Brighton met Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for their 32nd game in the Premier League this season. With Chelsea looking to secure a spot in the Champions League closely behind Manchester United, and Brighton fighting to stay out of the relegation zone only five points away from the dreaded spot, it was always going to be a cagey affair between the two sides. In this tactical analysis, I will explain how Chelsea outplayed their opponents and placed themselves back in the fifth position in the league.
After some speculation about the future of Chelsea’s boss Maurizio Sarri, he has turned his team’s performances around and they have started to look like a promising Champions League side. He lined them up in a 4-3-3 formation with David Luiz and Andreas Christensen as centre-half’s, and Emerson and skipper César Azpilicueta at full-back. The midfield consisted of N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was finally given a start. Hudson-Odoi also got his first full start in the league. Eden Hazard played on the left side of midfield and Frenchman Olivier Giroud led the line-up top.
Chris Hughton set the away team up in a 4-5-1 formation with double D’s Dunk and Duffy playing in central defence. Stephens and Bissouma started with the impressive Davy Pröpper free roaming in midfield. Jahanbakhsh and Solly March played out wide on the flanks with Florin Andone playing as the lone striker.
Right from the off, Chelsea showed most of the ball and looked to attack quickly, ending the game with a dominative total of 68% possession as opposed to Brighton’s 32%. Chelsea fell into a back three in possession with David Luiz showing his confidence on the ball using his long-range passing ability to find runs over the top. Once the Brazilian received the ball, straight away he was looking for a run to pass the ball to which N’Golo Kanté was the first to do so.
With the game only just kicked off, Brighton were caught out when Kanté made a pacey run in behind the defence with Luiz spotting the run and playing a spectacular long-range pass only to be caught by the goalkeeper. With Luiz’s ability to pass the ball from deep, the away side was not expecting such an attacking start and did not cover Kanté enough. This could have been a goal just 20 seconds in, only for the Brighton keeper who read the situation well.
Maurizio Sarri has been playing Kanté in a more attacking role as of late, where he almost plays as a number 10 in possession. Arguably one of the best defensive midfielders currently in the world, the Frenchman shows that he has some great attributes to play in a more attacking position, such as his pace and agility to make dangerous runs in behind the defence.
Chelsea played with three at the back in possession of the ball and played it out from the back as much as possible. They were given so much space on the ball, which gave the midfielders time to exploit the open space to receive a pass and turn out to create chances on goal. This is how the home side played the whole game while the midfield acted as a key to open up space and push forward, which is where most of Chelsea’s goals were scored.
In attack, Chelsea’s back three played very high up the pitch putting immense pressure on Brighton’s midfield and defence. Wing-backs Azpilicueta, and especially Emerson from the left side, made many overlapping runs throughout the game when a Blues midfielder received the ball with their back towards Brighton’s defence. Most of Chelsea’s attacks came from the left side of the pitch. This overload on the flanks forced Brighton’s defence to commit and get close to the Chelsea midfield, leaving space for the wing-backs to get in behind and cross the ball to create chances.
Midfield too hot to handle
Chelsea’s second and third goal came from very impressive tactical play from the midfield with Hazard and Loftus-Cheek linking up effectively. The move started with Jorginho on the ball looking for a pass. Loftus-Cheek uses his cognitive ability to move into a partial space and used great body positioning when receiving the ball to open up and look for a pass. Eden Hazard knew Loftus Cheek’s position and made a run into space catching the opposition’s defence out. The work wasn’t done yet but when Hazard got a little time and space outside of the area, the Belgian curled a stunning effort into the top right corner.
Man of the match Eden Hazard played in a ‘false nine’ position where he dropped into midfield to maintain possession and switch the play, which relieved the pressure on the home side’s midfield. Brighton’s defensive structure remained solid when the blues were attacking as every Brighton player got behind the ball. Hazard’s role solved this problem as he picked passes to switch the play and to break the away teams structure, which then leads to a goal scoring opportunity.
The image below shows the strong structure of Brighton’s defence, but Hazard plays a killer ball out wide to break the run of play and to play the ball into unmarked space where the ball was crossed dangerously into the box.
Keeping the visitors out
Although Brighton only had three shots with one on target, Sarri’s men played very well defensively. They played with a back five when Brighton had the ball in their half, with Jorginho dropping back into central defence. The two full-backs also stayed back and the midfield came back behind the ball to act as an extra line of defensive support. Chelsea won 19 tackles with Brighton closely behind on 17.
Chelsea came away from the game with three points on the board moving them back up into 5th position ahead of Manchester United. On the day, Chelsea were tactically much better than the away side.
A very positive game from the Blues, they ended the game with 17 shots in total and a pass success rate of 91%. They were effective in creating goalscoring opportunities from both flanks and outside the box, which shows they have improved their game at a crucial stage of the season.
Brighton lost possession often due to Chelsea’s high central press and they will be looking to improve in their next game away to leaders Manchester City, to try and secure their place in the Premier League next season.
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