Watching the first 10 minutes of the game at the Sports Direct arena on Sunday it was clear to us all that the tone was set for the rest of the game. Rafa Benitez had clearly set his team up to not lose the game but afterwards claimed he also wanted to try to win the game, the latter didnt appear to be the case at all.
Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri also remarked that Newcastle were very compact which made his sides efforts all that more harder. But were his tactics enough to really hurt Newcastle’s back five?
Formations and tactics
Chelsea though made hard work of their 1-2 win and almost played into Newcastle’s hands. Having 73% of the possession compared to United’s 27% Chelsea dominated the ball but huffed and puffed and were frustrated by Newcastle and the 5-4-1 shape they had employed.
Sarri again went with his much favoured 4-3-3 set up with the excellent Jorginho at the base of the midfield three. N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić were stationed either side of the Italian international and had clear licence to play as close to the penalty area as possible with what seemed minimal defensive responsibilities. Eden Hazard was given a free role across the final third and this is possible due to Marcus Alonso playing as high as possible from left back effectively taking up Hazards position on the left hand side with Kovačić able to move inside but also supporting on that left side. Pedro likes to keep the width made possible by the fact Ceśar Azpilicueta isnt in the same mould as Alonso and tends to play a more withdrawn full back role. Alvaro Morata seems almost redundant at times in this set up and this probably needs to be addressed if he is to be more involved in games.
This Chelsea side is very well balanced with a clear focus of attacking down the left hand side. In the first 20 minutes of the game Chelsea attacked down Newcastle’s right 62% of the time compared to centrally (28%) and only 10% down the left. A clear focus indeed.
N’Golo Kanté- suited to the role?
In the graphic above we can see how Chelsea group two players in the inside left and right positions when the ball is with Hazard. Alonso is not as far forward in this graphic but for the majority he would be easily on the back of Newcastle’s Yedlin.
N’Golo Kanté has a new role in this side, favouring a more attacking mindset and given his boundless energy he is still able to fulfil his defensive duties. He is tending to hang around on the edge of the box and if he does this Kovačić and Jorginho are reserved in their attacking intent especially the latter, more on him later. But is this what suits Kanté the most? In my opinion he isnt effective enough in this role and his qualities are wasted in the attacking phase.
In the second half Sarri realised that Pedro wasnt in the game and so decided on dropping Kanté back slightly to enable the Spaniard to fill these spaces on the edge of the box the problem was Azpilicueta was very reluctant to fully overlap like his fellow countryman Alonso on the opposite side probably knowing that Pedro has very little enthusiasm when it comes to defending.
Kovačić linked very well with Alonso and Hazard on the left hand side during the game with some slick interchanging of passes to get Alonso into crossing positions.
Jorginho- The pass master
In the past i have championed the fact i would love to see Jorginho in the Premier League and although i thought he may fit in with Guardiola’s 4-3-3 system at Manchester City but i now see why Chelsea brought him in from Napoli. He fits in perfectly at Chelsea and although his defensive qualities are at times questionable, and he is no Fernandinho in terms of tackling etc, but if he gets Kanté beside him in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid maybe, he has the ability to control and dictate games with his passing, especially his progressive passing into Hazard and co, something that Fernandinho severly lacks.
My pass map above is a carbon copy of Jorginho’s pass maps from his time at Napoli under Sarri. The similarities of the central positioning within the vacinity of the centre circle is uncanny and as his dot size shows he completed 155 passes in Sundays game.
Newcastle’s Mo Diamé did his upmost to stifle the Italians movements but to no avail and although third behind Hazard and Pedro in regards to xGChain (chance involvement) he really is going to be key to Chelsea’s progression this season.
Could it have been easier?
Judging by my xG timeline above we can see Chelsea really applied more pressure starting around the 61st minute and on 76 minutes Eden Hazard duly dispatched his penalty after a clumsy foul on him by Newcastle defender Schär.
Up until halftime Chelsea made difficult work in breaking The Magpies down and this theme continued into the second half until the time bracket mentioned above.
Referring back to the pass map i would expect Chelsea to have more width across the pitch from Azpilicueta to Alonso (yes i know i gave reasons in regards to the former earlier on in the article). Pedro although started the game wide but as the game grew he became a tad narrower and, as Kanté retreated, even more so.
Given Newcastle had five across the back i get why Sarri employed the tactic of trying to play a more narrow shape than usual. But Chelsea slightly played into Newcastle’s hands in playing this way partly due to the fact their was barely any width provided due to the issues with Pedro and Azpilicueta but also due to Hazard coming in off the attacking wide left position.
Newcastle had enough personnel in the full back and wide areas to cope and forced Chelsea inside a ploy that worked pretty well until Yedlin had put into his own net on 87 minutes to hand Chelsea the 3 points.