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Halfway into the season and Sarri’s men are still caught vulnerable in the defensive phases. Being offensively flexible tactically led to their win over Watford, but lacking was defensive discipline. This tactical analysis explains how Chelsea were very exposed when defending in transitions due to their lack of defensive discipline.
Chelsea’s lack of defensive discipline
With their quick, vertical tiki-taka approach, the Blues were able to breach Watford’s half and sustain their play for a good part of the first half. Dominating with 65% of the overall possession, most of the action was carried out in Chelsea’s offensive half. As a result of the visitors’ quick penetration into the attacking region, their defensive line also became very high. This is shown in the match-shots below.
Moving the backline up high is not any weakness itself, but not maintaining the discipline to organise it back when transitioning to the defending phases surely is. Chelsea, as they have demonstrated in other fixtures, clearly lacked the defensive discipline they would need to uphold the positional and tactical order. Even though compared to the advanced players, Chelsea’s defence preferred to stay low along with Jorginho, they were still positioned beyond the protecting range of their goal area – not accounting for their capability to fall back in a timely and coordinated manner.
Chelsea likely to be hit on transitions
Chelsea’s lack of defensive discipline caused them to concede the equaliser in the concluding moments of the first half. As expected, the backline ignored the major part of the goal area while defending, as shown in the picture below. This triggered Kepa to leave his region in an unbalanced attempt to save Doucoure’s shot thus conceding a corner.
Watford played long balls to bypass Chelsea’s midfield and directly hit their backline. With this approach of the home team and Chelsea’s high line, the Blues were very likely to be hit on transitions.
Also, although Chelsea played a high line, they did stay deeper behind the advanced teammates in the attacking phases. Jorginho too was staying deep, closer to the backline to offer protection in the deeper areas of the defensive midfield. This created a huge gap between Chelsea’s backline and the more advanced players. This huge room gave Watford players multiple opportunities to land and play out of their long balls comfortably in their final third.
Watford’s ball-focused press
Watford executed ball-focused press as their defensive strategy. This allowed them to win the ball from Chelsea by outnumbering the opponent with the ball and play long passes out of the won balls. Their multi-marking approach was particularly focused on Hazard as shown in the picture below.
Since Hazard was playing as false nine, this also often distracted Watford in their defensive half.
In the match-shot below, Watford are over-marking Kante to win the ball.
Besides, Watford’s Deeney and Deulofeu were consistently marking Jorginho to deprive him of any opportunity of playmaking.
However, one adversity Watford faced due to their ball-oriented pressing approach was that their backline was also found to be high particularly in the concluding minutes of the first period of the game when Chelsea scored the opening goal.
In the second instance, Hazard was quick to exploit the opportunity due to Watford’s ball-focused press. while making his way towards the goal, the Belgian won the foul and thus the goal-leading (and eventually the match-winning) penalty early in the second half. As shown in the picture below, Watford’s ball-focused press on Kovacic freed up Hazard who won a penalty on the foul made by Watford’s goalkeeper.
Watford further intensified their ball-oriented press in the second half extending it to the front line. This caused Chelsea to lose balls multiple times within their half. Yet, Chelsea in return reduced the gap between the lines after scoring the game-winning penalty in the third quarter of the game.
The tactic of reducing the gap also enabled Sarri men to deal with Watford’s counterattacks better as the game went on. Furthermore, Chelsea were able to win back Watford’s first or second long balls and thus was able to counter their long attacks for the rest of the game.
Without doubt, Chelsea’s offensive game has been worth talking about, especially the timely tactical changes undertaken by Sarri throughout the season so far, not to mention Hazard’s recent role as a false nine.
However, defensively the Blues are not getting any better except for when they are able to keep their offensive approach too intensive to limit the attacking capacity of the opponents. In other times, as happened in the away fixture against Watford, Chelsea were defensively vulnerable. They simply lack the defensive discipline to progress the season productively.
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