The match between Chelsea and Southampton ended in a 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It was a thrilling match as Chelsea conceded a stoppage-time goal and threw away two points. It all started with Timo Werner scoring twice in the first half. As Frank Lampard’s men were cruising, the Saints stung the hosts two minutes before half-time. A goal from the former Liverpool striker Danny Ings halved the deficit and made it 2-1.
Che Adams made it 2-2 in the 57th minute after smashing into the roof of the net after dismal error from Kurt Zouma. The Saints were back into the contest as Chelsea’s two goal lead evaporated. Two minutes later, Kai Havertz got onto the scoresheet by scoring his first Premier League goal. Werner combined well with Christian Pulisic to get into the opposition box and crossed the ball perfectly into the middle for Havertz to finish it from close range.
The game was not over yet as the visitors scored the equaliser once again and made it 3-3 when Theo Walcott latched on to a loose ball and fired into the ground and through the box, where Jannik Vestergaard flicked it with his head on its way into the bottom corner.
This tactical analysis will examine the tactics and key talking points of both teams. The analysis will also delve into how Chelsea conceded their two goal-advantage, and Southampton denied the Blues a win.
Lampard chose a 4-2-3-1 formation for his team and made four changes from their last victory over Crystal Palace. Kepa Arrizabalaga returned in goal as Edouard Mendy picked up an injury on international duty. Christian Pulisic made his first start in the league and Lampard recalled Mason Mount, replacing Callum Hudson-Odoi. Andreas Christensen replaced Thiago Silva at the heart of their back four. It was a first involvement in the squad for Hakim Ziyech since signing from Ajax.
Ralph Hasenhüttl went with a 4-4-2 formation and made two changes to his line-up. Walcott made his second debut for the club after signing on loan from Everton, and Nathan Redmond replaced Moussa Djenepo on the left flank. Southampton started with Adams and Ings up top, and former Chelsea players Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu started on their return to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s fluidity & rotations in attack
This summer the Blues have signed some fantastic players with distinct qualities. Now, Chelsea possess a lot of attacking threat and talent in their forward line. It has become difficult for Lampard to find the right combination. For this match, he chose Werner as the central striker and his fellow countryman Havertz as an attacking midfielder. He went for Mount and Pulisic on the left and right flank, respectively. They all started together for the first time and lived up to the expectations as there were signs of new relationships being formed. We shall now have a look at Chelsea’s fluidity and rotations in attack in the match.
In the 3rd minute, Pulisic receives the ball from Havertz on the touchline and drives infield. He plays a quick one-two with Werner. In the above picture you can see the Chelsea attackers’ positional fluidity. Mount has positioned himself between Kyle Walker-Peters, Havertz is on the touchline on the right flank, and Werner has dropped to present himself as an option. This created enormous space for Chilwell on the left flank to bombard.
Pulisic gets past the Southampton midfielders after a neat interplay with Werner, drawing pressure from his opponents, which left acres of space for Chilwell. You can see in the above picture, Walcott who should mark Chilwell, is out of position and trying to stop Pulisic. The counter-press by the Saints was done to obstruct Chelsea’s attack. Since Walcott left Chilwell unmarked, Pulisic found Chilwell with a simple pass. Chilwell attempted a low shot for the far corner from 20 yards and forces a decent save from McCarthy from just outside the box, but it goes straight to Havertz who takes a fierce attempt at goal, but McCarthy does well again to punch it away.
Chelsea made a bright start to the game and looked purposeful. Due to Southampton keeping a narrow defensive structure, Chelsea expanded the field. Hence, Southampton pushed their back line high to force a turnover. In this way, Werner has a lot of space in between the lines. Chilwell passes the ball from deep towards Werner who drops in between the lines to receive it, with Bednarek on his back. He knew about the space behind Bednarek. Thus, he dummies and spins away from the defender brilliantly. Werner dashes in behind with the ball.
As you can see here, Werner has the ball and is driving towards the opposition box. Excellent darting runs from Havertz and Pulisic towards the penalty spot attracted Bertrand and Romeu which created space for Werner in the centre. Thus, Werner cuts inside and skips across the penalty box with opposition defenders bearing down on him before shooting for the bottom left corner past McCarthy. He gets his first Premier League goal and Chilwell claims the assist for the goal.
Chelsea started their build-up play from deeper positions, which forced Southampton to use a high-pressing and high defensive line system. Thus, there was a huge gap between the Southampton back four and McCarthy. It was a tactical ploy by Chelsea, they managed to absorb the high press as Havertz played a simple pass to Jorginho from the touchline. Jorginho, the architect of this goal plays a brilliant first-time pass over the top of the opposition defence.
Werner used his excellent pace to beat Bednarek, even though he was a few yards behind and finds himself ahead in the race for the ball. He cleverly positioned his body in front of Bednarek as the ball dropped out of the sky. Then, Werner cheekily dinks it over the onrushing McCarthy and heads the ball into the empty net. The Blues were already 2-0 up before the half-hour mark. This shows that Southampton lack the quality centre-backs they need to play a high-defensive line. Vestergaard and Bednarek are “no-nonsene” defenders who are more adept at playing closer to their own goal.
Werner was waiting on the right flank as Chelsea hit the Saints on a counter. He plays a one-two pass and runs into the space down the channel as Pulisic dribbles through the middle.
In this situation, there was no numerical superiority for Chelsea, it was a 2 v 2. Pulisic plays a perfect through ball for Werner onto his path as the German gets into the opposition box. Werner’s ability to find space and make those perfectly timed runs was vital in completing this move. He gets in behind from the blindside of Bertrand and spots Havertz running towards far post. Werner finds him with a lovely square ball and, Havertz makes no mistake from close range. Once again, Chelsea took the lead in the game.
