After watching Chelsea struggle against the spirited 10 men of Fulham this weekend, I checked the date for the looming Champions League fixture against Athletico Madrid. Images came to mind of scouts watching from Madrid filling out reports, gleefully planning their progress into the next round. After all, Madrid sit 4 points clear atop La Liga having won their last 5 league games. The have lost only once in the league this season and still have 2 games in hand. This will be a difficult fixture for Chelsea, especially on current form, and the last thing Frank Lampard needs is a limp European exit. Thus the Blues have just over a month to find some rhythm.
Chelsea fans have watched in exasperation at the recent run of 2 wins in the last 7, scratching their heads on what is causing the the London club’s struggles. So I thought I would try something a little different. I will attempt to release my mind from the shackles of Chelsea bias, enter the mind frame of these scouts from Madrid, and provide a scout report on Chelsea. The strengths the weakness and whether Lampard really has a plan. Maybe through the catharsis provided by this attempted escapism I can provide some unbiased analysis into Chelsea’s recent identity as a squad. As much as is feasible, this will mirror the format recommended by the Professional Football Scouting Association.
OPPOSITION REPORT – CHELSEA
MOST RECENT FIXTURE – FULHAM F.C
FULHAM F.C |0 – 1| CHELSEA F.C
VENUE – CRAVEN COTTAGE
DATE 16/01/2021 4:30PM
Fulham started the game well, matching Chelsea’s intensity, their defensive shape of 5-4-1 congested the middle and limited opportunities for Chelsea to arrive in threatening areas. The Fulham front three were able to combine to create opportunities going forward, with support from the wing backs. After 15 minutes Chelsea started to dominate the play, having the majority of the possession and creating a few snapshot opportunities, with Mason Mount hitting the crossbar. Chelsea predominantly recycle the ball through their centre backs with probing from side to side in an attempt to create opportunities. This spell continues until the final 10 minutes of the half. Taking confidence from frustrating Chelsea, Fulham started to make more regular entries into the Chelsea final third, moving forward as a unit with quick passing, on the stroke of half time wing back Antonee Robinson is sent off for a lunging tackle on Cesar Azpilicueta.
After half time Chelsea further controlled possession and attacked in waves, pinning Fulham in their own half, the sending off had reduced the frequency of Fulham attacks and this resulted in a number of set piece opportunities for Chelsea. Fulham were compact in a deep block which Chelsea laboured to penetrate. Chelsea’s most effective method of attack centred upon link up play between the full back and the winger, with some opportunities coming from passes in between the lines to a player in the number 8 position. Chelsea’s eventual goal came through a cross fumbled into the path of Mason Mount, with just over 10 minutes remaining in the match. Chelsea had a further chance on a counter attack in the dying minutes however Timo Werner couldn’t convert one on one.
Formation Used: 13/18 games
16. Edouard Mendy
28. Cesar Azpilicueta
2. Antonio Rudiger
6. Thiago Silva
21. Ben Chilwell
17. Mateo Kovacic
19. Mason Mount
10. Christian Pulisic
22. Hakim Ziyech
18. Olivier Giroud
Formation – Chelsea
(H) Won v West Ham | (A) Lost v Arsenal | (H) Draw v Aston Villa | (H) Lost v Man City
Blue Arrow = Player Movement
White Arrow = Pass
Blue Arrow = Player Movement White Arrow = Pass
Yellow Circle = Fulham Player
Blue Circle = Chelsea Player
Chelsea Progression 1
One of Chelsea’s most frequent patterns to progress into the final third. This specific situation is from early in the first half but repeats regularly. Compact Fulham midfield unit restricts central options for Jorginho. Chelsea don’t look to play through the middle. Wingers stay high and one of the anterior midfielders comes to show for the ball. As pattern progresses the other ‘number 8’ will stay high, but Hakim Ziyech will drop to receive the ball and fullback Azpilicueta will make the run into the vacated space.
The winger will feed the full back whilst the number 8 that remained high will be in the position to underlap, should it be needed or make a run into the box. Sequence shown above ends with over hit pass to Azpilicueta however he manages to win a corner. However they regularly exploit this sequence to get crosses into the box. Often Ziyech will receive a return pass from the full back, cut back on his left and cross.
