Maurizio Sarri was looking to steady the ship after the 6-0 thumping by Manchester City, a record defeat in 28 years. Malmo, who haven’t played a competitive game since December were meeting Chelsea for the first time and looking to be the first Swedish club to make the last-16 of this competition.
Sarri was no doubt wanting to put this tie to bed before the second leg with what could be a decisive month of fixtures. Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round, Manchester City in the League Cup final and Spurs in the Premier League, this was a must-win fixture.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Chelsea overcame Malmo in the round-of-32 of the UEFA Europa League.
Chelsea formed their usual 4-3-3 setup but with a clear squad rotation for Monday’s match against Manchester United. Hazard, Kante and Higuain all on the bench for this match. It was clear that many Chelsea fans wanted Callum Hudson-Odoi to start but instead, appeared on the bench. Twitter went into a frenzy, with some calling for Sarri’s sacking.
Malmo played a 5-3-2. A formation they usually play with wing-backs joining the attacking phase, but able to get back for the defensive phase.
Immediate attacking intent
Though, in a 5-3-2 formation, Malmo would line up from the kick-off, 2-2-6. The three players highlighted, spearheaded a three-man charge in deep into the Chelsea half. The ball is passed back to the centre-back then hit long into the path of M. Rosenberg. Ultimately the play ended in a blocked shot resulting in a corner which showed Malmo weren’t here just to make up the numbers and would start the game with a ferocious attacking mentality.
It was clear that Uwe Rösler had a game plan. Malmo pressed with vigorous intensity to put Chelsea on the back foot. Even with the ball lost deep into the Chelsea half, Malmo would counter-press to win the ball back as shown in the picture below. Malmo, by doing this, were hoping to take full advantage of a Chelsea miss-pass.
Malmo’s transition from attack to defence
The pic below shows eight Malmo players pressing high from a Chelsea throw-in. The defenders are highlighted in yellow. The ball is thrown long to Giroud who then plays it back to Jorginho. Chelsea then spread the ball wide to prepare for an attack down the left to expose Malmo’s right flank.
But Malmo anticipated and quickly tracked back to organise themselves back into 5-3-2 and ready to soak up Chelsea’s pressure. With so much action and barely two minutes gone, it was a wonder if Malmo were going to keep this terrific work rate up. Note that the two pictures are barely 10 seconds apart!
Malmo were very organised in keeping their 5-3-2 when without the ball. The Chelsea front line was man-marked which left an extra player able to step from the defensive line and assist with tackling in midfield. This was usually done by Malmo’s 24, Lasse Nielsen. Malmo attempted to throw a spanner in the works of ‘Sarriball,’ a system that Chelsea still haven’t managed to fully get to grips with.
Chelsea try to ‘open the door’
Chelsea’s positioning seemed to be lacking at times. The 4-3-3 formation was not obvious, with players moving forward and back in different lines. This, along, with Malmo’s organised defence made penetrating them a difficult task.
The pic below shows Chelsea trying to transition into an attack. The ball is worked to the right-wing as four Chelsea players stand around the ball not working for space. Meanwhile, the Malmo WB steps out of the defensive to block a run down the right-wing. Jorginho, much to his frustration tries to orchestrate play, pointed players to move into space.
The ball is then passed into the middle to find another way to ‘open the door’ and attempt to attack down the Left. Again, the Malmo wing-back pre-empts this and rushes from the line to discourage an attack. Chelsea, disappointingly then pass back to goalkeeper Arrizabalaga and have to find another way from scratch.
Luiz makes a costly error
Chelsea looked a little more in control of the game during the second half with 757 passes to Malmo’s 267, with a 92% success. Though, didn’t really look like they had a plan to exploit the Malmo defence. In the 78th minute, Luiz tried forcing a ball to Pedro, despite being other, numerous options around him. The pass fails as it is blocked.
Bachirou, who was stood directly in the passing lane of Pedro and plays a quick ball to substitute Strandberg, blocked it. With quick-thinking, Strandberg plays the ball forward and catches the entire Chelsea defence off-guard. Rosenberg controls it well to lay the ball off into space for Christiansen to slot home for the wonderfully noisy home fans.
Now, we will take a quick look at the passing statistics of both teams. Out of Chelsea’s 759 passes, Kovacic made 117 of them with 98% success. This clearly made him a key player in the game and helped orchestrate attacks for Ross Barkley to develop.
In contrast, Malmo’s passing was not as extensive. Fouad Bachirou provided 25 of the 268 passes by Malmo at a 90% success rate along with two key passes. Similarly, an initiator for Malmo.
In conclusion, an inspired, fresh, Malmo with the crowd in an awesome voice made life difficult for Chelsea. They struggled with Malmo’s pressing and had to out-pass them to get the upper hand. Malmo had more chances but Chelsea took their chances when they came.
With this, Chelsea are not out of the woods yet. This result makes Malmo go into the second leg with nothing to lose and all to gain. As a result, they will go out ‘guns blazing’ and Chelsea will have to work hard to keep Malmo in check. Ultimately, this is the last thing Sarri needs, especially with the difficult run of games. With all that in mind, the pressure grows ever more for Maurizio Sarri.
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