The fifth matchday of the 2019/20 FAWSL campaign delivered a dynamic London derby between Chelsea Women and West Ham Women. After analysis, we see that Chelsea initially dominated the match, but had to engage in a tactical back and forth against the home team. West Ham were able to make a defensive shift in tactics to put pressure on the Blues who were in danger of earning their first loss in league play.

In the end, Chelsea were able to shift their formation and introduce a playmaker to take back control of the match and ultimately walk away victors. This tactical analysis will examine exactly how it happened.

Team notes and line up

Chelsea entered the match 4-0-0 in London derbies so far this season. One of those wins includes beating West Ham in a cup match thirty-five days prior.

Both teams entered the match with no major injuries.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Berger, Mjelde, Bright, Andersson, Eriksson, Cuthbert, Ingle, Ji, Reiten, England, Bachmann.

West Ham (4-1-4-1): Brosnan, Hendrix, Flaherty, Vetterlein, Baunach, Middag, Lehmann, Dali, Cho, Galabadaarachchi, Thomas

Chelsea manipulate the West Ham block

To begin the match, West Ham took a fairly passive approach when playing out of possession. There were some slight player to player marking tendencies, but the team priority was on keeping a compact horizontal shape and slide across the field to smother attacks. Chelsea easily found space between the lines and created many chances on goal in the opening minutes of the game.

Due to West Ham prioritising a zonal marking system, Chelsea were able to utilise off-the-ball movements and intelligent positioning to bypass lines of players within West Ham’s block. This led to the Blues creating a flurry quality goal-scoring chances at the start of the match. Chelsea would certainly be disappointed that they weren’t up by a goal or two after the opening quarter of an hour.

A great example of Chelsea’ easy progression occurred in the seventh minute of the match. Chelsea started a phase of possession at the feet of their goalkeeper Ann Katrin-Berger. Chelsea’s centre-backs Magdalena Eriksson and Millie Bright set up wider passing angles while central midfielders Sophie Ingle and Ji So-Yun dropped in the central corridor to create a double pivot.

The ball was played out to the right flank to right-back Maren Mjelde. As the ball was played to the Chelsea right flank, the West Ham defensive block slid across the pitch with the movement of the ball. Ingle also dropped into the right flank on the same line as Mjelde to offer a short passing angle.

As the wide Chelsea players exchanged passes back and forth, the nearby West Ham players were drawn in. This created a flat line of West Ham players and a gap between the next line in the West Ham defensive block. As the ball-near West Ham players were drawn to the ball, Ji and right midfielder Erin Cuthbert occupied the space directly behind the pressuring West Ham line.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs West Ham Women - Tactical Analysis tactics
Ji and Cuthbert move into the space left behind the pressuring West Ham players. Ji and Cuthbert would receive the ball in space and turn to progress cleanly to the middle third.

Immediately after drawing the nearby West Ham players into a flat line, Chelsea were able to pass through the line to the open upfield players. This progression played out quite a few times in the first thirty minutes of the game and led to multiple quality Chelsea attempts on goal.

Through a series of short passes on the flank in the defensive third, Chelsea were able to manipulate the shape of the West Ham block. Once gaps in the block had been opened up, Chelsea were able to easily progress through the middle third and eventually create chances on goal.

West Ham change out of possession tactics

Around the thirty-minute mark, West Ham made a shift in tactics when out of possession. West Ham suddenly began to push up the pitch as a unit and employ a much more aggressive woman-marking system.

With tight marking on all nearby passing options, West Ham were able to significantly disrupt Chelsea progressions out of the back. This player to player marking scheme prevented Chelsea players from finding gaps in between the lines to progress. This also allowed West Ham to apply much more pressure to the ball carrier and forced Chelsea into errors within their defensive half.

This shift in out of possession tactics led to the first goal of the game. As opposed to the previous image shown, in the fifty-seventh minute we see West Ham pressuring all ball-near players as Chelsea attempt to progress through the thirds. As play circulates to the flank, all West Ham players near the ball move to cut off any potential passing options.

