In the fourth round of the FA Cup this weekend, Chelsea visited the KCOM Stadium to face Hull City. This tactical analysis will break down the match which ended in a 2-1 victory for Frank Lampard’s men.
Chelsea, who is currently fourth in the Premier League, was looking to silence the Tiger’s hope of an upset. On the other hand, Hull City is a mid-table team in the Championship looking to re-energize their campaign which sees them close to the Championship playoff places. This analysis will dive deeper into the tactics of both Chelsea and Hull City.
Frank Lampard set up to attack Hull City from the opening whistle. Recently, he has grown frustrated with his squads’ lacklustre performances in front of goal. Lampard deployed his usual 4-1-4-1 formation, however, his midfield selections were far more attacking than usual. Typically, N’golo Kanté or Jorginho would be mainstays in the lineup. For this FA Cup match, Mason Mount and Ross Barkley were preferred, with Mateo Kovačić tucked underneath the pairing. The Chelsea manager’s tactics was probably due to the young English boys’ appetite for goal. Furthermore, with five midfielders stationed behind the lone striker, it allowed for a numbers advantage against Hull’s 4-3-3.
For the home side, Grant McCann set up his side in a forward-thinking formation. The Tigers started the match in a 4-3-3. This decision differed from recent matches in the Championship where City typically lineup in a 4-2-3-1. McCann’s choice hoped to catch Chelsea on the back-foot and apply pressure to the Chelsea backline while in possession. They were content with battling Chelsea’s three midfielders while utilising the front three to apply pressure to the ball carriers. Hull City did not set out to contain Chelsea, they set out to attack.
Early Hull Pressure
Hull City set up to play attacking football against Chelsea, a tactical decision that the City supporters were proud of. From Craig Pawson’s opening whistle, Hull pressed at a PPDA of 5.9 in the first 15 minutes of the match, meaning Chelsea averaged six passes against every Hull defensive action. This early pressure caused problems for Lampard. In the chart below, during the first 15 minutes of the match, Hull did a great job of limiting the number of passes Chelsea achieved. This correlates to the success they found in the first few minutes of the match which saw them create multiple chances.
McCann wanted pressure starting from Chelsea’s goal kicks. Here, the Tiger’s front three are surrounding the edge of the box anticipating Chelsea’s tendencies to play out of the back. This forced Willy Caballero to play the ball long and into the midfield where Hull would gain an advantage. Due to the significant height advantage Hull City possessed in the middle of the pitch, Chelsea were forced to play wide from the goal kick. This allowed Hull to gain back possession and limit the number of Chelsea passes.
These tactics worked incredibly well for the Tigers in the opening minutes of the match. They were creating chances and causing problems for Chelsea. Despite starting so well, Chelsea scored against the run of play which stunted City’s desire to press. The match opened up and concern began for McCann’s team.
Hull’s Defensive Shape: Chasing Shadows
After the goal that halted all of Hull City’s hard work, the pitch began to open up for the Premier League side. McCann’s tactics to high-press were beginning to be exposed. As Chelsea was connecting more passes, their defensive midfielder, Kovačić, was producing a masterclass. After 27 minutes he had completed 33 of his 36 attempted passes. There was simply no pressure on Kovačić as Hull’s three midfielders were bypassed by the Croatians vision. Chelsea’s other midfielders benefitted from this too, allowing them to average an 81% progressive pass accuracy.
In this analysis, Hull City are allowing far too much space between the forward three and the midfield three. The forwards neglected to tuck-in and work back after they were bypassed, which left the Hull midfielders out to dry. If one of them pressed, it would open up more passing lanes (again leaving themselves exposed).
Without a quick press, Chelsea’s midfielders can pick up the ball in space and turn. This is what allowed Mount, Barkley, and Kovačić to average such high passing rates. During this phase of the match (15th-30th minute), Hull City’s PPDA was close to 28.7 passes, a significantly higher amount than the 5.9 passes averaged in the beginning period of the contest.
Another problem for Hull stemmed from the player’s lack of discipline in their defensive organization. As the Blues began to break through the lines, chances were opening up. Hull City became compact in their defensive shape because they were ball watching. Each defender got attracted to the ball and neglected the runs and space that was surrounding them. In this example, the back four becomes condense as Mason Mount takes possession of the ball. No one is tracking the runs made by Marcos Alonso and Michy Batshuayi, creating a major disadvantage. Here, Mount has two fantastic options that would break into Hull’s final third of the pitch. The Tiger’s lack of defensive shape could have been costlier as Chelsea wasted two 1v1s in the first half.
Furthermore, Hull’s defensive shape allowed for far too much time on the ball. With a lack of pressure on the ball carrier, Chelsea’s players had time for the grass to grow before picking out a pass. Tactically, the first half was a disaster after the opening goal. As stated earlier in the analysis, Hull City did well in the first minutes of the match. However, the moment they had a lapse in concentration and didn’t pressure properly, the quality of the Premier League side showed (as shown below).
In this analysis, Kovačić picks up the ball in space. Without any pressure, he is allowed to survey the pitch for the perfect ball to unlock the City defence. He sprays a beautiful pass out to the wing due to the amount of time he has on the ball. Again, Hull’s defensive line is condensed, which allows space in the channels. This action resulted in a goal for Chelsea.
McCann’s Tactical Change
In the second half, the match became more even thanks to McCann’s half-time team talk and tactical changes. He noticed the problems with his defensive shape and recognized that his players could not keep up with the high-pressing he desired. Therefore, the Hull City manager changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation, pushing George Honeyman up to the number 10 position. This benefitted Hull in two major areas. First, they could have a midfielder that would be further up the pitch. Due to the attacking midfielders positioning, he could man-mark Kovačić. This would allow less space for the Croatian, solving the problem from the first half. Secondly, Hull would achieve better midfield spacing. McCann’s changes resulted in a 0.73 attacks per minute ratio between the 45th and 60th minutes. This matched Chelsea’s best spell of the match where they also achieved a 0.73 attacks per minute ratio (during the 15th-30th minute of the match).
In the analysis below, you can see Honeyman’s positioning is like glue to Kovačić. The ball comes in from Alonso but Honeyman is there immediately to stop him from turning with possession. As the second half progressed, he followed Chelsea’s defensive midfielder around to ensure the Croatian would not get the time on the ball he had in the first half. This helped lower Chelsea’s possession stats to 43% (during the 45th-60th minute), which was Chelsea’s worst period of the match.
Most of this match analysis concerned the tactics of Hull City. Lampard set out to play attacking football and he was rewarded for his team selection. However, Hull City made tactical decisions that caused problems for themselves. Only in the second half did they recover for a brief phase of the match. Despite fighting back, Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea’s centre-back) scored off a set-piece to stop Hull from settling into the match. It seemed as if whenever Hull City started to fulfil their tactical duties, Chelsea would score a goal against the run of play. Overall, a 2-1 Chelsea victory was fitting due to the challenges both teams are trying to overcome.