Chelsea – Leicester City: Contrasting halves and persisting issues see Chelsea escape with just a point (1-1)
In a game of two halves, Chelsea’s attacking blitz on Leicester had them clinging on for dear life, but time took its toll as the home side’s intensity gradually faded, as did their ability to control events. The away side’s ‘lightbulb moment’ was minor but made all the difference to provide their second half flourish.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea have started the season with two defeats in a row, and both share to the same symptoms: strong attacking threat, an exposed midfield, and a lack of control over game states. This home fixture was an unwanted trap. A home game against a side who are not part of the big six but are not far off it. A win should be a given, then, right?
Following the draining defeat on penalties to Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup in midweek, Lampard made just one change: Mason Mount was given a second consecutive league start and also his home debut, in place of Mateo Kovačić. Chelsea kept the 4-3-3 shape, with him in the side, for the most part.
Leicester’s goalless draw at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers did not dissuade Brendan Rodgers from presenting an almost identical eleven. A minor hip injury to Ben Chilwell is all that stopped this from being the case, with the experienced Austrian, Christian Fuchs, stepping in.
Leicester suffocate under the early onslaught
It was twenty-five minutes in hell for the visitors at the beginning of this match.
Faced up against a 4-3-3 defensive setup, the hosts found it easy to play through and around the Leicester press, since the opportunities to switch to the flanks were always on. The intentions behind such a highly-positioned front three was to completely suffocate one side of play. So, instead of letting Chelsea recycle it back and forth across their back line, the far-sided wide forward’s high positioning meant they could immediately push round onto the far-sided center-back when Chelsea were circulating play backwards.
The flaw in this plan was in how much time and space the holding midfielder, Jorginho, was afforded. With Leicester’s deep midfielder Wilfred Ndidi having to cover the Italian, by the time he got to him, Jorginho had already looked up and spread it across to the other side. Even worse, he might have played into the huge central hole then left by Ndidi’s rush forwards.
To make matters worse was how the midfield trio defended altogether. It was all so individualistic. Each player was only thinking of what their opposite number was doing in front of them. There was no organization, no trying to keep in line, no trying to stay horizontally or vertically compact. Nothing of the sort. In fact, the whole system was like this, which was only later beneficial higher up the pitch. In their own third, it cost them.
Inside the opening two minutes, we witnessed two prime examples of Chelsea players dropping to draw opponents out of position, particularly Çağlar Söyüncü, in order to isolate Olivier Giroud against Jonny Evans on the last line.
The first chance resulted in the French target man chesting it off for Pedro’s run into the vacant space left by Söyüncü for a volley placed wide, whilst the second – an even better chance – saw Jorginho pass against the grain of the rushing Leicester players in reaction to the retreat. It landed at Giroud’s feet, with him flicking it onto the spare man Mount, whose effort was drilled too close to Kasper Schmeichel.
Chelsea’s attacking situation for the second chance, drawing out pressure to exploit the underloaded central area.
The pressure was continuing to mount, pardon the pun. Third time lucky, as the saying goes, albeit under slightly different circumstances, here.
Chelsea forced a mistake against Leicester’s buildup as Mount, having helped cover the lane into his opposite number Choudhury, acted sharply to press Ndidi once he received the ball. The Nigerian had not checked over his shoulder, so had no idea of the pressure he was about to come under. Consequently, he lost the ball and Mount’s subsequent first-time, drilled finish wrong-footed the Leicester goal keeper to give the hosts a deserved lead.
The chances kept flowing as Mount missed another one and so did Kanté from point-blank range. The themes of the stretched midfield costing them in terms of giving away access into the center and not providing adequate support against the box threats. It was only when Rodgers’ side began to keep the ball where they found some respite and soon managed to gradually turn the game around.
Leicester’s uninspiring buildup play
Leicester found the relief they so desperately needed but they were struggling to get any satisfaction from it. Their side-to-side play was being well handled by a Chelsea side still brimming with intensity, especially down the left, where their buildup started, because Kanté was patrolling that side.
However, there was a crack. Down the right side, the absence of Mount – who was mostly relieved of most back-tracking responsibilities due to his higher positioning – left room to be exploited. Ricardo Pereira, Youri Tielemans and Ayoze Pérez were constantly moving in and out for one another, combining, working it inside for Pereira’s underlaps, which were so key.
Leicester showed positive signs but only to an extent. It had no end product. They could not get it across to the underloaded left side.
Second half tweak reaps rewards
Leicester were off to an explosive start in the second period. It was simply down to where they started their buildup. Initially, they had been starting on the left to play down the right but it was ineffective because the spaces were already there on the right. With a simple switch of the approach, Leicester found instant success.
Example situation of Leicester’s right-sided buildup play, with Tielemans in some space due to Mount’s role.
Lampard’s failed to adequately deal with the threat that Mount’s forward positioning was causing. This afforded Tielemans that yard of space, allowing away side to capitalize on promising situations, by quickly shifting play across to the left. Even moving around the outside of the block was fine due to the extra space players like Fuchs now had, which could be used to cut inside, where he could then access a completely unmarked Maddison.
This was exactly the case just before the hour mark as Maddison jinxed his way past Andreas Christensen to fire a shot just wide of goal from left of the six-yard box.
Chelsea’s tiring lungs expose their vulnerable midfield
All game long there had been quiet warning signs about the spaces being left to the sides of Jorginho. There was no longer the same spring in their step that we saw in the first half, which meant the movement was lazier and the nerves against a now ultra-intense opponent were beginning to settle in.
The lack of ball retention and control of the tempo were difficult to come by because of how short and invitingly Chelsea were playing. By avoiding the width they had at their disposal to make Leicester work harder for the ball and keep possession for longer, Chelsea were only prohibiting themselves.
Not only was physical fatigue at the heart of an inevitable Leicester equalizer, but so was mental fatigue too.
After losing possession, the counterpress that had worked so perfectly in the first half was nowhere to be seen. Some midfielders were pressing high, some were dropping off; it all left huge spaces to be exploited. Leicester took it upon themselves to capitalize on such moments and eventually came away with a corner. Maddison whipped in a truly perfect delivery to find the head of the midfielder who had cost them in the first place: Ndidi.
Lampard’s main response was to bring on Willian, Kovačić and Tammy Abraham but this only made matters worse. Despite Abraham’s fairly solid contributions, Willian constantly gave the ball away and Kovačić – who came on to replace Jorginho – was venturing higher up with the ball, thus leaving no men behind to cover at all.
Chelsea somehow survive Leicester’s pressure
The chances were never-ending. In the seventy-third minute, a routine similar to the previously mentioned one saw Fuchs get on the inside and drill it across to Pérez. His first-time layoff for Maddison was followed by a weaving run across the penalty area, placing him in a wide-open space to shoot from just eight yards out. Still no success, however.
There was no respite for the home side. It was fortunate for Chelsea that the visitors appeared to be suffering the same fate in front of goal because it could have otherwise ended in defeat. Comfortably so.
Whilst Chelsea continue to fail to take their chances, it begs the question as to whether they will start to do so. They do not have the same level of fire power as before. And, on the same level, will they even boast the same intensity and life in their attack in a couple of months’ time?
Even looking past that you have to question their inability to control matches and how exposed they appear to be in midfield.
Leicester looked a match for Chelsea today, if not more than that, and it is not unreasonable to think these two sides, with the way it is going, could be tussling for similar positions come May 2020. It is very early, though, so only time will tell.
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