Matchday 21 of the Premier League opened the New Year with Chelsea traveling to Brighton, having won their previous two away fixtures against Spurs and Arsenal. Although Chelsea were the clear favourites to make it two consecutive victories, things turned sour for the Blues in the penultimate moments of the game. This calls for another exciting tactical analysis of a Premier League game.
In today’s column for our tactical analysis, we discuss the tactics and strategies used by both sides as the game ended in a hard-fought stalemate. While a tactical change in their previous fixture turned out to be the wild card for Chelsea, a defensive change from Frank Lampard at the Amex Stadium caused havoc in the visitor’s structure which allowed the Seagulls to grab a point.
In a nutshell, it was a game of two opposing halves in terms of tactics and gameplay.
The hosts started in a 4-2-3-1 on paper with Martin Montoya, Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn shielding Mat Ryan in goal. Yves Bissouma, who mainly appeared in a rather attacking role, stood alongside Davy Propper in a double pivot system. Aaron Mooy was flanked by Steven Alzate and Leandro Trossard with Neal Maupay leading the attack up front.
While the Seagulls maintained a 4-2-3-1 shape for most of the first half, the first line of pressure involved three players with Mooy, Trossard, and Maupay using a soft pressing technique. Bissouma provided support in the second line. Following the introduction of Aaron Connolly in Bissouma’s stead, at the break, Brighton switched to a 4-4-2 template. Mooy and Trossard moved on the flanks.
Chelsea, too, lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Reece James started the match on the right-back position with Cesar Azpilicueta taking the charge on the opposite side of the defence. Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma covered the defence from the centre with Kepa Arrizabalaga between the sticks. N’Golo Kante provided his services in a box-to-box midfielder role allowing Chelsea to create overloads in the centre and half-spaces. Jorginho was given the nod for anchoring the game from the number six position. Willian, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic lined-up in an advanced midfield position. Tammy Abraham kept his place as the lone striker at the head of Chelsea’s line-up.
The watershed moment arrived when Lampard replaced Mount with Mateo Kovacic as Chelsea used a 4-3-3 structure in the Croatian’s presence. During the defensive phase, the visitors used a compact 4-1-4-1 shape throughout the match.
Midfield Brilliance: Chelsea’s First-Half Dominance
The reason Chelsea looked like a clear winner from the onset of the match was the system deployed by Lampard in the midfield. Such was the brilliance of the selection in this zone which allowed Mount, Pulisic, Kante, and Jorginho (along with support from Azpilicueta) to control the tempo of the game.
Chelsea aimed to outnumber their opponents in every section of the field. As a result, their compactness and fluid movement hardly gave Brighton a chance at Chelsea’s goal. Using a compact midfield structure, Chelsea mostly won possession in the middle zone of the park. This was particularly evident on the left side of the field. Being unable to penetrate through the centre, Brighton were forced to find their route from the flanks. The ideology for this move can be assimilated easily here. The wings offer relatively more advantage to apply pressure and regain possession. This further allowed Chelsea to hit Brighton on the break and launch attacks from the half-line.
In the picture given below, observe how Chelsea crowd out Brighton’s players in the left-half and wing space. The core idea was to create a vacuum around the man-in-possession.
As a result, Chelsea took advantage of their compact structure and incisive passing. They were quick to switch the direction of the play during the transition. Reece James was mostly used for fulfilling this task. No wonder Chelsea’s attacks were slightly skewed towards the right-hand side of the field marking a 0.3 xG score.
Akin to creating overloads for winning possession, Chelsea used overloads for their build-up process. It was evident when the Seagulls piled pressure on Chelsea’s back-three. Azpilicueta was often used for this strategy. The Spanish full-back dropped deep to help build the attack from the back.
Another reason for this move was to disrupt Brighton’s central overload. Switching the direction of the play to the right-hand side is an offspring of this manoeuvre. Again, Chelsea’s midfielders came in handy here. Mount often pulled back for support. The remaining four attacking players positioned themselves in a relatively advanced zone.
It is a prudent tactic to maintain attacking and defensive equilibrium.
In the image given below, Mount and Azpilicueta drop deep in support to build the attack from the back. It created a 5-v-4 situation in Chelsea’s favour.
Chelsea’s Aggressive Pressure
Moving the scenes in the adversary’s half, Chelsea remained aggressive with respect to their pressing move. It denied Brighton the space to build out from the back. As a consequence, it forced the hosts to go long. This is where Chelsea appeared comfortable in winning possession.
