorginho and Barkley part of Chelsea’s contracted passing play at the back.
Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Kante in a more advanced region than Willian.
Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Kante’s brilliant run towards the goal area to pick Luiz’s assist.

Luiz’s midfield bypassing tactic

Since Palace played with a low block defence, this freed up not only Jorginho in key occasions but also enabled Luiz to drop into the offensive half of the pitch and distribute the play from there thus bypassing the midfield. This enhanced the probability of Luiz’s long ball being retained by Chelsea.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Luiz distributing up in the offensive half of the pitch.

Throughout the game, Luiz’s passing game was dominant in distribution and playmaking and became critical when Jorginho was too blocked to play his action. As mentioned earlier, it was Luiz midfield bypassing assist which led to Kante’s goal.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Luiz’s assist to Kante which the latter scored.

Palace’s poor passing structure

It was not just Chelsea’s tactically clever approach to exploit the widths of the final third of the pitch but also the home team’s poor passing structure which couldn’t let Chelsea’s opponents execute a successful passing play. This resulted in incoherent passing coordination of the home team players. The conversion rate of Palace’s passing plays into the attacks was also very low. The home team couldn’t hit even a single shot on target and played only two shots off target.

The picture below illustrates how isolated Palace’s players were when on the ball which restricted their passing options. On the contrary, Chelsea, displayed strongly coherent passing structures to ensure their possession and distribution game.

Crystal Palace Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Crystal Palace players are too isolated to ensure accurate passing.


Be it Chelsea’s dynamic passing game, Luiz’s penetration and distribution in advanced regions, or Crystal Palace’s distracting low block defence, Chelsea are through past their twentieth league game with 65 per cent win record. However, the record seems too unimpressive for a team which is under the supervision of the manager like Maurizio Sarri. The lack of technical elements especially playmaking talent amidst unsuccessful overdependence on Jorginho will continue to make Chelsea predictable. All eyes are now on Sarri’s next tactical dynamics ahead.

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