Chelsea – Juventus: Cobham Products Rise To The Fore In Kinetic Display (4-0)
While known more for their extravagant spending, Chelsea are in fact built on a youth academy that is simply one of the best in Europe. While these products did not get to turn out for the first team till a fortuitous transfer window ban, two seasons were enough to demonstrate the kind of talent that was coming through the Cobham pipeline. Thomas Tuchel has continuing to rely on several of these players, and they rewarded him by blitzing Juventus in a manner that the Italians are simply unaccustomed to seeing. This was a win that vindicated the work being done at the lower levels, while laying the foundation for a repeat Champions League triumph that now feels entirely possible.
Tactical analysis and match report by Manasvin Andra.
Following defeats to Manchester City and Juventus, it seemed like Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea had finally been deciphered. The Londoners had taken over Europe with a 3-4-3 structure that felt difficult to stop and impossible to break, bur with time, it became evident that strong pressing schemes could pin the Blues in and keep them from venturing into the opposition half. While Tuchel’s in-game tweaks kept Chelsea going, it still seemed like a side that was struggling to accommodate Romelu Lukaku and was reliant on Edouard Mendy’s brilliance between the sticks clearly. These were issues that Tuchel needed to fix to help Chelsea regain their footing – a mission which he accomplished through a few tweaks to how the wingbacks operated. Combined with the extraordinary talent level of the squad, Chelsea somehow seem better than they were last season, and a thorough drubbing of Leicester City was enough to drive home this point to the rest of the league.
While the league campaign continues, Chelsea’s defence of their European title chugs on. Tuchel continued with the 3-4-3 shape, with Antonio Rüdiger, Thiago Silva and Trevoh Chalobah making up the defense. Wingbacks Ben Chilwell and Reece James flanked the usual double pivot of Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté. With Lukaku injured, Christian Pulisic led the line, flanked by Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech.
As Chelsea trend upwards, Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus offered a timely test of their abilities against elite opposition. While mired in their own struggles, the Italians have a way of showing up for the big games. This begins with their manager’s ability to adequately prepare for the opposition, a theme that was set to continue in this game. However, the lineup included a slight surprise, as Allegri declined to match Chelsea’s shape and instead went for a 4-4-2 structure.
Wojciech Szczęsny remained in goal and was protected by a defense comprising of Juan Cuadrado, Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt and Alex Sandro. Manuel Locatelli and Rodrigo Bentancur formed the double pivot, with Weston McKennie and Adrien Rabiot working as the wingers. Leading the line was the strike pair of Federico Chiesa and Álvaro Morata.
Chilwell and Hudson-Odoi get the better of McKennie
While it was surprising to see Juventus line up in a 4-4-2 shape, the formation in practice was revealing. When sitting in a medium or deep block, Cuadrado moved inside to partner de Ligt and Bonucci, with McKennie dropping alongside the defensive line. This was a necessity given how Chelsea’s wingbacks have operated in recent times. this entails Chilwell and James coming inside, which destabilizes marking schemes and leaves space open on the wings for the inside forwards. This dynamic was seen frequently on the left, where Chilwell cut inside at will off the ball. In turn, Hudson-Odoi took the ball outside, where he often found McKennie who was happy to hand the Chilwell assignment off to Cuadrado in the center. This often made it seem like Juventus were playing in a 5-3-2 or 5-4-1 shape, which was indeed the case when the Italians were forced into a deeper block.
Moreover, Pulisic put Juventus in a bind, playing as a traditional striker on the last line rather than as a false nine who drops deeper. This meant that the center-backs remained occupied, and if Pulisic could only bind one of the defenders, Kanté curved his run inside (and behind the midfield) to draw the attention of the free center-back or fullback.
On the other hand, rather than playing on the right, Ziyech was often seen in central areas, which helped Chelsea mark Locatelli when defending and offered a passing option between the lines when in possession.
