The Premier League was full of action again on New Year’s Day. No less than nine games were played on the first day of a new decade. One of these games was the fixture between Brighton & Hove Albion and Chelsea. Brighton wanted to increase the gap with the relegation places, while Chelsea wanted to increase the gap with their rivals Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Due to their good second half, Brighton was able to get one point from their encounter with Chelsea. Despite the disappointing result, Chelsea increased the gap with both Manchester United and the Spurs by one point.
This tactical analysis will examine how Brighton changed their tactics to overcome their struggles. Furthermore, this analysis includes how Chelsea found it more difficult to create chances after these Brighton changes.
Brighton both changed the line-up and formation in comparison to the last game. Despite his goal against Bournemouth, Alireza Jahanbaksh started on the bench. Steven Alzate started in his place. Shane Duffy was also left on the bench. Adam Webster started in his place. Graham Potter also changed Brighton’s formation for this game. Instead of using a 4-3-3 formation as in their last game against Bournemouth, Brighton started in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Chelsea switched their formation from 3-4-3 to a 4-1-4-1 formation. Frank Lampard probably changed the formation, after his side struggled to play out from the back, both against Southampton and Arsenal.
Chelsea’s 4-1-4-1 formation
The change in Chelsea’s formation resulted in a new way of playing out from the back. In this build-up phase, pivot Jorginho had a key role to help his defenders to progress the ball to the opposition’s half. Jorginho positioned himself just in front of the two centre-backs. The other two midfielders Mason Mount and N’Golo Kanté positioned themselves much higher up the pitch
The situation above shows how Chelsea positioned themselves to try and play out from the back. The two centre backs positioned themselves besides goalkeeper Kepa, while Jorginho positioned himself just in front of those three. The full-backs positioned themselves on the flank, at the same height of Jorginho. Due to Brighton’s 4-3-1-2 formation, a lot of space opened up by Chelsea’s full-backs.
Especially in the transition from defence to attack, Chelsea was able to use this space. The reason for this was that during those moments, Brighton had trouble putting pressure on Jorginho. As a result, Chelsea played the ball toward the free Jorginho, who often switched sides towards the free full-back.
The situation above symbolises how Chelsea used Jorginho during these transition moments. Chelsea intercepted the ball back at their own half. After that interception, Brighton’s attacking midfielder pressured Cesar Azpilicueta. As a result, he opened up space in the centre of the pitch. Kanté recognised this space and made himself available for Azpilicueta. The left-back played the ball towards the Frenchman. After that pass, Jorginho made himself available for a third man combination. After he received the ball, Jorginho opened the play to Chelsea’s right flank, after which they could progress to the opposition’s half.
To optimise the space in the flanks, Chelsea used an interplay between the full-back and the winger. Either the full-back or the winger positioned himself in the half-space of the field, which opened up the space out wide on the flank for the other one. Because of this positioning, the distance between the two players became bigger. As a result, it became hard for Brighton’s full-backs to pressure the player on the flank.
The figure above shows this interplay. Rüdiger had the ball in the centre of the pitch. Because Willian recognised the space Reece James had, he positioned himself in the half-space of the pitch. This increased the distance between Willian and James, which made hard for Brighton’s left-back to put pressure on James after the ball was played.
Chelsea pressed Brighton early when they were trying to play out from the back. Lampard’s side used two ways to put pressure on Brighton’s backline. The first method was that one of Chelsea’s attacking midfielders pressured one of Brighton’s centre-backs. Chelsea did this either after Brighton played the ball from one centre-back towards the other, or when one of Brighton’s midfielders played the ball back towards one of the centre-backs.
This way of pressing is shown in the picture beneath. Brighton’s right centre-back Adam Webster received the ball from Davy Pröpper. After having pressed Pröpper, Mount continued to press. Chelsea’s midfielder forced Webster to play the ball back to his keeper, after which Brighton played a long ball.
The second method was that one of Chelsea’s wingers pressed one of Brighton’s centre-backs. The result of this was that one of Brighton’s full-backs was free. Therefore, Chelsea’s full-back would pressure Brighton’s full-back whenever the ball was played to him.
The picture beneath shows this method of pressing. Chelsea’s striker Tammy Abraham positioned himself in front of Brighton’s’ right centre-back. Chelsea’s winger Willian positioned himself in front of Brighton’s left centre-back, while Jorginho pressed Brighton’s playmaker Pröpper. Just after this screenshot, Brighton’s keeper played a high ball towards Brighton’s left-back Daniel Burn. After that pass, James pressured the left-back. The two had an areal battle, after which Burn was subbed off due to a head injury.
What was interesting to see was the positioning of Jorginho in these situations. Instead of positioning himself in front of his two centre-backs, the Italian positioned himself much higher up the pitch. This enabled the Chelsea midfielder to pressure Pröpper when the ball was played to him. The picture above symbolises this concept. Jorginho positioned himself in such a way, that the Brighton goalkeeper couldn’t play the ball towards Pröpper.
