Southampton was able to surprise all football fans on Boxing day. In the 19th game of the Premier League season, the Saints were able to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge: 0:2.

This tactical analysis will examine how Southampton was able to beat Chelsea. In this analysis, we will take a closer look at the defensive tactics used by Southampton to pressure Chelsea. Furthermore, it will show how Chelsea struggled in attack

Lineups

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Chelsea changed their formation for their game with Southampton. Instead of using 4-2-3-1, Frank Lampard switched to a 3-4-3 formation. The reason for that was probably that Ralph Hasenhüttl his side mostly played in a 4-4-2 formation this season.

Southampton started the game in a 4-4-2 formation. Hasenhüttl changed his two strikers for this game. Cha Adams and Michael Obafemi would start against Chelsea, while Shane Long and Danny Ings started against Aston Villa.

Chelsea’s attacking play

Chelsea, thus, started in a 3-4-3 formation. Chelsea probably started with this formation, because Southampton mostly played in a 4-4-2 formation this season. By using a 3-4-3 formation against a 4-4-2, Lampard wanted to create a three against two situation in the build-up phase.

Because Chelsea’s faced two attackers, the wide centre-backs were mostly the players who had to play out from the back. When in their own half, three players offered the centre-back support: the wide midfielder, the nearest central midfielder, and the winger. As shown in the situation beneath, Antonio Rüdiger had the ball with Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kanté, and Willian offered support. The players positioned themselves in such a way, that Rüdiger had three passing options to choose from.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

In the opposition’s half, Chelsea’s 3-4-3 often looked like a 3-2-4-1. The wingers positioned themselves in the half-space of the field. The wide midfielders positioned themselves high up the pitch, to provide the width of the team.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

The situation below shows one of the struggles Chelsea had during the first half. Southampton mainly focused on overloading the centre of the pitch. Southampton often created a six against three situation in that area of the pitch. The two central midfielders supported the back four. As a result, Chelsea found it difficult to play through Southampton’s defensive structure. Just after this screenshot, Jorginho played the ball towards Willian. Willian positioned himself in such a way, that he only could play the ball backwards. Despite Willian’s positioning and Southampton’s overload, the winger tried to play the ball towards Callum Hudson-Odoi. This pass failed, which allowed Southampton to break out.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Because Southampton overloaded the centre of the pitch, Chelsea tried to use the wide midfielders to play through the opposition’s defensive structure. Chelsea was often able to find the free Azpilicueta when Southampton tried to press. This was due to Southampton’s way of pressing. In their pressing, left midfielder Redmond often positioned himself so that he could pressure Chelsea’s right centre-back Rüdiger. At those moments, James Ward-Prowse blocked the passing lane towards Chelsea’s winger, while Bertrand waited to press Azpilicueta. However, the problem with this kind of pressing was that Kanté was completely free. When Chelsea played the ball towards Kanté, he could easily play towards Azpilicueta.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

The picture above is one of the many examples that Chelsea could use the free Kanté to play through Southampton’s press. Chelsea was in possession at their own half. Southampton pressed with their two strikers, while Redmond offered them support. Because Redmond pressed Rüdiger and both Chelsea’s central midfielders offered support to the backline, Ward-Prowse was not able to press Kanté. The central midfielder had to support his left-back Bertrand to cover Chelsea’s right-winger. As a result, Zouma could play the ball to Kanté after which Chelsea could progress to Southampton’s half.

However, Chelsea struggled to create chances in the first half. This was mainly due to the choices made by Azpilicueta. Despite the space, the right midfielder was not able to make the right decisions. The situation beneath symbolizes the decision making of Azpilicueta in that first half. Chelsea’s right midfielder received the ball in the final third and got space and time to make a decision. He had two decisions who would have been most likely. Option one was passing the ball towards Hudson-Odoi in the penalty area, who was enjoying a lot of space. Option two was playing the ball back towards Kanté, who also had a lot of space. However, Azpilicueta decided to play a high cross towards the back post, which was headed away easily by Southampton.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Southampton’s defensive discipline

From the beginning of the game, Southampton’s intentions were clear. Hasenhüttl’s side wanted to press on the opposition’s half whenever possible. When the pressing failed, his side dropped back and defended in a low block.

