This was a game of two halves. Untidy individual errors saw Chelsea 3-0 down before the half an hour mark, but, in the second half, their blushes were partly saved after overrunning West Brom’s low block setup with eight attackers on the pitch. Considering the sequence of events, both managers should be happy with a point, but are far from sharing this sentiment.

The dynamics of the game were unsurprising. Chelsea had the majority of the ball and tried to break down an organised, narrow West Brom setup. West Brom looked to play the ball long, win second balls and pick their moments to get behind Chelsea’s defensive line.

Lampard’s tactics and an overeagerness to change formations were a major factor in the highs and lows of the final scoreline. In this match report, we provide an in-depth tactical analysis of what was an eventful game. Consequently, we provide an analysis of key statistics of the match to gain a better understanding of standout players in both teams.

Lineups 

Lampard made three changes and set up a different formation to the Chelsea that lost 2-0 to Liverpool last week. The system was 4-2-3-1, with Kovacic and Kante in a double pivot. Havertz and Mount operated in half-spaces. Werner’s role resembled a second striker to Abraham, with a licence to drift deep and wide.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

West Bromwich Albion‘s solid 5-4-1 often saw six men in the midfield to eliminate passing lanes. Townsend and Furlong employed cross-field long balls in an attempt to counteract the high number of attack-minded Chelsea players on the pitch. They were set up to have Callum Robinson as the only player in Chelsea’s half.

In addition to a stark difference in playing styles, the following image highlights the difference between the teams in terms of their respective ‘Plan A’ setup.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

On the one hand, West Brom’s shape and tactics were consistent throughout. On the other hand, Lampard changed his formation on many occasions as the game went on. Granted, the situation after the first 30 minutes was far from ideal, but it underlines an overarching criticism of Lampard, in that he doesn’t quite know the best way to set up his players.

Chelsea’s possession

Having over 70% of the ball throughout the match, Chelsea needed to be efficient in their possession chains. West Brom’s numbers in the middle of the pitch were designed to block lines, making it harder for Chelsea to make progressive passes. However, the Blues found a lot of joy on the right-hand side of the pitch. Havertz and Mount, in conjunction with Reece James, were particularly adept at one-twos that brought West Brom out of position. In the following image, Kovacic as the deep-lying tempo-setter begins a possession chain with a pass out wide.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

Meanwhile, Kante’s dummy run brought his marker slightly out of position. This affords an ounce of free space between West Brom’s second and third lines of defence. Havertz’s through ball eliminates two players, allowing Mount to cross it into Werner – who has lost his man by playing on his shoulder. This play was Chelsea’s best chance in the first half. It was a neat interplay permeating from back to front, with several players involved.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

Kai Havertz was central to Chelsea’s interplay. In the following position, West Brom are caught in transition, giving Chelsea a 5v3 in the midfield.Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

The speed of James’s cross-field ball to Mount, who gives it to Werner, forces West Brom’s spine out of position. Consequently, Hudson-Odoi’s driving run and interplay with a completely unmarked Havertz is certainly a template for what they should have been doing more.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

Due to having the ball for extended periods of time, Chelsea were lacking fluidity in the final third of the pitch. This may have prompted complacency in their own half. In the following position, Kovacic loses the ball, triggering a counter-attack by West Brom. Reece James’s advanced position left Robinson with a dangerous amount of free space.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

James must frantically fall back 20 yards in order to cover the free space given to Robinson. After a touch too many, the danger is diffused. However, there was an overreliance on Kovacic to pass the ball from the back in the first half. Thus, despite showing glimpses, Chelsea lacked a tempo-setting distribution from their own half. This is apparent in the types of defensive errors that were made by the Blues.

West Brom’s buildup and Chelsea’s defending

The conservatively set up West Brom were more realised in their approach to the game. They relied on direct long balls and set-pieces. On many occasions, their gameplan was to win second balls in zones between Chelsea’s full-backs and centre-backs. In the following image, a long ball is sent to the zone covered by Marcus Alonso. His misplaced header permits Pereira space to dribble and relay it to Robinson. A combination of poor tracking by the Chelsea defenders and individual quality by the Irishman led to the goal.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

Robinson’s average position as the lone striker throughout the game was in the space between Reece James and Andreas Christensen. This certainly would have been discussed in the dressing room, due to the attack-minded nature of both of Chelsea’s full-backs. Although James looked promising up-front, he was often taken out of the game during a counter, due to his advanced position.

The individual error that made all the headlines was a symptom of the aforementioned lack of a tempo-setter at the back. Thiago Silva played as the right centre-back for PSG all of last season, and played on the left against West Brom. Call it complacency, but he was a yard too slow in what was a defensive howler. In essence, Chelsea’s distribution from the back left a lot to be desired. The following graph explains not only the average positions of Chelsea’s players, but also the frequency of their overall passes.

Premier League 2020/21: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis tactics

It is apparent here that Chelsea’s players are distinctly divided into clear attacking and defending zones. The average positioning of their players illustrates their lack of coherence between the two zones at times. It is , further, noteworthy that Chelsea were significantly reliant on the right-hand-side of the pitch. In addition to Kante and Kovacic, James’s average position suggests that he assumed the role of linking the two zones. An over-reliance on James in their respective possession chains left Chelsea vulnerable on the counter.

Key statistics 

Chelsea’s final expected goals (xG) was 2.54 compared to West Brom’s 1.04. Additionally, the two individual errors by the Blues’ defenders were underscored by Robinson’s xG on both of his goals. The total xG from both goals scored by Robinson was 0.30. This indicates the individual quality of the striker on the day.

From the right-hand side of the pitch, Chelsea’s xG was 0.85. This underlines the involvement of Reece James going forward. He had a 92% pass accuracy and registered 14 crosses. He additionally has two deep completions, four key passes and four shot assists (most on the pitch). James was, therefore, a key player in Chelsea’s possession chains.

Hudson-Odoi and Havertz were central to Chelsea’s comeback on the day. Hudson-Odoi provided attributes of an out-and-out winger that permitted him to break lines and carry the ball forward. He made the most dribbles for his team, seven, and completed six.  Moreover, Havertz operated quite effectively within half-spaces. He boasted a 91% pass accuracy, had three deep completions and recorded an assist.

Conclusion

Despite showing glimpses of their talent, Chelsea would be disappointed with their inconsistent performance in the match. The same can be said for a West Brom team that ultimately crumbled under the pressure and couldn’t defend a 3-0 lead.

“Fresh legs” was the theme of the second half. Chelsea’s substitutions eventually saw eight attack-minded players on the pitch. Lampard’s change of formation into a 3-1-4-2 ultimately saved Chelsea a point and underlined the difference between a promoted side on one hand and a side that spent £200m in the summer on the other hand.

Newly promoted into the Premier League, West Brom are already tipped to be involved in a relegation battle this season.  However, they will try to build upon the positive performances of Robinson and Furlong in particular. Conversely, Lampard’s Chelsea must develop a more consistent and sustainable plan A in their campaign to challenge for top spots.