Chelsea Progression 2
Chelsea regularly build through their centre backs, as they bring the ball out on their respective sides the team sits high in the opposition half. The centre backs split with the defensive midfielder sitting in between them, this pushes the full backs up the pitch which in turn pushes the wingers inside. Options available to the centre backs are usually the switch of play to the winger on the opposite flank, or to the full back on the same side. From this position the team will attempt interplay between the right central midfielder and the winger to progress the ball. If this seems unlikely the ball will be returned to the centre back and a similar situation will unfold on the opposite flank. In this particular phase of play Mount makes a move out which draws the attention of two Fulham players. Ziyech recognises this and darts centrally into the space. Thiago Silva plays the pass and Giroud and Ziyech link up to result in a shot at goal. This rotation also works to bring in Giroud, with him making the movement and laying off the ball to the closest winger or midfielders positioned higher up.
Chelsea when pressed will often go direct to their frontline from their centre backs or holding midfielder, particularly to Olivier Giroud. However the team as a whole tend to be reluctant to play through balls. In transition however Chelsea have the players to cover ground quickly and are adept at counter attacks.
Formation – Chelsea
Chelsea Progression 3
This fixture marked the first deployment of 4-4-2 for Chelsea this season. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham replaced, Olivier Giroud, Jorginho and Hakim Ziyech. The introduction of Hudson-Odoi meant Chelsea had a winger high up holding the width as opposed to the fullback. One less man in midfield meant Chelsea kept their fullbacks infield, also becoming extra passing options in the midfield. Fulham had 10 men and thus were defending in 2 banks of 4.
This sequence leads to Chelsea’s goal and will likely be exploited should the formation be deployed again. Hudson-Odoi receives the ball and stands up his opposite full back. Being a man down with two forwards to defend against results in Fulham leaving Hudson-Odoi one on one. Hudson-Odoi shapes to cross and Werner, Abraham, Pulisic and Mount make runs into the box. This movement draws Fulham players towards the goal and Chilwell is free on the edge of the box. The ball is squared to him and the goal results from his subsequent cross. Another variation to look out for is the rotation of Pulisic and Werner, as they are both proficient on the left side they are prone to interchange with one coming deeper showing to feet and the other in behind. This requires attention.
When the ball is on one side of the pitch, Chelsea’s midfield will shuffle across and look to press. The winger on the opposite side coming across to cover central areas. The winger is also expected to join the defensive effort and will usually track his opposing fullback.
When the opposition is in settled possession Chelsea set their line of engagement around the halfway line, if the ball is lost high up the pitch the team will press aggressively to win the ball back. Usually all of the front 6 will press and the fullbacks will engage any passes aimed to release the wingers. However due to Chelsea attacking with width and with the two furthest forward central midfielders in advanced positions they are susceptible to quicker counter attacks. The full back on the opposite side to where the attack is focused will tuck infield to provide cover.
A possible weakness is the aggression with which the full backs press the out ball. Notably with Cesar Azpilicueta there is the opportunity to draw him in and exploit his pace. This is exploited in the above sequence where both Thiago Silva and Azpilicueta press high, the subject of the press lays off the ball and Fulham are in behind Chelsea. As 2 of the back 4 are out of position Chilwell must come inside leaving space for the Fulham wingback who eventually receives the ball. This results in a good opportunity that Cavaliero cannot capitalise on.
Chelsea’s patterns are straightforward to defend against, a deployment of a compact midfield unit will force Chelsea wide. Chelsea played 0 through balls against Fulham and will likely not play longer balls in behind the defence. Thus the backline can move up and congest the central areas further. Any such tactic will require a strong central defensive partnership to deal with the crosses that Chelsea put in, however if there is little space in the midfield and the Chelsea fullbacks are pressed quickly it is likely all Chelsea’s play will be in front of the defensive unit.
Chelsea play at a fairly slow pace, only increasing the tempo during quick interchanges when around the edge of the box. They will usually attempt to switch the play to create space for a winger to attack a fullback or to engineer a cross into the box. As they utilise the cross regularly there will be 4/5 players attacking the penalty area, this can lead to counter attack opportunities. However it is important to remain vigilant for Chelsea’s own counter attacks. Another offensive weapon is the set pieces, notably corners. Chelsea have excellent delivery and tend to use a blocking system with a group of the strongest in the air attacking the central area. The necessary focus on the strongest in the air can leave the opposition open to routines which deliver the ball into areas less guarded.
