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Chelsea secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages after securing a huge win to Qarabag FK in their away fixture last Wednesday.
They ended both their home and away fixtures against the Azerbaijan’s club with a clean sheet. However, facing Qarabag was expected to be challenging this time as the team had just secured a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid in their last Champions League match.
Yet, Blues’ clinical scoring, effective pressing, and compact organization in open play awarded them four goals along with a clean sheet.
Chelsea continued using 3-5-2 with their back three spread wide and the three central midfielders remained narrow.
David Luiz was back to the line-up as the central defender. Alonso and Zappacosta were on the attacking wings as they were assigned the more advanced positions.
Later on when Alonso was replaced with Cahill in the second half, Willian came forward in his place while Cahill joined as left center back in place of Azpilicueta who then joined the midfield.
Qarabag also used five midfielders in their initial formation with three center mids to remain narrow and back four kept pressing Chelsea’s forwards. But, after Sadygov’s red card near the end of the first quarter, their defensive formation switched to 4-4-1 and then 5-3-1 to remain narrow in the central region.
Qarabag compressed at width and then within the central region
Since Chelsea were dominant in the central region, Qarabag initially used width to compress the ball there and make their way.
They were often successful in penetrating through the wings in the first quarter and even reached to Chelsea’s box to pose some serious threats at one instance. Yet, they couldn’t finish at that time – lucky for Chelsea.
However, after they got down to 10 men, they changed their attacking formation to 3-5-1 with three central midfielders remained narrow to compress the ball in the midfield only now instead of compressing at the wings also. Their strategy was clearly to match Chelsea in the midfield and close down their passing there.
Chelsea’s midfield domination and multiple pressing
As Chelsea were better in control in the central areas than Qarabag – as they usually are – the home team lost possession as soon as they reached their attacking third.
In fact, Chelsea’s midfield domination also made Qarabag’s attacking wingers to drop back in midfield, even in their attacking phase, to receive pass from their central midfield mates who otherwise could lose possession there.
Even though this switch from narrow to wide allowed Qarabag to make their way into their attacking third, they ended up losing possession there due to Chelsea’s well organized and aggressive multiple pressing in the region.
Chelsea further bolstered its defence in the second half as Gary Cahill was replaced by Alonso.
Qarabag’s defence remained strong
With Qarabag down to 10 men, their attempt to remain compact in the midfield didn’t help them much in attack, yet, it did so in defence.
In the second half, Qarabag strongly pressure Chelsea at the wings while remaining narrow in the centre leaving no space for Chelsea to sneak in the attacking third. Chelsea often made long crosses into the box but they got cleared for the most part.
Qarabag’s defence restricted Chelsea options to get into the box.
Chelsea struggling to create chances
Chelsea did attempt to counter press Qarabag by using one-touch layoffs or long passes to break Qarabag’s compactness and make their way.
They were even able to penetrate in the attacking region via central areas and were quick to react to the loose balls, but they couldn’t create any key chance from the centre especially in the second half as Qarabag’s compactness was mostly rigid in and outside the box.
As for initiating attacks from the width, Chelsea wingers didn’t get much space to dribble forward and make crosses in attacking third, being pressed heavily.
Moreover, the wingers were already assigned the front position so they couldn’t create or use space at their back to make their way by dribbling forward and create chances from there. In other words, they were stuck forward – the region of high pressing by the opposition.
As a result, including the last leg match, Chelsea’s most goals were either the set pieces or the long shots outside the box.
Chelsea were better in possession and pressing.
They forced Qarabag to remain at the back and effectively counter press them using one-touch layoffs. This was the case in the both leg fixtures.
Yet, the home team’s defensive compactness in their own half was too rigid to give any space to Chelsea. In the end, it was mainly Chelsea’s midfield domination and clinical scoring which made them through to the next stage.
Written by Farkhanda Jabeen
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