The first fixture of the Premier League‘s fourth matchday featured Chelsea and Crystal Palace, who battled it out at Stamford Bridge with three points on the line. The Blues had started their season well by defeating Brighton, but a defeat to Liverpool and a draw against West Brom thereafter meant that they desperately wanted the three points. Palace, on the other hand, had six points from three as they overcame Southampton and Manchester United, but then lost to Everton.
An exciting clash ensued, and it ended 4-0 to Chelsea thanks to a goal each from Ben Chilwell and Kurt Zouma and a Jorginho brace from the penalty spot. Here, we take a look at how the two sides were set up in a tactical analysis.
Before we take a look at both sides’ tactics, let’s go over their lineups.
Chelsea lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Edouard Mendy getting a Premier League debut in goal. César Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma and Ben Chilwell made up the back-four, and they had N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho just in front of them. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner operated on either flank, with Kai Havertz in the number 10 role and Tammy Abraham as the sole striker.
Crystal Palace were unchanged from their defeat to Everton last weekend. Vicente Guaita remained in goal, with a defence of Joel Ward, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Mamadou Sakho and Tyrick Mitchell in front of him. The midfield included Andros Townsend, James McArthur, James McCarthy and Eberechi Eze, while Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew were deployed up front.
Now, onto the analysis.
Crystal Palace’s defensive shape
Palace’s gameplan was to simply sit back, absorb the pressure that Chelsea would undoubtedly mount and then hit them on the counterattack. For this to succeed, they had to maintain a solid defensive shape.
Here, you can see Crystal Palace’s narrow 4-4-2 in action. The full-backs and wide midfielders have tucked inside to make it very difficult for Chelsea to play through them, forcing the Blues to go wide. Jordan Ayew was instructed to stay tight to Jorginho who often dropped deep and picked out passes for Chelsea, while Wilfried Zaha pressed either of the centre-backs when they had the ball.
Palace switched to a sort of a 4-3-3 if the ball went to either of Chelsea’s full-backs. The wide midfielder (Andros Townsend in this case) would push forward to meet the Chelsea full-back, while the two central midfielders – James McCarthy and James McArthur – would slightly shift towards the side that the ball went to (the right in this case). The back-four would remain as it was – narrow.
All of that narrowness obviously meant that Chelsea would attack from the flanks, so Palace would have to figure out a way to defend when the ball reached the wide areas in their defensive third. They did so by asking both the wide players – the full-back and midfielder to meet Chelsea’s attacker on the flank and try to prevent him from crossing. In the box, the two central midfielders joined the rest of the three defenders to try and crowd Chelsea out.
Palace’s defence stood strong for the first half, but it quickly started to crumble in the second period for a variety of reasons, which we will explore later.
Chelsea kept 71% of possession in this match while also attempting 17 shots. Their high press massively contributed to this.
When pressing, Chelsea switched to somewhat of a 4-4-2, as Kai Havertz joined Tammy Abraham up front and the two holding midfielders pushed ahead. The Blues’ objective was to force Palace into playing a long ball out to the wide areas, as is evident above.
Once the ball got there, Chelsea used all three of their centrally positioned midfielders and both wide players to swarm the man in possession, forcing him to either clear or risk losing the ball in an advanced area. Most of the time, the Palace players chose to punt it out for a throw.
Chelsea had a clear plan to win the ball back quickly from opposition throw-ins. They gave the thrower many options (four in this case), but always stationed their players in such a manner that at least two would be able to close the receiver down and force him to boot it away.
With this systematic press, Chelsea made sure that they had most of the possession, and they used it effectively with their smart wing-play.
The most threatening aspect of Chelsea’s attack was their wing-play. All of their wide players were very different to one another, so they provided lots of dynamism on the flanks.
In the first half, Kai Havertz drifted out to the right flank, and Timo Werner moved infield to occupy a central position. The ex-Leipzig forward pulled a Crystal Palace player away from Chelsea’s left flank, creating a lot of space for Ben Chilwell to attack.
On the opposite wing, Kai Havertz cut inside and dragged the left-back away from the flank in the attacking third, opening up a good amount of space from Callum Hudson-Odoi. Therefore, César Azpilicueta did not need to push forward, but this meant that Eberechi Eze would be free to cover Hudson-Odoi on the right. Therefore, the English winger didn’t deliver a great end-product for most of the first half.
At the half-hour mark, Chelsea’s wingers switched flanks to try and create more crossing opportunities.
That switch didn’t exactly work, however, as Callum Hudson-Odoi didn’t drift inside from the left as Timo Werner did, so he failed to find the pockets of space and was effectively marked out of the game. In the above example, the blue circle indicates the area where Hudson-Odoi should have been to receive a pass. But, since he has strayed further forward, he is surrounded by opposition players, and the pass gets intercepted.
The change didn’t benefit anyone else either, as Kai Havertz had to drift to the left to accommodate Timo Werner’s inward movements, and both Germans aren’t as effective in these areas. Ben Chilwell too found that the space on the flank disappeared as Callum Hudson-Odoi attracted Joel Ward and brought him wide, leaving the ex-Leicester City full-back incapable of bombing forward.
To Frank Lampard’s credit, he reverted his wide men to their normal positions after half-time, but there was one crucial change in the system.
The change saw César Azpilicueta push forward. However, the Spaniard did not try to overlap, but rather tucked inside and drew Eberechi Eze away from the wide areas by making underlapping runs. From such positions, he was able to link up with Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Above, you can see how Azpilicueta is making an underlapping run and dragging Eze with him. This leaves Hudson-Odoi one-on-one against young Tyrick Mitchell (who would later concede a penalty by bringing down the Chelsea winger) and opens up space near the corner flag for the teenager to run into and cross.
All of these aspects of Chelsea’s attacking play came together brilliantly to allow the Blues to open the scoring.
It all started off with Timo Werner, who drifted inside and crept into a nice pocket of space just outside the final third, requiring to be found with a very straightforward pass.
From there, the German forward was able to turn around and spread the ball out wide for Callum Hudson-Odoi (who is out of the above frame), as César Azpilicueta made an underlapping run to create space for the Englishman.
This left Hudson-Odoi one-on-one against Tyrick Mitchell, and with space to his right to move into and cross.
The final stage of the move was once again influenced by Werner, whose central position opened up space in the box. In the image above, there are seven Crystal Palace players and five Chelsea players in the area highlighted in white, but the blue area, which is almost half of the 18-yard box, is completely empty. Tammy Abraham nods the ball into that region, where Ben Chilwell arrives and thumps home.
In this manner, Chelsea fought and won a battle on the wings thanks to a smart tactical switch in the second half.
Chelsea and Frank Lampard must be credited for formulating and executing their gameplan well. Crystal Palace defended well throughout the first period and were helped by a mistake which saw Chelsea’s winger switch flanks. However, in the second period, Lampard’s small changes gave his side the edge, and they put four past Palace. At the same time, the Eagles will be blaming themselves as they did well in defence for 45 minutes but completely failed in attack, as they weren’t half as sharp as they were against Manchester United and failed to link up, frustrating themselves in the end and inviting Chelsea ahead.
But the Pensioners should certainly be excited because when in free flow, their attack looks cap-able of demolishing absolutely any defence.