Swansea 2 – 2 Chelsea: Blues not yet fluent in Conte’s tactics

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Updated: September 12, 2016

Though individual errors influenced the final score, Chelsea continued their trend of showing progress on the pitch. Having defended characteristically well throughout the game, Antonio Conte will feel unlucky to only get a point after a goalkeeping error and numerous occasions of suspect refereeing.

Chelsea attack with individual flair

Though a lot has changed at Chelsea since Mourinho left, one aspect of their game clearly hasn’t: an emphasis on individual flair when attacking. Now that Fabregas is finding himself benched, the responsibility of creating chances lies with the front three, usually Hazard, Costa, and Willian.

Since Conte has decided on using a much less creative midfield in return for defensive stability, which Kante, Matic, and Oscar are doing a great job providing, Chelsea are ignoring the center of the field, preferring instead a build-up through the wing. Against Swansea there was a focus on the right side, where Ivanovic advanced high up the line to connect with Willian, who would move inside. Oscar often positioned himself out wide as well, making sure he was further toward the touchline than Cahill. This gave him a better position from which to play penetrating passes into Willian.

This created situations in which Chelsea could work forward quickly in the wing and half-space. Generally, Cahill or Oscar would find Willian, who could then pass inside to Costa or wide to Ivanovic. Costa dropped off the back line of Swansea to help create this connection, something that also occurred numerous other times throughout the game, though not always to Chelsea’s benefit.

This setup worked well to break the first line of pressure and give Willian space to turn. However, due to the wing-oriented spacing of the midfield, it was difficult to put together passes beyond a flick to the fullback or inside to Costa. Willian, for all his step overs, has a hard time beating defenders in the midfield (if not for pace). There were times when Costa received the ball and attempted to turn, though it was several times stolen as the Brazilian’s close control let him down.

Swansea press stifles defense

Since Chelsea’s strategy depends a lot on the defenders to advance the ball, Swansea’s pressing hurt Chelsea’s build-up by forcing Cahill and Terry, two center-backs who are a bit ponderous on the ball, to make more decisions and move the ball more quickly. This was evident in Cahill’s actions before Swansea’s second goal, despite the clear foul he suffered.

The issue with Chelsea’s wing-oriented, play from deep build-up is the lack of collective pressing resistance. Against an opponent with a heavy midfield, such as that of Swansea’s 3-5-2 could easily outnumber Chelsea, forcing the ball out wide to Azpilicueta or Ivanovic. This problem was compounded when Chelsea weren’t prepared to attack, such as when the fullbacks were close to the center-backs or when the Oscar and Matic were vertically even with Cahill and Terry. This created moments in which a group of Swansea players could mark all of Chelsea’s passing options, because the Blues’ poor spacing cut down the passing lanes.

Unlike with Italy and Juventus, Conte doesn’t have center-backs who can play a precision pass over the top. David Luiz will provide this, in part, but Chelsea still have to find a way to handle opponents who don’t give the back line much time on the ball. However, the Blues are still second in the table, despite dropping points for the first time, and a lack of Champions League football gives Antonio Conte all the time he needs.

2 Comments

  1. Usman Aqeel

    September 14, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    The game, far more competitive than anyone could have imagined, a result that Chelsea fan’s will feel aggrieved about given the quality of goals conceded. However, Conte showed real character in the post match interview when he confessed that any side could be affected by the referees’ decision.

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