The Blues without the ball
Throughout the game, Chelsea had 50% possession of the ball. Before we look at the strategies used by Chelsea to press Southampton, we have to know the structure used by the opposition. During build-up the Saints used a lopsided 3-2-3-2 shape, in which Bertrand would tuck in with the central defenders as a left centre-back. While Kyle Walker-Peters would move up and provide width and Walcott moved into central areas behind Ings and Adams.
Chelsea defended in a basic low block 4-4-2 system in which Havertz would join Werner in the first line of defence. Most of the times, the defensive structure would remain loose with a low defensive line. Lampard deployed a ball-oriented press against the opposition’s midfielders and strikers.
As we know that Southampton used a double pivot in front of their three man defence during their build-up play. Lampard instructed his team not to press Vestergaard. Thus, Werner remained between Bednarek and Vestergaard, and Havertz would position himself between Bertrand and Vestergaard. Hence, Vestergaard’s passing lanes to other centre-backs were blocked.
Meanwhile, Kante would follow Romeu and not allow him to receive the ball so easily. On right-hand side, Pulisic used his shadow to cover Ward-Prowse. This tactic worked quite well till they scored the first two goals and they didn’t allow the Saints to progress the ball.
Hasenhüttl made a few tweaks in his tactics to nullify Chelsea’s high press. As you can see in the above picture, Ward Prowse drops in between Bednarek and Vestergaard. Thus, the Saints’ build up shape changed to a 3-1-4-2 with Romeu operating as a single pivot. In this structure, the full-backs pushed high to provide width for the Saints. Hence, this allowed the Saints to expand their field and distribute the ball easily. As you can see below, the Saints started to play more through the middle and their most prominent attacks came from there.
Southampton’s pressing system
The Saints don’t like to simply sit back and absorb pressure. They like to push forward and win the ball back and force the opposition to make mistakes. We will have a look at the structure deployed by Hasenhüttl while defending.
Southampton defended in a similar structure to Chelsea, which is in a 4-4-2 structure but with a narrow mid-block. We will now discuss the various pressing triggers set up by Hasenhüttl.
Generally, Southampton keeps a narrow mid-block, which makes it harder for opposition to hit long balls and take advantage of the space behind the defensive line. The only difference in this match was that Walcott was moving infield to mark Kante. This meant that Chilwell will have acres of space to himself on the left flank.
As you can see the Saints have kept a narrow defensive structure and are not pressing. This tactic forced the opposition defenders to come forward with the ball. Southampton likes to bait its opposition into passing out from the back and pushing men forward. This increases the chances of winning the ball back high up the field and hitting the opposition on the counter.
The above picture is an example of one of the triggers when the Saints begin to press. As soon as Zouma plays the ball to Chilwell, Walcott left Kante and runs towards Chilwell to close him down. You can see Ings staying close to Zouma in case there is a back pass. Also, Ward Prowse joins the others in the press and follows Kante. Chilwell has only one option, which is to go long as all his passing lanes have been blocked.
As you can see in the above image, Christensen is passing the ball back to the keeper and is also under heavy pressure from Ings. In such situations, when pressure is put on a centre-back, they tend to do three things; the centre-back sends the ball long, which the Saints can easily deal with; a back pass to goalkeeper, which either starts the build-up play again, with the first line of defence dropping off into the mid-block structure or one of the strikers would close down the goalkeeper, curving his run to block the passing lane into the other centre-back, which usually resulting in another long pass forward; they pass it to the full-back.
The above image is a similar situation. Jorginho slots into the defence line as a right centre-back. After heavy pressure from Ings, he passes the ball back to Kepa when he cannot find a teammate with a pass forward. Adams sees the pass and closes Kepa down while blocking the pass back to Christensen, and Kepa clears the ball by sending it long.
Southampton capitalise on Chelsea’s defensive mistakes
The Blues were 2-0 up till the 42nd minute. Chelsea’s front four were combining well, and it looked like they will score every time they ventured forward, and Southampton was feeling suffocated. So often in the Premier League, you get lured into a false sense of security and Chelsea got punished it for their errors.
In the 43rd minute, Havertz loses the ball in a dangerous area to Adams and Chelsea are in trouble. Adams slips a swift pass for Ings through Zouma and Christensen. Ings rounded Kepa and finishes coolly. He would be the last man Chelsea would want to gift such an opportunity. That was quick thinking and perfect execution by Adams as it brought Southampton back in the game.
Southampton levelled the score from a two goal deficit in the 57th minute. As you can see here Romeu knocks the ball forward over the top of Chelsea’s defenders, similar to what Jorginho did earlier in the match. Adams chases the ball, but Zouma reaches first.
Zouma plays a poor back pass, which puts Kepa in trouble. As he comes out to get there before Adams, he completely misses the ball. Ings gets to the ball and shoots from an angle but Christensen blocks it, but the ball lands on to the feet of Adams who slams it into the roof of the net.
Chelsea were outstanding in the first half, which showed the signs of an expensively assembled attack. The front four of Havertz, Werner, Mount and Pulisic combined well and their one-touch interchanges were full of conviction. Southampton dominated the second half and kept going till the last minute.
Chelsea started losing their composure, which the mistake from Zouma in the 57th minute summed up, allowed Southampton to get back in the game. The problem has been very simple to identify for Lampard. Southampton simply placed Chelsea’s defence under enough pressure that it cracked.
For all the cash invested on their attack, there is still no hiding for Chelsea’s flaws at the back. They need to improve without the ball as they remain a mess. However, all the good work from Timo Werner and Kai Havertz went to waste, and most of the players did not give a good account of themselves.