How Chelsea took advantage of Southampton’s low block defense

After being unlucky so many times in open play, Chelsea FC managed to score from a set piece without conceding any goal in their home fixture against Southampton.

 

Formation

Chelsea started with 3-4-2-1 formation while shifting to a 5-4-1 during defense. Kante and Bakayoko appeared as Chelsea’s central midfield unit.

Unlike the match against Huddersfield, the duo were less coherent this time but not as disorganized as they were at the London Stadium against West Ham. Kante effectively served as a buffer while on the attack often forming 3-1-3-2-1 allowing triangular passing in the midfield.

Southampton played with 5-4-1. The formation allowed them to sit deep and form a low block to stop attacking threats from Chelsea offering enough compactness around the box.

However in the second quarter, they shifted to a  4-4-2 as Lemina came on.

 

Possession and Passing

Chelsea maintained their possession throughout the game while consistently penetrating Southampton’s half and holding the ball a long while in the attacking third.

With the Saints sitting deep, this allowed Chelsea to keep forging ahead. There was a large gap between Chelsea’s midfield and defense reflecting their more midfield destroying approach so as to penetrate more in the final third.

Bakayoko also made a number of prowling runs more often to match the large number of opponents in that zone. All these moves could threatened Chelsea on the counter, though.

However, the absence of Morata for the majority of the game forced the Blues to play a more conservative, possession based game than a more direct and aggressive one in the attacking third. But this was the need of the time owing to the compact low defense lines of the away team.

Hazard appeared on the front line as false 9 and did a brilliant job by dropping deep in between the lines. Hazard dropping deep and the gegenpressing by the Blues all over the outfield also helped them win back possession and initiate counterattacks.

On the other hand, Southampton with their incoherent passing structure and small share of possession rarely got the chance to launch counterattacks except when they were to react to loose first or second balls from Chelsea but such instances constitute simply a little fraction of the game.

Only during the first and last few minutes of the game when Chelsea slackened their organization and conceded loose balls did the Saints manage to penetrate their attacking third. Other than that, the away team ended up with utilising the route one passing.

 

Chelsea’s Defensive Organization

In the opening minutes Blues defense was unstructured, as is usually the case, which allowed the Saints to attempt a dangerous attack that went off target.

Their defense was just horizontally compact in active areas which could still be threatened by tricky crosses and so it did.

As seen in the following picture, the straight compact line by Chelsea in the opening minutes allowed Romeu (black circle) to send a cross to Redmond (yellow circle) across the field.

Blues responded to this flaw by forming more a circular wall closing down and outnumbering the opponents in their half. They scooped in on-the-ball opponents from the front and along the wings ensuring both horizontal and vertical compactness. As a result, Kante made some important challenges.

At the same time, they made sure at least one of the wing-backs became available for one-o-one to stop opponents using the flank. This limited the opponent’s option of making crosses putting them at back foot.

As seen in the following screenshot, the more compact, spherical blocking by Chelsea hindered the opponent’s movement both horizontally and vertically leaving only the back-pass option open.

The more spherical shape than the straight one also jammed the opponent’s options for crosses as it would now be quicker for the pressing players to intercept them. The ball thus had to be cleared to Hoedt (yellow circle).

As Blues remained mostly in their attacking phase, they managed to forepress and gegenpress opponents in their final third.

The slow work-rate and the lack of a coherent passing structure by Southampton allowed Blues to level their compactness in different areas of the pitch simultaneously.

During the last few minutes of the game, Blues focused on sitting back forming the low block, as usual.

 

Conclusion

Chelsea performed better defensively even though they had to send more bodies towards their attacking third fearing the risk of a counterattack from their opponents.

But this was lessened due to Southampton’s low block defense which forced them to sit back for the majority of the game.

Chelsea continuously posed an attacking threat with 17 shots attempted compared to Southampton’s measly 4. This implies that Blues need to improve their finishing.

Relying on set pieces won’t always work.

There were multiple examples of floppy finishing seen at the Bridge last Saturday including Willian’s extra, useless dribble in front of an open goal in the first half and Fabregas’ brilliant nutmegging against Forster towards an open goal in the second half – both went just off target.

 

Written by Farkhanda Jabeen

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