Chelsea 3-0 Leicester

Chelsea’s stable possession and control of depth defensively contributes towards a dominant victory against the reigning champions.

Leicester’s defensive issues
Chelsea’s recent switch to a 343 formation has been very profitable for them. It has allowed for players like Hazard, Pedro and Willian to move central to receive the ball, while the wingbacks can offer width. The wide central defenders can carry the ball forward, and Luiz can play forward passes both along the ground and in the air. In this game there were a few more new variations in their possession: Matic receiving the ball and playing it forward centrally, the first time passes outside to the wingbacks from the narrow wingers, and first time diagonal passes inside from the wingbacks (from a deeper position) to the front 3.

Leicester had major issues in their attempts to deal with this, where they weren’t able to find stability defensively. While pressing high, Chelsea were always able to find a spare man. The back 3, wingbacks and deep central midfielders allow them to not only find a free player, but for Leicester to pressure collectively they would need to open up their block too much.

The free player on the first line of the Chelsea buildup would find some form of forward progression. The wide central defenders would mostly play short forward passes, either from the position they received the ball or after carrying the ball forward. Alternatively Luiz is able to offer a longer passing range when he receives the ball as the free man.

Pressing or trying to hold midfield positioning was also bypassed. The back 3 were able to circulate the ball freely, as well as finding forward passes. The central midfielders collecting the ball, along with passes up the the wingbacks and front 3, weren’t disrupted. Moments where the Leicester wingers were following the winbacks allowed for easier progression through their lines. Chelsea were able to find passes from any of the back 3 or central midfielders to the nearside player of narrow 3. In particular both the timing of the moment and the positioning as a result was excellent in these situations--Hazard especially. Earlier movements towards the ball, or at a greater speed, would have meant that they would be receiving the ball either to the side or in front of the central midfielder, while the first time pass wide would not be an option. Later movements wouldn’t have brought the fullbacks out to open sufficient space both to pass into and for the player to pass the ball without it being intercepted by the fullback.

Another forward pass was used during deeper possession was the first time pass from the deep wingbacks up to the narrow 3 moving towards the ball. Although the execution wasn’t always there, this is another option to create more passing options in games where there is greater pressure on their back 3 with the ball. This pass is a slight variation of the one used earlier on in the season, where the wingers in the 424 would play first time passes across to the far side striker.

Control of depth
Chelsea caused Leicester further problems when Chelsea were defending immediately after they lost the ball. Not only was there moments of high pressure, but they also managed to prevent Leicester using one of their key strengths when they have the ball: long, early passes behind the opposition defence.

The backline was in a deep position, the central midfielders would move up to pressure, Luiz would stay tight to Vardy, and the wide central defenders were aggressive in their forward and lateral pressing. This type of defending did open some space centrally and would have allowed for a team that plays short central combinations during counters, but for controlling the Leicester counterattacks it worked perfectly.

The deep defensive line was, yet again, useful both when Leicester had ball possession and during long goal kicks. When they were defending inside their own half they were in a 541 formation, where two of the front three (rotated defensive duties) drop back either side of the central midfielders. From this zonal block, the players in the backline are able to leave it in order to follow the Leicester options in high areas, while the number of players back allow for ample cover of the vacated space during these situations. Luiz, in particular, was able to remain close to Vardy throughout the game, both inside and outside the box.  

During defensive goal kicks, and during the long kickoffs from Leicester, the backline was deep. Kante and Matic are in positions to pick up the Leicester forward options to compete for the first ball, while the amount of bodies behind the ball gives them some insurance if they don’t win the ball.  

Chelsea’s wingbacks with the ball
The wingbacks offered many options with the ball during the game. Not only do they perform the options I mentioned during building earlier on, but they were also useful both in the final 3rd and during counters.

In the final 3rd Moses can dribble with the ball diagonally, as well as moving inside off the ball when Pedro moved wide. Similarly on the left, Alonso would join the box as Hazard received the ball wide in a position to take on his man and put a ball into the box. The wingbacks can also join the box from the far side during crosses.

When Chelsea counter the wingbacks were free outlets in support, while Moses was almost able to score from a counterattack that started at a defensive corner. In preseason it was evident how both their setup and the reaction of the players from defensive corners could lead to some good counter attacking opportunities, while this was the first game where they were able to make good use of this situation.

One area where they created a problem during this game was when both moved up quickly to counter at the same time, before the ball was lost. Here Leicester were able to have a situation with the ball against the Chelsea back 3 on their own, which ultimately lead to nothing on this occasion.

The control Chelsea were able to sustain throughout the match shows good signs for their new system. However, there were some areas of concern where Leicester didn’t capitalise.

Moses was very unsuccessful at taking throw ins--Azpilicueta could potentially be used to take them from deep areas, like Chiellini does for Juventus--while the 1st ball of their long play can certainly be attacked in an aggressive manner. In this game Leicester made no use of these situations, but in the next game the lack of success here could cause a lot of disruption and lack of ability to sustain ball possession--especially if short building is prevented.

Finally, Chalobah has shown some strong performances while coming on as a sub in recent matches. He has been able to show a very large pressing range, while his play with the ball is both quick and accurate. His progression will be interesting to see in the coming weeks.