Conte's Chelsea: Game 4

The team was setup in the usual 424 in possession once again with deep possession to open spaces between lines, while they also used more passes into depth in this game with a high defensive line from Madrid.
In pressure moments where Azpilicueta was forced to play a long ball forward there were some collective movements to try to create a good situation from it. The ball goes up to the near side striker while the left winger (Pedro) drops before turning inside to face play and to receive the second ball layoff, while the other striker (Traore) runs diagonally behind the nearside striker. This could be a good solution to use when the opponent brings their block collectively forward to pressure Chelsea deep in their own half, with the high defensive line opening the depth behind. In the moments where they could resist and play through the pressure, Azpilicueta would pass inside to Matic for him to play into the depth, with the same movements from Pedro, RLC and Traore.

The target man used in these situations so far has been RLC. This is an interesting choice for a few reasons. Being the tallest player used upfront, he has a natural advantage over the other strikers in these situations, and while not being the strongest in the air he can still contribute more than the other strikers through holding the defender off with back to goal to be in the position to win the header.

A striker that can be consistently powerful in the air both inside and outside the box is something Chelsea currently lack. While Remy and Costa can occasionally be useful in the air inside the box, they both have strengths in other areas when outside the box. Costa is very strong and can hold off defenders with back to goal, but he is a striker that always wants the ball to feet. The same can be said about Remy and Batshuayi, while the latter has shown some very strong performances with back to goal and holding the defenders off - he is a similar striker to Costa in this sense. Since RLC has a physical profile more suited to this role it’s understandably why Conte has tried him here during preseason.

Here’s where a player like Lukaku could offer the team more solutions. While he’s not the strongest striker in the air, he certainly has the physical qualities along and having already shown improvement in the air during his time at Everton. When the team is playing ground possession he can become efficient in Conte’s system where the two strikers have various combinations and very simple passes to achieve this, while he is also better than any of the current strikers during counterattacks, as well as a player that makes good movements to attack crosses into the box. He can also be a threat at running behind the defensive line, as well as the possibility of creating consistent physical mismatches in 1v1 situations. Chelsea’s possession under Conte often creates situations where the opposition CB’s are 1v1 against the front two, with the central midfielders not able to provide instant support due to higher positioning during pressing and the speed of progression with the ball, while the fullbacks are often occupied in wide areas and not close enough to provide instant support or cover.

Morata would also be a good option here. He is a better overall player and more suited to the combinations, passes to feet and front two group movements than Lukaku, although with the latter you are expecting the development in these areas. While Lukaku is quite different to the current strikers, Morata is more similar to two strikers already at the club: Costa and Batshuayi. Morata does offer more strength in the air than the current strikers, but he doesn’t off the same possibilities for off the ball runs during counterattacks as Lukaku - Chelsea already has players that can carry the ball, but few runners. This is also not to say that Morata wouldn’t improve either, but in the case of Lukaku it’s a striker who isn’t using as much of his current potential as Morata has shown.

When they make the forward passes into the front two in this game, Real Madrid would have their defensive line tighter and more zonal than some of the other teams they have faced this preseason. This meant that they couldn’t create as many 1v1/2v2 situations centrally. They have a solution for situations like this, as they will elect to pass the ball out to the wingers quickly, creating the possibility for them to move forward quickly into a crossing situation. One instance of this was Traore playing out to Pedro, while he miscontrolled the ball as he moved into the box on this occasion.  

Upon the Madrid changes in the second half this changed, especially while Hazard was in the front two. They were very successful at playing early long balls up to him or over the top in these situations, with a few quality passes behind the defence by Chalobah.

Cuadrado with the ball in the second half was able to deal with difficult and isolated situations better than Willian had in the first half. He was quick to recognise bad situations as drew various fouls to be able to retain the ball. Batshuayi was also able to offer more movement than RLC as the striker, both behind and moving towards the ball to receive it either away from the central defender or to hold it with his strong body position under pressure from the defender - both with back to goal and adjusting his body position quickly to shield the ball from pressure in other situations.  

Hazard in the front two was very efficient and offered more than anyone else has in this role with the ball so far this season. He not only moved deep and contributed with the ball in deeper areas, but he was also able to run onto the long balls behind the defenders. Moses also had another solid game after coming on as a substitute, both with the ball in transition moments and defensively.

They used the 451 with Traore moving to a deep position once again, with a flat midfield line. They pressured the wide areas from a medium block in midfield, with the nearside fullback moving up to follow the opposition wide player. As this happened, the rest of the defenders would move across in a chain movements behind the fullback to cover the space left behind the fullback. This would often result in the opposition striker (Morata) moving wide and behind the fullback, while Cahill would follow him on the right man to man. They also have situational option marking in these situations, with Terry moving out of his defensive line to mark a free central option.

When they were not able to pressure as high from a medium block they found problems controlling central space on their right. Traore becomes quite passive in deeper areas, while Oscar doesn’t move deeper to cover the inside of Willian while Madrid progress on the left, opening up passing lanes behind him and onto the last line. A common problem last season was the lack of either ball pressure or collective pressing centrally in deep areas, which is still an area for improvement - although Kante can make a difference here.

In the second half Cuadrado made a difference on the right, with his deep positioning defensively. He drops deep to concede the space ahead of him, while he can then move up to pressure the ball or options around the ball from a closed block. His deep positioning also aided the covering of the defensive line when Azpilicueta would move up to press on the left while the rest of the back 4 would move to cover him. Here he was able to situationally man mark Aina’s man, before switching back to zonal/ball pressure when the ball was circulated by Madrid. Pedro also positioned himself in a deep position briefly upon switching to the right in the first half.

Chalobah was also able to make more collective movements from a defensive point of view in the second half. He would also quickly recover his position when he moved out of the midfield line to pressure the ball, along with not diving into challenges like Oscar.

Finally when Hazard was in the front two towards the end of the second half the team switched to a 442 against the ball, with some pressure from the front two directly on the Madrid central defenders.

Set pieces
Dummy free kick from Willian, with Matic pushing his man back to create more depth, while Terry makes a late run from a deep position to attack the ball was used in this game, a variant which was used by Willian last season. All other offensive set pieces were the same as before.

Defensive free kicks were in a narrow and high zonal setup. Here they had a problem with a few set pieces as Begovic had a dee starting position and isn’t active in coming for the ball. With the narrow line there is the possibility of overloads in near and far post areas, while the height of the line was too high to recover the depth and be in position to deal with the ball into the box.