Frank Lampard’s Chelsea being played against a highly attacking side in midweek had to strategise against a team whose defensive organisation is brilliant and blocks the passing lane with bodies in the middle third and defensive third. Lampard passed with flying colours as Chelsea claimed all three points against a defensive opponent.
This tactical analysis focuses on the tactics used by both the managers and the reasons Crystal Palace lost the match against Lampard’s Chelsea.
Lampard’s setup is similar to José Mourinho, under whom he developed immensely and practiced his trade. He started with 4-2-3-1, Reece James starting for the first time in Premier League. Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori look to have sealed the centre-back position, both starting on a regular basis in Premier League. Lampard praising the centre-back duo after the game speaks volumes of their performances in recent games. Emerson started as a left-back toppling Marcos Alonso whose performance against Ajax was poor.
Jorginho’s suspension meant N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić to play double pivot in the midfield. Kovačić’s silky skills in the midfield and the ability to find players in half-spaces coupled with his brilliant form has made him a player to watch for this season. Lampard has a good headache upfront with too many wingers at his disposal, still, it did not make him alter his front four in the last three games in Premier League.
Roy Hodgson is brilliant in terms of organising his team when it comes to setting up a defensive block against an attacking opposition. Hodgson started with 4-5-1 and after 70 minutes changed to 4-1-4-1 when Crystal Palace were trailing. His only change from the previous game against Leicester was Andros Townsend. Townsend missed the Leicester game due to injury which made Hodgson play James McArthur in the right-wing. He was back to his original position and manned the midfield while Townsend played in the right-wing.
Hodgson’s tactical setup
Crystal Palace defended with 4-5-1 and just made 12 positional attacks with 4-3-3. Hodgson’s tactic was evident right from the word go. He positioned his players in a defensive setup and instructed his players to stay compact and leave very little space for the Chelsea players in midfield.
What was different in this defensive block was that Hodgson asked his midfielders to play slightly higher than usual. They tried to block the passing lane in the opponent half itself or high up in the midfield third.
Crystal Palace midfielders kept a close marking on the Chelsea players. Zaha marked the Chelsea right-back, James, and in the opposite wing, Emerson Palmieri was marked by Townsend. McArthur kept tabs on Kanté and Cheikhou Kouyaté marked Kovačić who positioned himself left side of the double pivot. Luka Milivojević sat in the centre to block any kind of passes in their defensive third.
Crystal Palace mostly defended with the same setup and maintained the compact midfield but sometimes was slightly aggressive in their approach.
Here, McArthur is seen leaving the midfield setup and he goes forward to mark Kanté. It did not allow Kanté enough time to turn and find space, rather the hapless Kanté had to play a backward pass to Zouma.
The compact midfield forced Lampard’s players to pass around in their own half unable to build any attack upfront. Chelsea played 60.5% of the pass sideways or back with their average of the season being 55%. Chelsea did not play any hasty passes rather waited for the right opportunity to break Crystal Palace’s midfield block. Crystal Palace allowed 20.82 passes per defensive action (PPDA) with their average PPDA being 13.46, owing to them not pressing and Chelsea comfortable in passing the ball on their own.
Chelsea defended and attacked with the same 4-2-3-1. Chelsea attackers after playing a difficult and aggressive game against Ajax were tired and did not press as they usually do except for Mason Mount. It is quite evident from their PPDA being as high as 11.41, 2.11 more than their season’s average.
Unable to constantly beat the midfield block of Crystal Palace, Chelsea centre-backs and midfield duo constantly played long balls to the final third. The four players played 27 long balls in total against Crystal Palace which we generally don’t see from Chelsea.
The conundrum of the setup
Hodgson instructed his midfield line and the defensive line to be slightly higher than usual but sometimes the midfield line followed the orders and the defensive line failed to do so. It left a lot of space for the attacking trio to operate.
Kovačić received a pass from Zouma. He found a gap in Palace’s compact midfield and feeds it to Mount. Mount has too much space to carry forward the attack and played it to an attacker.
This space was left by Crystal Palace’s midfield line and the defensive line a number of times which Chelsea failed to take advantage of.
Occupying the half-space – Mount and Tomori’s importance
Lampard’s style is to push the full-backs high up and the wingers move narrow and occupy the half-space. Sometimes the winger who moves narrow plays a pass and attacks the box. What it does is that it draws the opponent full-back along with him leaving enormous space for Chelsea full-back to operate.