The changes in Brighton’s formation
Brighton started the game in a 4-3-1-2 formation. The two strikers pressured the two centre-backs. When Chelsea played the ball to one of their full-backs, Brighton would move towards the ball. The nearest by central midfielder then tried to pressure Chelsea’s full-back
Brighton faced some problems in this system. Because Brighton played with four central midfielders, they opened up space for Chelsea to use on the flanks. Despite Brighton tried to move towards the ball, Chelsea was constantly able to use this space to create danger at Brighton’s half.
The build-up to Chelsea’s 0:1 symbolises Brighton’s defensive problems in the 4-3-1-2 formation. Chelsea switched the play ball towards the left side of the pitch, towards Christian Pulisic. Because Chelsea switched play, most Brighton players were on the other side of the pitch. This enabled Pulisic to take on a one versus one situation. The Chelsea winger got passed the Brighton defender, after which he dribbled towards the centre of the pitch. Brighton was still busy switching towards the ball side, which opened up the space on the other side again. Pulisic played the ball towards Willian, who created a two versus one situation. This situation led to a Chelsea corner, in which Lampard’s side scored the opening goal.
After 20 minutes, Graham Potter changed his side’s formation. Instead of playing 4-3-1-2, his side started to play in a 4-4-2 formation. As shown in the picture beneath, attacking midfielder Aaron Mooy was moved to the right flank, while central midfielder Steven Alzate was moved to the left flank. The change in the formation enabled Brighton’s wide midfielders to pressure Chelsea’s full-backs. As a result, Chelsea’s full-backs did not enjoy as much space anymore.
However, Potter was still not pleased with the way his team was playing. Despite having countered the danger at the flanks, Chelsea was still able to play through Brighton’s defensive structure. They were able to do this because Brighton failed to pressure Jorginho. Because of that, Potter again changed the formation in the first half. After 30 minutes, Brighton changed their formation to a 4-2-3-1. As shown in the picture beneath, Alzate positioned himself in the centre of the pitch again besides Pröpper. Mooy and Leandro Tossard positioned themselves on the flanks. Yves Bissouma played as an attacking midfielder enabling Brighton to put pressure on Jorginho.
After Brighton switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, they were able to stop Chelsea’s threat. In the 30 minutes before Brighton switched towards the 4-2-3-1 formation, Chelsea had an xG value of 1.23. After 45 minutes, Chelsea had an xG value of 1.30. Thus, after the formation switch, Brighton gave one chance away, with an xG value of 0.07.
Brighton’s changes make Chelsea struggle
After the break, Brighton again made some changes in their formation. This time, it was a combination of a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1. After the break, Brighton started with central striker Aaron Connolly instead of Bissouma. Because of that substitution, Brighton played in a 4-4-2 formation when they were attacking
When defending, Brighton’s way of pressing looked a bit like they did in the last 15 minutes of the first half. However, the difference with the first half was that Brighton did use one attacking midfielder who had to mark Jorginho. Instead, the two strikers had to work together to both pressure the centre-backs, while stopping Chelsea to use Jorginho to play out from the back. The striker nearest to Chelsea’s centre back in possession would position himself in front of that centre-back. The other striker would move towards Jorginho.
The situation beneath shows the way Brighton pressed in the second half. Connoly positioned himself in front of Chelsea’s centre-back in possession. Neal Maupay positioned himself near Jorginho to stop Chelsea from using Jorginho to play out from the back.
Both of these changes made Chelsea struggle in the second half. In attack, Chelsea struggled to create changes. In contrast to the first half, Lampard’s side had trouble playing through Brighton’s defensive structure.
When defending, Chelsea struggled to press on the opposition’s half. In attack, the picture beneath shows why Chelsea was struggling to press. Willian still pressured one of Brighton’s centre-backs. However, this method was not as successful as in the first half, because Brighton played with two wide wingers. As a result, Chelsea’s full-backs were not able to pressure Brighton’s full-backs anymore. Therefore, Brighton could play through Chelsea’s press much easier than in the first 45 minutes.
The result of this is an interesting xG story. In the first half, Chelsea created the best chances, while Brighton struggled to create any big chances. In the second half, Brighton created the best chances, while Chelsea struggled to create big chances.
Brighton struggled in the first half, due to their 4-3-1-2 formation. Despite their best efforts to move towards the side of the ball, Chelsea was too quick and was able to play through this defensive structure easily. After 30 minutes Potter made the right changes. These changes both stopped Chelsea creating danger through their flanks, as well as using Jorginho to play through Brighton’s press. It also enabled Brighton to play out from the back much better, which resulted in better chances in the second half.
Chelsea, on the other side, were dominant in the first 30 minutes of the game. After the changes Brighton made, Lampard’s side started struggling. They were not able to successfully press anymore, as well as they had trouble creating chances. Lampard will have to look at how he can prepare his players that they can find the right solutions whenever the opposition is changing the tactics or formations.
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