An exciting thing to notice was the understanding between Chelsea’s players. Their midfield brilliance reflected flexibility in positional play. If Jorginho joined the first wave of pressure, Kante performed the defensive duties. Similarly, if Azpilicueta pushed forward then James completed the back-three defensive line.
Essentially, it provided Chelsea the room to regain possession and restart their attack comfortably.
In the picture given below, see how Tammy Abraham splits the centre-backs wide. Mount, Pulisic, Jorginho, Willian, and Azpilicueta join in support to win possession in a dangerous area.
Analyzing the graphical image below, Chelsea hardly gave Brighton the breathing space, especially after 15 minutes. They allowed only 6.5 passes per defensive action in total compared to Brighton’s score of 14.
Brighton exploit Chelsea’s 4-3-3
Brighton’s goal has a score of 0.12 on the xG scale. It accounts for Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s second league goal in back-to-back fixtures. The equalizer could potentially be the goal of the year. It is a kind of goal which is usually a forte for Cristiano Ronaldo.
In this section, we provide an analysis what actually led to Brighton turning the tables in the final moments of the match.
Tracing the PPDA score once again, Brighton reflects a score of 7.6 later in the second half. The reason for controlling the game during this phase was Chelsea’s substitution for replacing Mount with Kovacic in the midfield. Callum Hudson-Odoi took his position on the left flank. Lampard used a 4-3-3 structure which apparently was the sole reason for their adversity.
This further coincided with a spurt in Brighton’s xG score.
In the aftermath of this tactical change from Lampard, Brighton started to appear in large numbers on the field. This was apparently a failure for Chelsea in the middle of the park. Kovacic’s innate movement prevails mostly in the central and half-zones. The Croatian could not replicate the attacking prowess displayed by Mount and Pulisic.
This is where Chelsea’s first-half pressing intensity collapsed. Brighton were free to add numbers on the attacking side. Brighton deployed three men each in the defence and midfield to deal with Chelsea in the central areas.
Lampard’s decision to bring a defensive option and seal the game should have been deferred. It was a one-goal cushion with 20 minutes to play. Chelsea should have kept an attacking midfielder, at least until, they doubled their lead.
In the below picture, see how Brighton attack with four men up front. Three Brighton players are surging forward in the midfield, covering Kante and Kovacic. This also provided insurance to Brighton at the back. Three men are available against a potential threat from Hudson-Odoi, Abraham, and Willian. Moreover, there appears to be a huge void in the hole, further slowing down Chelsea’s transition process.
Brighton’s Momentary Momentum
Previously, Chelsea had five men in the midfield. Now with only three archetypal central midfielders, Brighton found room to move comfortably in the final third. Chelsea’s midfield now comprised of a double-pivot and a box-to-box player. There seemed a lack of link-up from the defence to attack.
Brighton gained momentum and pressed high up the pitch in the closing stages. As a result, Chelsea suffered during their build-up process. Despite Chelsea outnumbering Brighton in their defensive third, they could not build the attack.
Some might argue this to be Brighton’s decision to add another striker in the mould of Aaron Connolly. Brighton, however, remained quiet until Mount’s substitution. The issue was, on the contrary, a lack of a genuine playmaker in Chelsea’s colours.
See below, how at 80th minute, Chelsea push backward. This occurs despite their large numbers because Brighton was marking Chelsea’s midfield trio. Fundamentally, Brighton cut-off the immediate passing lanes for Chelsea in order to disrupt their short-passing manoeuvre.
The below-given statistic also stemmed from the tactical change made by Lampard. Chelsea made fewer recoveries in an advanced position during the second half.
The game ended in a one-all draw. It was clearly Chelsea’s game to lose with their sheer dominance displayed for the majority of the game. The equation of this result had two key components. Primarily, it was Chelsea’s tactical switch to bring Kovacic in the midfield in a 4-3-3 system. Secondly, poor shot accuracy at 38% and 25% for the Seagulls and the Blues, respectively.
There were a plethora of takeaways after this match for Chelsea. An ideal midfield combination remains one of the pivotal components for their dominance. However, a major concern still lies in reinforcing the attacking options. With the transfer ban lifted, priority should be for unloading the onus from Tammy Abraham’s shoulders.
The hosts, on the other hand, will aim to keep up the momentum. Brighton will travel to the Merseyside in their next Premier League fixture to face a revamped Everton FC.