While the Moroccan took up good positions, he was not always effective due to his reliance on his left foot. This resulted in him declining chances to drive forward with his right, which did hold Chelsea back somewhat on offense. However, rotations out wide and slick interplay meant that they remained on top in the offensive phase, while doing more than enough to control Juventus on defense.
Juventus’ deficiencies in possession
Even in their previous encounter, Juventus relied on rapid counterattacks rather than looking to dominate the possession game. The pattern continued in this game, where it was difficult to point out phases in which they were doing well.
When on the ball – which often happened from goal kicks or from forwards recycling possession after a move broke down – Juventus used a shape that is commonly seen from a 4-3-3 structure.
Juventus’ buildup shape, as seen against Chelsea’s press. Bonucci was often left unmarked, but Chelsea marked his options so effectively that he could not play his usual array of penetrative passes.
Locatelli was in the six space ahead of Bonucci and de Ligt, with Sandro and Cuadrado fanning out as typical fullbacks in a four-man defense. Rabiot and Bentancur played in attacking midfield roles, with McKennie supporting the duo of Chiesa and Morata from the right halfspace. While there were a couple of nice possession sequences from this phase, each one looked difficult to execute and was more the product of instinctive play than structured patterns rehearsed in training.
Complicating matters was Chelsea’s press, which resembled a 5-1-3-1 shape. As mentioned before, rather than holding a position out wide, Ziyech often partnered Pulisic in central areas. Hudson-Odoi was a conventional winger, but pressure on the right was executed either by Kanté or James depending on their proximity to the ball. Immediately behind was Jorginho (and Chalobah if James moved out to press), which restricted the space available in front and forced Juventus to launch it forward.
Seems like Ziyech mostly played in central areas - perhaps to prevent him from being stuck out wide & leveraging his left foot from the right halfspace. This play goes nowhere but look at the space available to him after Juventus' sequence breaks down. #ChelseaJuventus pic.twitter.com/JFgjpleg4Q— RP⚽ (@RPftbl) November 24, 2021
Faced with this scheme and in the apparent absence of rehearsed buildup patterns, the burden was on de Ligt and Bonucci to play the initial pass that got the ball rolling. However, this was easier said than done versus Chelsea’s determined and patient scheme which covered nearby options effectively. Without a pattern, there was little to gain from Bentancur and Rabiot dropping to receive, since it only left Morata and Chiesa without support in case the ball was launched up the field. As a result, it was common to see the Italians defending soon after gaining possession, as the home side forced turnovers seemingly at will.
Two defensive approaches for Allegri
Defensively, Juventus were most commonly seen in a deep block, but they did have phases where they moved to press high after a Chelsea back pass. The entire midfield, as well as the strikers, converged to apply this pressure on the backline, but Mendy offered Chelsea an easy escape route. The goalkeeper’s passes to Jorginho following an attempted press helped Chelsea break the press, following which Juventus had to quickly recover their old positions.
Example of Juventus’ press, which Chelsea escaped rather easily.
Apart from when Chelsea passed backwards, this type of pressure was seen most often at the beginning of both halves, where Juventus sprinted with energy but seemed strangely unaware of Pulisic and Ziyech dropping to offer release valves in their back. Bonucci and de Ligt battled hard against the Chelsea forwards, but fell victim to a superb Reece James strike after he was left unmarked following yet another Chelsea move down the right.
This was followed by a wonderfully worked goal finished off by Hudson-Odoi, before substitute Timo Werner got into the action to score a fourth. In the end, Juventus were left chasing shadows, as Allegri offered little to prevent their collapse.
Thomas Tuchel marked the Juventus defeat as a turning point; since then, his side have offered enormous entertainment on offense while being just as airtight on defense. On current form, it is hard not to view them as potential repeaters, while their campaign for the Premier League continues to gather pace.
For Juventus, this is a sobering defeat, a reminder of far they have fallen from Europe’s elite. Given time, Allegri can potentially fix their issues – whether he will be afforded that by a demanding Andrea Agnelli remains to be seen.