Chelsea 2-5 West Bromwich Albion – Tactical Analysis

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TheMastermindSite covered Thomas Tuchel’s first win and first draw at Chelsea, so it’s only fitting we also cover their first loss under the German manager as well. Chelsea were absolutely atrocious on Saturday, red card aside, and West Brom had their best game in the Premier League in several years. This all culminated in a stunning 5-2 win, with West Brom in full flow and suddenly with a false sense of hope about their survival chances for the rest of the season. Chelsea meanwhile had their dreams of third place dashed before their eyes, as they will likely now need to scrap to the finish line to now scrape into fourth. Here is a Tactical Analysis of West Brom’s big win over the Blues at Stamford Bridge.

pereira’s free role

Sam Allardyce hasn’t had many tactical masterclasses this season, but giving Pereira a free role in attack against Chelsea was certainly one to remember for Big Sam. West Brom attacked with so much fervidity, never fearing the Blues whatsoever. Pereira in particular took every moment possible to get at the opposition defense and cause chaos. The Brazilian midfielder stuck well to his defensive tasks as part of a midfield quartet, but in attack had a free role to roam about the pitch. This caused Chelsea’s defense some absolute calamities, as they couldn’t track his movement whatsoever. He popped up on the right side for both of his goals and his second assist, despite operating as a left-winger. Pereira also at times pressed in central areas instead of sticking to his left-sided tasks, as Conor Townsend pushed up the field to stop the Blues from taking advantage of the potentially exposed wide area.

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One particular instance of this could be seen in Thiago Silva’s first yellow card of the game, as Jorginho gave the ball right to Pereira toward the top of the eighteen yard box. The exact same situation happened for Silva’s second yellow, as the 24-year old received the ball at the edge of the eighteen on the right side, played in Yokuslu, and then Silva fouled. With Allardyce giving Pereira the freedom to express himself and not have to stick to a purely defensive role, the Brazilian midfielder was able to showcase his magic. He popped up with a hand in four of the five goals, and showcased some stunning play throughout the match beyond just those incredible moments for the goals.

west brom’s mid-block turned high press

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West Bromwich Albion have operated mostly in a mid-to-low-block this season, particularly under Allardyce. But they have turned into more and more of a pressing side since the arrivals of Mbaye Diagne and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who were used to pressing at former clubs. Chelsea had their worst game of the season against the Baggies, and one of the main reasons why was because they struggled under West Brom’s coordinated press. The Baggies let the Blues have all of the ball in and around the centre-backs and Chelsea’s own eighteen-yard-box, but as soon as they tried to break through with a pass into the wing-backs, players like Pereira, Phillips and Maitland-Niles were aggressive in getting touch-tight and winning the ball. This approach had several key components.

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First, it was important for West Brom to press high in the sense that they started with a very condensed shape high up the pitch. They didn’t press high in the sense that they were running around, attempting to stop each and every single pass around the back-three. Instead, they took the principles found in a mid-block, with a lot of shifting, shuffling and cutting off of central passing angles, and put it all higher up the pitch instead. As a result, Maitland-Niles and Yokuslu were particularly important to stopping Jorginho and Kovacic from breaking the lines, and holding strong central positions that could stop the likes of Pulisic and Ziyech/Mount from receiving the ball. Instead, the Blues were forced backwards or into wide areas, which West Brom dealt very with, making Chelsea look as though they were self-destructing (and to be fair, at times they were). But it was a self-destruction caused by West Brom’s solid shape. The midfield duo mentioned completed a joint total of 11 tackles and 5 interceptions, playing a massive role in stopping Chelsea’s progress going forward in particular. Kovacic still had a successful time breaking the lines and picking out sound passes, but Jorginho floundered under the pressure and gave the ball away several times. Reece James also had a torrid time playing out from the back, constantly finding himself under the pressure of Pereira and Maitland-Niles.

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Another crucial component to their shape and press was the compact nature of the fullbacks, right on top of the wingers. Bromwich started the game in a 5-4-1 shape, with Pereira settling back into a defensive role on the left whenever the Blues were able to get into West Brom’s half. However, the distance between fullback and wing was always minimal. This allowed for some key advantages. Firstly, it stunted Reece James’ progress down the right wing by in large, although he was still able to create a few half-decent chances and win most of his 1v1 duels with Townsend. It also stopped Jorginho from picking out any adequate balls forward or wide, and it pushed Hakim Ziyech wider than Tuchel would have liked. The Moroccan midfielder was very quiet before his first half substitution, drifting toward the touchline to get away from Townsend, but simultaneously isolating himself from the play. This was problematic for Ziyech, particularly as a player who does his most damage from central areas. It also offered the Baggies advantages on the counter-attack, as Townsend and Pereira were in close proximity to link up in the initial instances upon winning the ball and often later on in moves as well. On the other side, Furlong and Phillips could accomplish the same close proximity with the same advantages. Alonso threatened Allardyce’s team more than most Chelsea players but he didn’t track back well enough to stop any of West Brom’s quick attacks, and struggled with the defensive side of the game.

quick attacks & combination play

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West Brom were deadly on the counter attack, and Chelsea didn’t help themselves by throwing so many bodies forward in the quest for equalizing goals that never came. After winning the ball, the team would all thrust up the field together at speed, and ended up scoring most of their goals in transition. Chelsea capitulated after having a man sent off, but the Baggies’ combination play in the final third was on another level. At times they looked like a completely different team, combining with one-two-touch passing before a sublime finish. Who knew West Brom could be so deadly against ten men?!

Speaking of the red card, it also gave Allardyce another stroke of genius – bringing on Callum Robinson to cause further chaos up top. Following Chelsea’s red card and the injury to Branislav Ivanovic, Sam Allardyce rolled the dice by bringing Callum Robinson on and switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation. Robinson caused havoc in between the lines and complimented Matheus Pereira brilliantly. They wanted to operate in the same areas, however Robinson was very smart in moving wide when Pereira drifted inside, or delaying his run toward the box to match Pereira’s movement around him. The Irishman was also quite adept at finding space, never allowing himself to get close to the Chelsea back-three, and instead identifying gaps in behind Jorginho and Kovacic. Okay Yokuslu also played an important role in front of the back-four, helping to spray forward passes while also slowing the game at times to allow the Baggies to enjoy better spells of possession. But the best part about Robinson’s introduction (beyond the many goals that followed) was that it didn’t change the way Pereira was to operate in the match. That helped big time, as the Brazilian had a hand in four goals and floated with a touch of magic at his fingertips.

Pereira’s shifting inside into central areas also allowed Conor Townsend to operate high and wide down the left in transition, where he played an important role in the tricky final third combinations. Reece James’ high position on the field was frequently exposed, and the two men created havoc down the left before combining with their teammates and finding the likes of Robinson and Diagne for the final touch. Diagne’s goal in particular was one that, with all due respect, you would not associate with the Baggies. With all of these things working in combination, it genuinely could have been more than five for West Brom against Tuchel’s team.

concluding thoughts

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Chelsea have been remarkable this season under Thomas Tuchel, but unfortunately, they suffered their biggest and most disappointing loss of the season on Saturday. The red card to Thiago Silva didn’t help, but West Brom were deadly in attack regardless. What it means for both of these teams and their seasons going forward could end up being very little, but it was a very enjoyable match to watch, even as someone who has raved about Thomas Tuchel all season long.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of West Bromwich’s big 5-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Be sure to check out more match analyses, and follow @DesmondRhys on Twitter and Instagram to never miss an analysis like this. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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-> Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea – Tactical Analysis
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-> Chelsea 2-0 Burnley – Tactical Analysis


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