This time, as Ingle drops near the full-back to once again create short passes to create gaps in the West Ham block, she is aggressively pressed. The pressuring West Ham players also made sure to employ cover shadows while closing down the ball carrier. This allowed the West Ham players to pressure the ball carrier while simultaneously cutting off passing options down the field.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs West Ham Women - Tactical Analysis tactics
West Ham switches to a player-oriented marking system, restricting Chelsea’s options for progression. West Ham’s pressuring midfielders made sure to angle their pressure to create cover shadows (blue triangle).

The Chelsea players were unable to play the ball forward cleanly and sent a long pass forward that resulted in West Ham gaining possession. This passage of play led to West Hams first and only goal of the match.

By playing less passive and applying player-oriented pressure on the Chelsea players, West Ham were able to prevent Chelsea from easily progressing up the field. The resulting Chelsea turnovers also helped to give West Ham quality chances on goal.

Chelsea Women: Hayes’ switch to a 4-3-3

After the first two-thirds of the match, Chelsea had held more possession and created more chances but were down 0-1. Chelsea’s manager Emma Hayes decided on a substitution and formation shift to turn the tide of the game in Chelsea’s favour. This came in the form of introducing Fran Kirby and switching to a 4-3-3.

By switching to a 4-3-3, Chelsea would have a front three to create more attacking problems for the West Ham back four. Up until this point, the West Ham defensive line had done a fairly good job of snuffing out any dangerous attacks from Chelsea forwards Bethany England and Ramona Bachmann. Hayes decided that removing a player from the midfield line and introducing a forward would tip the balance of the game in Chelsea’s favour.

She was right.

Kirby was substituted in the sixty-second minute and the changes to the flow of the game were immediate. Kirby was tasked with lurking on the left flank and attacking the space behind West Ham right-back Brooke Hendrix.

We see evidence of this immediately in the sixty-third minute when playmaking midfielder Guro Reiten has gained possession of the ball and penetrates forward into space on the left flank. Hendrix is forced to step forward and pressure Reiten to prevent any more forward progress with the ball. In this moment, Kirby accelerates into the space left behind Hendrix.

Reiten immediately recognises the attacking space that Hendrix’s movement has opened up and plays the ball forward into space for Kirby to run onto. Simultaneously, Chelsea forwards England and Bachmann surge forward to pin back the West Ham backline and to potentially receive a cross from Kirby.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs West Ham Women - Tactical Analysis tactics
Reiten dribbles forward aggressively to force Hendrix to come off the West Ham backline and slow down the attack. Reiten is ready for the defender’s movement and plays the ball into the vacated space for the fresh-legged Kirby.

This tactical movement on the left flank created immediate problems for West Ham.

Chelsea also recognised that by playing the ball up the right flank, they could shift over the West Ham block and create attacking space for both Retien and Kirby on the left. We saw this occur in the sixty-ninth minute.

Chelsea played the ball high and wide to now right-winger Bachmann. As this occurs, the West Ham unit slides to it’s left to smother Bachmann and prevent any goal scoring chances. Meanwhile, Mjelde has pushed forward to create an angle of support behind Bachmann and Ji moves into the centre of the field to create an outlet to switch the point of attack.

On the blind side of the West Ham block, Kirby and Reiten quietly pushed up the pitch to create a platform for to attack.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs West Ham Women - Tactical Analysis tactics
Chelsea play the ball down the right flank to open up attacking space on the left flank. Once West Ham have slid over, Mjelde and Ji quickly circulate the ball to the far side of the field.

As soon as the West Ham block shifted to the ball-near side of the field, the Chelsea players quickly switched the point of attack through Mjelde and Ji. Reiten and Kirby were able to receive the ball and penetrate into the West Ham box to create a chance on goal.

By introducing Kirby and switching the formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, Chelsea were able to create multiple quality chances on goal. Within ten minutes of Kirby’s introduction, Chelsea had scored two goals.

Conclusion

Despite Chelsea dominating most of the game, West Ham were almost able to steal three points from a match they never fully looked in control of. With the win, Chelsea move to the top of the table and remain undefeated in league play. West Ham sit at seventh place and now have more losses (three) than wins (two) for the current campaign.


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