How to Beat Chelsea

How to Beat Chelsea – @Alexthfc04

When Manchester United beat Chelsea with 2-0 it marked Chelsea’s third loss in this calendar year. While the loss at home against Crystal Palace was more of a freak result, the losses in Manchester and in Tottenham have been games where Antonio Conte’s men were effectively shut out. Time to look at both games and ask the question if and how much either of them can be a blueprint when it comes to beating Chelsea.

How Spurs beat Chelsea

When Spurs and Chelsea met under the lights at White Hart lane, Chelsea had just won 13 league matches on the bounce. It was a brace of Dele Alli headers that ended Chelsea’s win streak. In this game, both teams opted for a 3-4-3 with Spurs mimicking the guests’ shape, albeit with different roles.

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Without the ball, Dele Alli and Harry Kane pushed up to the back three of Chelsea, disrupting them in playing it out from the back and also not letting the two wider Centre-Backs join the Midfield from where they could have connected with the – then very high – Wingbacks in Alonso and Moses or with Pedro and Hazard. This way they were forced to play it into Central Midfield – where Eriksen helped creating a man advantage or to the Wingbacks who then tended to lose out to their counterparts in Danny Rose and Kyle Walker.

When Spurs were in possession, they weren’t pressed much and thus could play it around the back three to then either move it into midfield – where Spurs had the upper hand in terms of athleticism and the dribbling abilities of Mousa Dembele – or to one of the two Wingbacks with both of them being better than their Chelsea pendants. This also allowed both Dier and especially Vertonghen to push up into midfield – a typical move for the Spurs (and Chelsea) wide Centre-Backs this creating a man advantage and disrupting the opposition.

The way Spurs unlocked the Chelsea-Defence for both goals was very similar. Walker was bombing down the wing and the ball got to Eriksen in the inside right channel. With Eriksen drifting around it was hard for Matic to pick and since Hazard doesn’t track back and with inside right channel crosses being one of Eriksen’s specialities he twice managed to pick out Dele Alli in the space between Luiz – who was occupied by Kane – and Azpilicueta – who isn’t good in the air.

How United beat Chelsea

When Spurs beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane they arguably got a bit lucky because Eden Hazard missed two good chances. But when United faced Chelsea it was a thrashing with Chelsea not being able to get a single shot on target.

The way Jose Mourinho – who is obviously known for coming up with tactical changes that win big matches – did this is by employing heavy man orientations, especially in midfield.

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There has been a lot of talk about Herrera and how he was man marking Eden Hazard for pretty much the whole game. However, that was not the only heavy man marking that United used. Just like Spurs a few months earlier, United’s Wingbacks in Valencia and Young marked Chelsea’s Wingbacks when Chelsea had the ball inside their own half making them a bad target for passes out from the back. Pogba went tight on Kante and Fellaini on Matic.

Picking Rashford and Lingard for this match also proved to be a very good decision from the Portuguese manager. Both are quick and agile so they could always rotate in front of Chelsea’s back three, always shifting over to the Ball-Carrying Centre-Back. Again, this didn’t allow Chelsea’s wide Centre-Backs to join the midfield and it disrupted their usual patterns of play.

Chelsea tried to get out of the man-marking scheme by dropping deeper and just retaining possession in their own half. However, they didn’t really end up creating any chances with that approach. With Herrera marking Hazard even when United were in possession it was hard for Chelsea to get a Counter-Attack going once they won the ball because the main target for these was already taken care of. Chelsea in general and Diego Costa especially were unable to use the space that opened up thanks to Hazard being able to technically drag Herrera with him.

What did we learn?

One thing both Spurs and United did when they beat Chelsea was pressing the back three and especially the wide Centre-Backs so they can’t advance into Midfield positions where they can connect with the Wingbacks and with Pedro on the right or Hazard on the left. However, just pressing them isn’t enough if the Chelsea Wingbacks stay unmarked and it’s important to match them to some degree. One of the ways do to that can be playing a back three that allows your Wingbacks to push on themselves.

When Azpilicueta plays as the right Centre-Back it is also worth looking into exploiting his aerial weakness and Chelsea’s general defensive weakness in that channel, something that most likely isn’t going to be the case should Kurt Zouma play there instead.

Using heavy man orientations in midfield can also be a good way to keep Matic and Kante – same goes for playing a Three-Man-Midfield that creates a numerical advantage and opens up a free man on your side. In Tottenham’s case, this was Eriksen who provided the Assist for both Goals, in Manchester United’s case it was Ander Herrera who obviously used that role to man mark Eden Hazard.

Marking Hazard out of the game is a good idea since he is the focal point for Chelsea’s counter attacks but there are obvious downsides to doing that. The player who is being marked can just drag around his marker and open up gaps for other players to exploit. This is something that Eden Hazard tried to do but neither Matic or Kante seemed to be allowed to roam forward. Since Conte is a smart person I don’t think he is going to make the same tactical mistakes again so I wouldn’t expect this ploy to work again.

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