Chelsea finally find a way to prevent the opposition from scoring two or more goals in a game.
Early problems for Chelsea
Chelsea switched to a 343 during the second half of the Arsenal defeat. In this game they decided to use the formation from the start of the game, with players in different positions. Moses was used as the right wing back, while Azpilicueta moved inside to right centre back. Cahill moved out to left centre back, and Luiz was in the middle of the back three.
Early on the Chelsea block faced some problems in the organisation of their pressing. Hull had the ball at the back, while Chelsea’s front line instigated in high pressing. The problems occurred where it was unclear for Moses and Alonso on their positions and where they should press early on. This lead to Hull being able to find a free man in their backline, usually a fullback, to break the collective pressing. Here Hull had a platform to progress with, which they used to play long balls to the front line.
Since the wingbacks were up but not yet involved in pressing higher, there were also issues with their back 3. Long and direct passes to Mbokani were proving to be dangerous, where he was supported by the two wingers making diagonals runs inside and behind the Chelsea backline, as well as runners from midfield in the form of Mason and Henriksen. This created a lot of early pressure and isolated 1v1’s, especially Luiz against Mbokani--as the other central defenders were either too far away to recover or occupied by the wingers.
As the half progressed, Chelsea were able to find a solution to their pressing problems. Moses would move higher up to pressure Robertson, while Willian was on the inside to press Davies. Hazard and Costa occupied the remaining two central defenders, while Kante would move high to pressure Clucas when he received the ball with back to goal.
Chelsea find stability in possession
Another factor which allowed Chelsea to gain control of the game was their ability to hold possession of the ball along the backline without facing problems from Hull’s attempts to pressure. They were able to find a spare man along the backline, or go back to Courtois when needed, to avoid attempts from Hull to press higher up--which resulted in the Hull block dropping deeper and deeper as the game progressed.
From the stability of their back 3 with the ball, they had some mixed results when progressing forward with the ball. They began through passes inside the block to both Hazard and Willian dropping to receive the ball. Both were excellent at turning to pass pressure, which allowed them to dribble past the Hull midfielders after they received the ball. However there were a few occasions where passes from the defence were either inaccurate or intercepted. In this game they were easily pressed and the ball was received quickly, but this would be a problem against dangerous counter attacking sides.
Another avenue with ball possession was switches to the advancing wing backs, particularly Moses. Both would often find themselves free with space to carry the ball into ahead of them. Moses would always dribble with the ball and carry it into the box, as well as leaving his wing to move centrally on occasions--which allowed Willian to move outside into the vacated space. Alonso on the other side would attempt to create a situation where he could deliver crosses into the box. Both Alonso and Willian put some quality crosses into the box throughout the match, but these didn’t amount to much as attacking crosses isn’t a strong area of the Chelsea attack.
There were moments of promise when Luiz had the ball without any pressure from the Hull frontline. He was able to find long passes behind the defence, as well as, most interestingly, two successive ground passes to the feet of the narrow front 3 behind Hull’s midfield line. On these occasions the front players were unable to create a good situations, however these long ground passes are something that Chelsea could make very good use of this season. It will help the front 3 have a greater influence on the game from central areas, as well as being able to get the ball early in dangerous positions--turning with the ball or using layoffs/combinations to find one of the front 3 facing the opposition backline with the ball.
High pressing and counter attacks
As the game moved into the second half, Chelsea found a lot of success through their high pressing and counter attacks. The more advanced role of Kante in this system was prominent throughout the game, both with and without the ball. He was able to utilise his speed and large pressing range to win the ball high, as well as using his speed to carry the ball past opponents during counter attacks. Playing as the lone defensive pivot so far has prevented him from using these aspects of his game, while when he would attempt to press higher in previous games it would leave spaces for the opponent to expose in front of the Chelsea defence. Now with the extra man centrally in the defence--Azpilicueta also pressed high into midfield--as well as the high pressing narrow front 3 he has much better conditions to be an influential figure for Chelsea.
In addition to Kante, the front 3 also deserve credit for their overall defensive output. Opposed to the passive wide roles that we are used to seeing them in, the central positioning of Hazard and Willian allowed them to be far more active in their collective pressing, as well as providing Costa with the support that he has lacked with and without the ball.
The high pressure from the front 3 allows for a much more active pressing from the team overall. The shifts from side to side of the front 3, to pressure areas around the ball, gives the team the possibility to press higher areas without opening their midfield. In addition it allows the central midfielders to be used to anticipate passes in order to pressure or intercept the ball, opposed to them needing to move up the field to instigate pressure on the ball.
Adjustments during goal kicks
Some adjustments by Chelsea were made during goal kicks from the previous game. They didn’t play short from Courtois under high pressure--especially like they had against Arsenal, before playing long balls from deep positions--and they were clear when they decided to play long. This time they waited for the block to move up higher before playing a long ball from the goal kick, rather than playing long with the block deep and around their own box--not in a good position to compete for the second ball or to defend if they lose the ball.
Another adjustment that teams that play a back 3 will often make is to switch to a back 4 during long goal kicks or long balls from deep free kicks from the opposition. There were early indications of this during the second half, with Alonso dropping back, but will remain something to lookout for in the coming matches.
Upon solving their problems pressing, Chelsea were able to take control of the game. It was concerning that it took them until the second half to register a shot on target, but it is reasonable considering this is the first game that they have started with this formation. Chelsea were able to create chances through their high pressing and counter attacks, where the midfielders, wingbacks and front 3’s capacity to carry the ball forward was evident. Over time the 343 could provide to be the best solution for the current squad.