FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea – tactical analysis

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

The 2019/20 Barclays FAWSL season kicked off this weekend with a tantalising set of fixtures. On Sunday, Brighton and Hove Albion drew against Chelsea and ended the match with 1-1.

The Seagulls defended superbly and went ahead in the 84th minute through Aileen Whelan. But Chelsea’s substitute Adelina Engman later struck from close range to grab her side a point in the first few seconds of added time.

This season is Brighton’s second season in the WSL, with the hope to put a dent in Chelsea‘s record against them. The three times they met last season, including once in the FA Cup, Chelsea were comfortable winners on all occasions. Hope Powell’s side took hope from their impressive display against Bristol- with their quick passing, they were creating opportunities well. But they missed that clinical edge they needed to stand a chance against Chelsea.

There were points at which Brighton’s defence looked exposed, but they tightened that eventually in the game. They ensured not to concede against the creative side of Emma Hayes until the added time. Although the Blues were dominant in the game, Brighton didn’t make it easy for them. They showed Hayes’ squad the different sides to their play and Chelsea did extremely well in identifying those patterns and exploiting them.

This tactical analysis will highlight the tactics that Brighton and Chelsea used against each other.


Both the teams started with four defenders and transpired ahead. With a 4-4-2 formation for Chelsea, the squad had the key players like Erin Cuthbert and Drew Spence. Brighton, on the other hand, followed a 4-3-3 formation with Fliss Gibbons and Whelan starting in the XI. Both sides used their pressing schemes to limit each other’s build-up.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Berger, Andersson, Ericsson, Bright, Mjelde, Reiten, Ji, Spence, Cuthbert, England

Brighton and Hove Albion (4-3-3): Walsh, Skovsen, Kerkdijk, Williams, Gibbons, Buet, Brazil, Le Garrec, Connolly, Whelan, Umotong

Chelsea dominates the first half

The match started with Chelsea dominating possession and Brighton hanging on. However, it gave the feeling that the Blues were figuring out how to attack and would find the spaces to make the danger tell. Wide forwards Guro Reiten and Cuthbert were able to get on the ball in midfield areas but not really down the wings or around the box.

Chelsea completely dominated the first half as Brighton had created only a few chances which were not actually major threats. They dominated possession with more than 70% as well as created more chances. With Millie Bright and Magdalena Ericcson controlling the defence and Ji So-yun handling the midfield, the visitors were attacking from the start.

Most of Chelsea’s chances came in the first half. From Mille Bright running on to a cleverly scooped return pass from Spence but shooting over, to Bethany England making a low shot narrowly wide of the far post, Chelsea had six shots on target.

With Gibbons’ great challenge on Cuthbert when the Chelsea player looked set to finish a fine move from close range, she took an early goal away from the Blues. Cuthbert then met Maren Mjelde’s far post cross but was only able to divert the ball over from close range as it bounced right in front of her.

In the following picture, the initial play of Chelsea can be spotted. The centre-backs switched sides. The passing in the central and right midfield area created space in the left flank. The left-backs then made runs through the flank and crossed towards the striker.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

Again, the Blues played deep holding balls by inviting the opposition players to press harder. This created space in the midfield and allowed the flanks to be free.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

The midfielder Ji played a crucial role in the first half. She primarily lined up at the left midfield position. Despite this, it was not unusual to see her on the right flank or supporting the build-up. As her movements happened, a teammate would cover her space. Her move dragged the opposition midfielders out of position and left holes in their defensive block. This opened space and the Blues would take advantage of it.

The best chance in the first half came in the 16th minute from Chelsea. In the following picture, it is seen that with a quick one-two passing between Millie Bright and Spence, the Blues took the advantage of Brighton’s poor defensive line. But because of the poor finishing from Bright, the ball went above the goalpost.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

The only threat from Brighton in the first half came from a beautiful pass by Danielle Buet. She glided through the midfield of Chelsea, but the cross was under par from the winger. The following image shows Albion losing their first chance.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

Guro and Cuthbert are having to drop deep to get involved in the play. Without Fran Kirby, Chelsea’s link to attack once again funnelled through Ji So-Yun. Though it’s a role she’s fully capable of playing well, Ji had another unconvincing showing. This caused Cuthbert and Reiten to sit closer to midfield to get involved with the play. But this move left no one forward other than striker Bethany England.