In this sequence of play the structure is clearly evident. Christian Pulisic moves narrow and occupies the half-space to receive the ball from Kovačić.
He plays a pass wide to Willian and attacks the box. Joel Ward is occupied with Pulisic and Mason Mount inside the box which eludes him to keep a watch on the Chelsea left-back, Emerson, lurking behind him.
Mount and Tomori is massive for Lampard’s system. Mount often occupies the half-space and also drops deep to open a passing channel for his teammates at the back.
Tomori is gifted with passing abilities that are very effective in Lampard’s system. He often breaks the midfield line which gives the attackers space to operate and in case of teams like Crystal Palace whose midfield line is so compact, he is an absolute necessity.
Tomori passes to Kovačić, who in turns passes back to Tomori since he has no other passing channel with Milivojević closely marking him. He receives the pass and finds Mount who falls deep to open a passing channel for Tomori.
It is not surprising to see most of the attack came from the left-hand side and the centre for Chelsea with Tomori and Mount at the heart of it.
Playing in triangles and one-touch passing
Lampard believes in fluent one-touch passing and quick movement which has been the signature style of Chelsea under his reign. He often creates triangles and diamonds to build up from the back as well as in the final third.
In this picture a diamond created by the Chelsea attackers is clearly visible and the use of target man. Kanté has the ball and he passes it to the target man, Abraham, who passes it to Mount, who is in his close vicinity, from his first touch and Willian makes a run inside the box to engage the centre-backs.
Though it did not create any notable opportunity for Chelsea but this is the style Chelsea adopts in the final third. A close triangle or a diamond is very effective for one-touch passing and Chelsea does it quite brilliantly.
The players under Lampard’s disposal are technically gifted and are really good at quick movements and fluent passing.
The first goal Chelsea scored was the amalgamation of one-touch passing and forming a triangle.
Kovačić dribbles past Townsend and Milivojević, and passes it to Willian. His first touch finds Abraham completely free in the box and Abraham slids it past Vicente Guaita. Here, Kovačić forms a triangle with Willian and Abraham. James Tomkins sensing he had blocked Kovačić’s passing lane to Abraham slightly moves up. Kovačić has another option in the form of Willian. Willian is marked by Cahill who rightly is behind his man. Willian’s vision and his technique enable him to find Abraham with his first touch. This has become quite a habit for Lampard’s Chelsea.
Life after 4-1-4-1
Trailing by a goal, Hodgson tried to shuffle things up. He subbed in attacking-minded Jeffrey Schlupp withdrawing McArthur and shifted to 4-1-4-1 pushing the wingers slightly up.
It left space in the wings and Chelsea started to overload it. Kovačić’s long ball finds Pulisic in the wide space. Emerson goes up and forms 2 vs 1 with Martin Kelly, who had come on in place of injured Ward.
Ward having to defend against the two Chelsea players preferred not to be too close to Pulisic. Pulisic sensed the opportunity and drifted in to find Michy Batshuayi. Batshuayi’s shot was deflected by Cahill’s tackle and fell to the path of Pulisic, who gave Chelsea a two goals cushion.
Another important aspect of Mount in this Chelsea setup was visible in this sequence to the goal. Mount made a faded run who caught Cahill’s eye and was distracted for a moment and gave Batshuayi ample time to shoot.
The two goals scored by Chelsea, Tomkins was at fault. His positioning for the second goal was also questionable. Tomkins could not see the run of Mount or rather he tried to go and block Pulisic from taking a shot which resulted in the second goal.
Kovačić has been massive throughout the game. The number of times he has been mentioned in this analysis signifies his performance.
Roy Hodgson is brilliant when it comes to organisation of his midfield and defence, to form a defensive block. Roy Hodson after the match commented, “We weathered the early storm well, the shape of the team [was good], the players worked hard to control an opponent in great form. I have no criticism of them in any shape or form.” This is evident that the midfielders and the defenders carried out their duties properly except for a few occasions.
Chelsea under Lampard seems to grow every game and is able to come out with results against different minded teams. It all comes down to the litmus test against Manchester City after the international break to give a clear idea on how much Chelsea have progressed under Lampard.
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