Chelsea – Southampton: Resilient Southampton hold off ineffective Chelsea (0-0)
Southampton put in a commendable defensive display to secure an important draw at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea tried everything in their toolbox to unlock their opponents, but were left with disappointment and another two points dropped.
Tactical analysis by Martyn Davis.
Chelsea went into this match off the back of two victories, away to Watford and Crystal Palace. They had, however, suffered a 1-0 defeat to Leicester in their last home game and their title challenge has somewhat collapsed over recent months. Maurizio Sarri made only one change from the weekend clash with Crystal Palace, introducing Álvaro Morata for Olivier Giroud.
Southampton had seen their bright start to life under Ralph Hasenhüttl brought to a halt by defeats at home to West Ham and Manchester City. The atmosphere around the club remained positive however, as the side adjusted to the new style of play demanded by their coach.
Hasenhüttl made a total of eight changes from their defeat to Manchester City. Angus Gunn came in for Alex McCarthy in goal while Jannik Vestergaard, Maya Yoshida, Yan Valery, Cédric Soares, Nathan Redmond, Stuart Armstrong and Danny Ings all came in to the lineup.
Southampton nullify Chelsea possession game
Nowadays it is not a question of what Sarri wants his side to do, but rather how the opponent will try to stop it. Teams have had mixed success trying to defend against Chelsea so far this season, but Southampton were certainly well placed to give their opponents a hard time with their newly established pressing system.
This was in full flow when Chelsea attempted to play out from the back. Southampton’s 3-4-3 matched up man-to-man against the home side’s 4-3-3 formation when building up. This made playing out from the back difficult for Chelsea. Despite breaking the press on a few occasions they could not find the same rhythm they usually have in these phases.
As the ball progressed up the pitch, Southampton dropped into a 5-4-1 shape with center-forward Ings sitting just in front of Jorginho, looking to cut the passing lane into the deep playmaker. The midfield four and back five were positioned narrowly, blocking off access into central spaces.
Both team’s formations and general movements when Southampton was not pressing high up the pitch.
In reaction to Southampton’s narrowness, Ross Barkley and N’Golo Kanté positioned themselves between and slightly behind Southampton’s central midfielders and wingers. Morata sat on the shoulder of the defense to stretch the field horizontally, while Willian and especially Hazard were given freedom to roam and find spaces between the lines. As per usual, César Azpilicueta and particularly Marcos Alonso offered width in possession.
Chelsea try to use fluid movement and quick passing interchanges to open and exploit space. Southampton were able to prevent this as much as possible with their intelligent and disciplined defensive setup. Players from the defensive line tightly marked any forwards that tried to drop off while runs from deep were tracked almost immediately. Furthering Chelsea’s struggles, extreme compactness around the ball made combination play difficult and space hard to come by.
Even when Chelsea were able to access the space behind Southampton’s midfield, the attack could not progress any further due to the aggression and diligence around the ball. The home side were regularly forced into long passes over the top, a strategy that only produced half-chances.
Southampton fail to cause Chelsea problems going forward
Southampton scored three headed goals from crosses in their 3-2 win over Arsenal, and since then crosses have become an important part of their attacking strategy. Their trip to Stamford Bridge was no different.
Southampton’s attacking formation against Chelsea’s 4-3-3 mid block formation.
Both wingers, Armstrong and Redmond, would shift over to the left flank as they looked to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. one side and open space to cross. This was largely ineffective due to Chelsea’s tight defending on the wings. Willian would track back and support Azpilicueta in pressuring the ball. Whenever a fullback or center-back stepped out, Jorginho would drop into the backline to cover the space, allowing for more aggressive defensive movements towards the wings. Furthermore, runs into the channels were closely tracked by midfielders such as Kanté.
All of this prevented Southampton from making any breakthroughs, with deliveries into the box generally being put under pressure. Ings was also often the only player occupying the box, which made Chelsea’s job of marking and clearing crosses much easier.
When the visitors attempted quicker attacks this was normally through passes over the midfield from center-backs to the forwards or driving runs from Redmond. Both of these had low probabilities of producing successful attacks which was reflected in Southampton’s inability to truly sting Chelsea on the break. Because of Southampton’s very effective defensive plan and Chelsea’s good protection against counterattacks, the first half contained very little scoring opportunities.
Southampton show signs of Hasenhüttl influence
In the opening five minutes of the second half, Southampton had one of their only dominant spells of the entire game – but it was a telling one.
During deeper possessions, the center-backs would circulate before picking out a long ball upfield. If the move broke down, which it almost always did, they would counterpress and try to win it back in advanced zones. From here they would support the player on the ball with as many players as possible and try to combine their way into a final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. breakthrough. This style of attack is one that has been popularised by numerous coaches in the world of German football, Ralph Hasenhüttl being one of them.
Although Southampton failed to generate any big chances in this period – a feature of the whole game – it was another sign of a fast developing project at a club that was once renowned for its innovative policy and may be back on their way.
Chelsea probe for offensive solutions
As the second half continued, Chelsea regained their normal control of the match, but once again faced a solid defensive structure. Long passes and crosses were forced as the home side still struggled to find a breakthrough. They did, however, find some patterns of play that offered momentary hope.
As mentioned previously, both Barkley and Kanté were positioned between the Southampton midfielders and wingers. Kanté was able to receive a few passes between the lines, drawing the two players either side of him towards the ball. This opened space for a third man to then receive a layoff pass and drive at the defense. Eden Hazard also offered an attacking outlet from the left. Marcos Alonso would make runs inside, drawing defenders towards him and opening space for Hazard to dribble inside.
Fábregas injects some creativity
As time passed, Sarri was forced to take action and decided to bring on his most creative bench player in Cesc Fábregas. The Spaniard immediately made a difference in terms of linking play and ball progression. His control in tight spaces and passing ability was able to unlock Southampton’s resolute defense on more than one occasion. He was involved in some of Chelsea’s best moves of the match, including a through ball that resulted in a disallowed Morata goal.
Some last-ditch tackles and frantic defending in the box was enough to resist the onslaught and secure a crucial point for the visitors.
It would be unfair to heap all the praise on Southampton when Chelsea were still probably the better team. But failing to create many meaningful chances despite having a vastly superior squad to their opponents has to reflect badly on Sarri and the team. This result moves them to within touching distance of fifth-placed Arsenal.
On the other hand, this is more tangible evidence of the Ralph Hasenhüttl revolution. Southampton came to Stamford Bridge trying to keep good chances to a premium and that is exactly what they got. Their pressing system is looking more and more coherent and they are becoming one of the teams to watch in the Premier League.
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