Brighton’s Defence

Brighton defended low but also did a good job of chasing players off the ball and into passing backwards. They aimed to press the visitors high up the pitch and force problems. Reiten and left-back Jonna Andersson developed a good understanding that saw Reiten release Andersson down the line and in space on multiple overlapping runs, but the final pass was either just off or the ensuing shot blocked.

Although Chelsea were able to create a lot of chances, their final balls were disappointing. The second half was more promising from Brighton as they were completely able to stop the flow of through’s and quick runs from the left-back of Chelsea. Not only that, Brighton’s defence was quite disciplined as they didn’t overextend the pressing tactic. They didn’t allow the freedom of movement of the ball especially through the midfield.

Powell’s side worked hard from the start. They were organised and went close right on half-time through Lea Le Garrec from outside the box after Ini Umotong had won the ball back. The second half was more even with both teams creating more chances. The analysis shows Albion played some really good football at times.

In the first half, Brighton was content with sitting off Chelsea, allowing them to sustain lengthy spells of possession. In the second half, however, they made them more urgent off the ball. Brighton looked to win the ball higher up field so Brighton potentially pressed harder.

Once the Blues got closer to the D-box, the defenders and midfielders did not give room to strikers to make a pass. This forced Chelsea to lose possession which the opposition took advantage of.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

Eventually though, the Blues used different tactics and made long passes. In the following picture, it can be noticed that because of Albion’s defenders’ tight pressing, the wingers on the opposing side were able to make runs. They kept possession and created more chances.

While possessing the ball, Chelsea created a structure to promote counter-pressing. If Chelsea lost the ball, they were positioned to win the ball back quickly and get possession back near the goal. Doing this allowed Chelsea to sustain long spells of pressure in Brighton’s half of the field. While this aids in creating an effective attack, Chelsea simultaneously kept the ball a distance away from their goal for long periods of the match.

Chelsea were making short passes in the mid-section of the ground inviting the Brighton players to press on them. This created space in the flanks and they carried this mostly on the right side and switching the ball to the left side.

In the following picture, it can be noticed that the left wing is clear. The left midfielder holding the ball is waiting for the left-back to make run through the flank. And so, by making a through pass, the left-back makes a cross.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

Final Goals

After half-time, Brighton came alive and it was Chelsea who was trying to cope. Some key interceptions and clearances from the England international Bright kept Brighton at bay, but only until the 84th minute.

A Brighton cross was headed out but pinged back into a crowded box at pace. This led to a calm and composed header pass by Danique Kerdijk onto the path of Whelan who finished it exquisitely on the volley. The Dutch defender cleverly headed the looping ball for Whelan, who showed great control with her right-foot connection and guided it inside the post.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics

By then Brighton had the lead and the knowledge of how to repel Chelsea’s attacks, and the full-time whistle wasn’t far away. But then in the 91st minute, Chelsea found the goal that had been eluding them since the first few kicks of the match. A lobbed cross into the box from midfield found the head of Bright who nodded it on to Reiten. Her touch bobbled to substitute forward Adelina Engman who put the ball into the roof of the net from close range. Engman crashed Albion’s fairytale win into just a very good draw.

FAWSL 2019/20: Brighton and Hove Albion vs Chelsea - tactical analysis tactics


Brighton lost 4-0 at home to Chelsea last season and were off to a solid start in the Barclays FAWSL with two draws. By picking up a magnificent 1-1 draw against the visitors, Albion’s have made Hayes’ side question their presence in the opposition box. Her squad has to either figure out some other method of attack or desperately need Kirby’s return. Brighton, on the other hand, looked feisty and united. They have shown a much-improved version of themselves than the last term.

Artwork by @chapulana

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