Southampton pressed in a 4-4-2 formation. The two central strikers pressured the back three, in which they forced Chelsea to play the ball towards the flanks. From the beginning, Redmond helped the two strikers in pressing Chelsea’s backline. Redmond positioned himself just in front of Rüdiger. Che Adams and Michael Obafemi positioned themselves more in the centre of the pitch.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

The situation above shows how Southampton pressed during the first half against Chelsea. Redmond positioned himself in front of Rüdiger, while Adams and Obafemi positioned themselves in the centre of the pitch, just in front of Zouma. Due to this positioning, left centre-back Tomori was often free. Thus, Southampton forced Chelsea to build up through their left side. The reason for this was that Tomori is right-footed. By forcing Chelsea to the left-hand side, Tomori would often find himself in a situation where he was pressured and had to pass the ball with his weak foot.

This way of pressing led to Southampton’s first goal. The team forced Chelsea to build up through their left side. Tomori received the ball and played it towards Emerson. Southampton moved towards the ball, which made it difficult for Emerson to find a passing option.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Hudson-Odoi offered support, after which Emerson played the ball towards him. After that pass, Emerson made a vital mistake. The left-back decided to make a run in behind. Because of that, Hudson-Odoi had no passing options while he was pressured by three Southampton players. Hudson-Odoi lost the ball, after which Southampton could break while having a lot of space. Højbjerg played the ball towards Obafemi, who got passed Zouma and finished the attack in style: 0:1.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

However, Chelsea often played through the pressure by finding the free Kanté. Kanté was enjoying a lot of space, due to Redmond his position. Because the left midfielder positioned himself in front of Rüdiger, his teammates Bertrand and Ward-Prowse had to cover Willian and Azpilicueta. They did this through positioning Ward-Prowse in the passing lane towards Willian, while Bertrand looked out for the ball towards Azpilicueta. As a result, nobody could pressure Kanté when he dropped back to support his backline.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

When Chelsea played through Southampton’s pressure, the Saints dropped back and defended in a 4-4-2 formation. In this formation, they created a numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch. Southampton did this because they wanted to make it difficult for Chelsea to play through the centre of the pitch. As this picture shows, Southampton intercepted a lot of balls in the centre of the pitch. This shows that the team defended well at their own half during the first 45 minutes.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Change of formation

Lampard changed Chelsea’s formation during the break. Zouma stayed in the dressing room, while Mason Mount was brought on to play as an attacking midfielder. Due to this substitution, Chelsea played in a 4-2-3-1 formation during the second half.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

The change of formation also changed the way Southampton pressed. Because Chelsea played with a back four in the second half, Redmond his role changed. Instead of positioning himself in front of the right centre-back, the left midfielder positioned himself in line with the other midfielders. The strikers pressured the two centre-backs, who were forced to play the ball towards the backs. When that ball was played, Southampton’s wide midfielders pressured Chelsea’s backs.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

The picture above shows how Southampton pressed during the second half. Obafemi pressured Rüdiger in this situation. In his pressing, Obafemi also blocked the passing lane towards Jorginho. The other striker, Adams, positioned himself near Jorginho. Redmond positioned himself in a way which enabled him to pressure Azpilicueta at any moment. Left centre midfielder Ward-Prowse blocked the passing lane towards Kanté, while Højbjerg positioned himself near Mount. As a result, Rüdiger had no passing options, which forced him to play a long ball.

The situation above symbolises the struggles Chelsea had in the second half. Chelsea struggled to find their midfielders. In the first half, Chelsea was constantly able to find Kanté, due to Redmond’s role in Southampton’s way of pressing. However, his role changed due to Chelsea’s formation change. This allowed Southampton’s midfielders to pressure Kanté.

Because Chelsea struggled in their build-up phase, Jorginho dropped back to support the two centre-backs. However, as the situation beneath shows, the midfielder had the same problems as the centre-backs. In this situation, Jorginho dropped back on the left side of the pitch. After the ball was played toward Jorginho, he was immediately pressured by Southampton’s right midfielder. The lack of time and passing options resulted in a pass back from Jorginho, after which Chelsea again used a long ball to attack the opposition’s half.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Chelsea’s change in the formation did not change the run of play. Chelsea still struggled to play through Southampton’s defensive structure. As the expected goals show, Chelsea created the same value of chances in the second half.

Premier League 2019/20: Chelsea vs Southampton - tactical analysis tactics

Conclusion

Chelsea struggled hard during their game against Southampton. Despite that the team was able to find the free midfielder in the first half, they were not able to create any big chances. The change of formation did not have the outcome Lampard would have hoped. After the change, Chelsea still struggled to create changes and even struggled to find their midfielders.

Southampton’s game plan worked well. They made a numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch, which forced Chelsea to play through the flanks, especially through their wide midfielders. Due to the change in Chelsea’s formation, Southampton was able to make it even more difficult in the second half.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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