Defensively Chelsea are adept at defending aerial crosses. They defend corners in a mixture of zonal and man marking systems. Edouard Mendy, Olivier Giroud, Thiago Silva and Rudiger are all strong in the air. In open play however there is the opportunity to draw the press in one area and quickly switch the ball to the opposite flanks. Jorginho struggles to cover ground, and while Kovacic is able to get into position he can be drawn into committing fouls. This works best in transition, and this phase of play represents the best opportunity to get something out of the defence. Rudiger is prone to lapses in concentration and is susceptible to good footwork whilst Azpilicueta, Jorginho and Thiago Silva can be beaten with pace.
16. Edouard Mendy |height: 1.97m | age 28| Tends to come out in dangerous situations, at times can leave him in no mans land. Good range of passing from the back and often finds his man.
28. Cesar Azpilicueta |height 1.78m | age 31|Tends to press high and get tight to man receiving the ball, often loses ball in attacking situations. Defensively will aggressively stick with man, can be beaten with pace.
2. Antonio Rudiger |height 1.90m| age 27|Strong in the air in both boxes, good range of passing, although can lose focus and be caught ball watching – see Ivan Cavaliero chance.
6 Thiago Silva |height 1.83m | age 36| Strong anticipation, often wins the ball stepping in front of the opponent. Accurate with the majority of his passing and looks to break the lines. Susceptible to quick passing and movement.
21. Ben Chilwell| height 1.78m | age 24 | Good positional awareness in dangerous situations, tends to stay on feet and show wingers back infield. Gets forward often, likely to cross from deep as opposed to the byline.
5. Jorginho |height 1.80m | age 29 | Adept at one touch play, reads interceptions well. Lacks physical capacity to cover large areas and is often passed around in his press. Possible pressing trigger.
17. Mateo Kovacic |height 1.76m | age 26| Tends to do well in tight spaces, looks to take up positions in the gaps in midfield. Drives forward with the ball, will look to facilitate play. Can be guilty of tackling from the wrong side.
19. Mason Mount |height 1.78m | age 22 | Pressing intensity can lead to Chelsea winning possession in dangerous areas, looks to switch play, adept at passing between the lines. Will shoot if given the opportunity however can rush execution of passes and shots. Set-piece threat from direct free kicks and corner delivery.
10. Christian Pulisic |height 1.73m | age 22 | Starting position is usually deep, if he receives the ball centrally he will look to drive at goal and carve out opportunities to shoot or pass. Usually goes for the byline if he receives the ball wide. Pace is a strong asset.
18. Olivier Giroud |height 1.93m| age 34 | Tends to pin his man and look to bring in team mates. Provides the direct option from goal kicks and in general play. Will usually make the run to the front post area. Makes aggressive movements in expectation of the cross. Adept in the air and strikes ball cleanly.
22. Hakim Ziyech | height 1.81m | age 27 | Good link up play and defensive work rate, tends to look to cross to the back post. Delivery is usually flat in swinging. Set-piece threat from direct free kicks and corner delivery.
20. Callum Hudson-Odoi |height 1.78m | age 20 | Tends to stand up man to look for pass, tends not to attack crosses instead looks to stay wide to pick up loose balls for cross/shot. Tends not to shoot often, will try through balls. Tends to switch the play. In good form.
11. Timo Werner |height 1.80m | age 24| Dangerous in transition, will drift into in wide areas. Usually looks to go to the byline and cross. High volume of runs, tends not to act as focal point. Looks to be lacking sharpness in front of goal.
9. Tammy Abraham |height 1.90m | age 23 | Good awareness and link up with of players running off him, tends to look to receive cut backs in the box. Can cover ground in transition.
Whilst Chelsea are a threat on their day they will have to be at their best to overcome resolute opposition in Athletico Madrid. Whilst doing analysis for this article what struck me the most is how easy we make it to play against us. There is limited movement in behind, and when those runs are made we are reluctant to play risky passes.
I wouldn’t say Lampard has instilled precise patterns of play, but rather loose frameworks to get the ball forward. I believe this contributes to why we play so slowly. A pattern of play executed correctly can be terrifyingly swift, this is because every player knows exactly who is going to be where and when. Passing is instinctive and movement is fluid. This can be achieved in unstructured play, however this Chelsea squad do not seem to be able to conjure up anything in this vein. You can see each player taking 1 or 2 seconds to look up and see where the options are. There is usually little space to make movement when Chelsea play teams sat deep and these seconds start to add up. If Chelsea are to progress in the Champions League they will need to find a way to attack with some fluidity, What better way to start preparations for Athletico Madrid than a convincing win at the King Power Stadium.
Over to you Frank.