Chelsea – Manchester United: Stalemate With High Standards (0-0)

Neither team was able to find the cutting edge to score in this match, but that was down to good defensive schemes as much as anything else. United were proactive in preventing Chelsea dominance in the first half, but then fell back in the second half. The home side had the better chances but were not able to find the finishing touch in a very competitive game between two proactive teams. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

Chelsea’s unbeaten record under new coach Thomas Tuchel continued in midweek as they earned a valuable 1-0 win against a defensive Atlético Madrid side. Last time out in the league, there was a slightly disappointing 1-1 draw for Chelsea against an out-of-form Southampton as Tuchel’s side struggled to create chances in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. something which Chelsea will be looking to improve on to add to the solid foundation already built by Tuchel. 

Manchester United find themselves second in the table, although almost certainly unable to climb any higher given Manchester City’s dominance. In midweek they drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad, with their place in the next round having already been effectively secured by their 4-0 demolition of the LaLiga side in the first leg. 

Chelsea once again lined up in a 3-4-3 shape in this match. Callum Hudson-Odoi was deployed in the right wing-back role he has been finding himself in since Tuchel’s arrival, while Ben Chilwell at left wing-back was given only his third appearance under the new coach. Hakim Ziyech also made a start after having struggled to do so recently. He was joined in the front three by Mason Mount and Olivier Giroud. 

For United, Ole Gunnar Solskjær went with his usual 4-2-3-1 system. Scott McTominay and Fred continue to be a dependable midfield partnership, while Daniel James was once again included in the front four having scored three goals in his last four appearances. Alongside him in attack were Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and talisman Bruno Fernandes. 

United proactive in pressing

Tuchel’s tenure so far as Chelsea manager has seen his side control possession and territory through stable possession structures and strong counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. against opposition low and mid blocks. In this match though, they were unable to establish the same level of control due to United’s more proactive approach against the Chelsea buildup. 

Being not content to sit back and counter, United pressured Chelsea as they looked to build from the back. Against the three center-backs of Chelsea, United’s wingers were fairly narrow and high, so that they could quickly pressure the side center-backs of Chelsea, preventing the home side from having a comfortable overload on the first line. When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. 

The narrow positioning of United’s wingers also allowed them to quickly attend to Chelsea’s central midfielders N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić in the second line. Bruno Fernandes would usually mark one of them, while one of the United wingers, usually the ball-far one, would be in a position to pressure the other Chelsea midfielder if the ball were switched. 

United in pressing.

This pressing scheme from United meant that it was difficult for Chelsea to play through the central midfielders, although they still did so at times. Partly thanks to the press resistance of Kovačić, they were sometimes able to make their way through the high pressure zones and move the ball forward. 

United’s aggression was also reflected in the pressing of their wing-backs, who pursued Chelsea’s wing-backs far into their own half in order to support United’s high pressing. This naturally left space in behind them that the likes of Ziyech and Mount may have been able to exploit with diagonal outside runs. However, McTominay and Fred were tasked with tracking these runs outside, to ensure that Chelsea could not escape into depth with these runs.  

This positioning from United’s midfielders did open some space in the center, which Chelsea may have been able to exploit, for example if there had been more dropping movements from Giroud to facilitate third man combinations, but this did not really transpire. 

Chelsea match the high tempo

If United were able to somewhat cancel out the Chelsea possession game with their pressing, then Chelsea were able to do the same to even greater effect against the attack of United, demonstrated by the fact that United ended the first half without a shot inside the box. 

Chelsea’s defensive shape was nominally a 5-2-3 arrangement, but this was liable to change slightly due to how they played against United’s second line. In order to mark the United double pivot, Two central midfielders next to each other. a Chelsea central midfielder would step up, while one of the Chelsea number tens would then shift wide to mark the nearest United fullback. 

In the first half, this usually took the form of Kovačić stepping up to mark McTominay, while Ziyech marked Fred. Mount then shifted wide to pressure Aaron Wan-Bissaka, while Kanté remained deeper with Bruno Fernandes. 

Chelsea’s pressing.

United found it quite difficult to build good moves against this scheme, especially without a highly press resistant playmaker in their midfield like Chelsea had with Kovačić. Therefore, as alluded to, United’s attack struggled somewhat. When they did eventually get up the pitch, they were not able to find much joy in attacking Chelsea’s 5-2-3 deep defending, which has been very difficult to break down in recent weeks. 

More settled second half

Chelsea had been the slightly better team in the first half and had the more dangerous moments in front of goal, particularly from a couple of good crosses from Hudson-Odoi from the right, as he provided threatening width in their attack. However, Chelsea were forced to proceed without him in the second half as he had picked up an injury, meaning Reece James was introduced after the break.

The first half had been a high tempo affair with both teams demonstrating strong high pressing games, resulting in neither team being able to establish long spells of possession in the other team’s half. The second half was slightly more settled as energy levels dropped a little bit, meaning Chelsea were able to enjoy more spells of possession against a lower United press.

This gave Chelsea a very high possession share, but it was still hard for them to break down the compact United defense. The wingers for United were once again narrow in their 4-4-2 low block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. and Fernandes and Greenwood as strikers dropped off slightly to try and block Chelsea’s number six zone. The space for Chelsea was generally wide, but United’s defense generally did well to control this. 

Tuchel looked to add speed to his attack with his changes, swapping out Giroud for Christian Pulisic after the hour mark, then later bringing in Timo Werner for Ziyech with just over ten minutes left. Chelsea increasingly appeared as a 3-5-2 shape after the changes. 

Chelsea after Pulisic’s introduction.

So Pulisic and Werner played as strikers to try and use their speed in the channels, while Mount was now a central midfielder ahead of Kanté who remained deeper, and alongside Kovačić on the left who now had more freedom to go forward. 

Solskjær’s only change was to swap Greenwood out for Anthony Martial with ten minutes left. Chelsea looked the more likely to score a late winner as the game approached its end but this did not materialise, so the game ended 0-0. 


United’s proactive defending helped them prevent Chelsea dominance in the first half, although Solskjær’s side were not able to impose an attacking game of their own at any point in the game. In the second half, United were a bit deeper as Chelsea had most of the ball. Overall, United cannot complain too much about the draw given the respective chances. 

Chelsea had the better chances, most notably with Giroud in the first half and Ziyech in the second, both of which came from wide attacks which were probably the most productive route for Tuchel’s side against a compact United defense. 

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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