Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Predictable Chelsea

Chelsea move like a crab, back and forth. The only player looking for the pass into the box was Cole Palmer. The rest provide progression side to side and errant crosses.

Reece James is the only crosser that was accurate and predictable, but he came on in the 2nd half. Harder to make an impact crossing from the wing with Brentford fully settled into the match.

The passes are so inconsistent that it’s almost impossible for the person receiving the ball to anticipate where it will be placed. Players that would normally make runs, like Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Jackson, are stuck in two minds. Might as well just stay still and wait for the person they know will pass to get on the ball.

Walk back and forth, make no runs, Cole Palmer gets the ball, make the run. Either A, Palmer recycles the ball and you go back to standing, or B, Palmer plays you in. Outside players get tired of passing around and then throw in a random cross. Repeat.

The context of who is on the ball when the run is made or not made is important. If Moises Caicedo is on the ball, Nicolas Jackson doesn’t make a run behind because Caicedo will never attempt that pass.

Thierry Henry on a piece of advice Arsene Wenger gave him when he was frustrated about not receiving the ball:

There is one piece of advice that Arsene Wenger gave me when I was playing for Arsenal; ‘What can you do when your team is not feeding you?’ […] Arsene told me ‘Ask yourself the right question’.

When I was a striker, I used to complain about everything. He doesn’t give me the ball, and the boss said, ‘do you think Dennis Bergkamp can give you the ball the same way that Freddie Ljungberg does?’

I started to think, okay, with Dennis, I knew I could move however I wanted to move, then I started to think, Robert Pires likes a one-two and I need to come with him short. Freddie Ljungberg I need to be in his path because of the way he runs because if not, he will not see me. I started to think, how can I enhance the skills of a player instead of showing his weaknesses.

If you’re not receiving the ball, you have to make new runs. Each run has to be tailored to the person who has the ball. It’s wasted energy to make the same run for every player and not receive the ball; you’ll have zero energy in the 70th minute.

Enzo Fernandez being in or out of the lineup is not a factor because he’s not shown this season that he knows how to find that final pass, central. He stat-pads progressive passes to the wide areas.

It’s this constant stop and start predictable battle. Chelsea is predictable. They desperately need Christopher Nkunku to come back from injury to help Cole Palmer create unpredictability.

Brentford play better against teams that hold possession because they get tons of higher-quality chances on the counter. They can sit back with 5 yards separating their first line and backline, and they are super clinical when they get a chance on goal.

The space behind Marc Cucurella was begging for a ball and then a cut-back. The first warning was in the 49th minute.

Figure 1.1 - Marc Cucurella jumps out to challenge the ball, and Conor Gallagher follows his man into space.
Figure 1.2 - Ball gets cut back into the box.
Figure 1.3 - Robert Sanchez makes the save from Vitaly Janelt's shot.

The main responsibility for that shot falls on Connor Gallagher, unfortunately. Marc Cucurella has to step out to challenge the ball. It’s Gallagher’s job to shut down the man running into that space. Fortunately for Chelsea, that shot was shot directly at Sanchez, but he made a fine save and strong arm to direct the ball out of the box.

Later in the half, we have the same setup.

Figure 2.1 - Marc Cucurella steps out and Bryan Mbeumo is played in to the space.
Figure 2.2 - Conor Gallagher is a little slower to react.
Figure 2.3 - Both Chelsea defenders on the back post don't track Ethan Pinnock. Bryan Mbeumo crosses to him.
Figure 2.4 - Ethan Pinnock heads in the goal.

With Brentford, you feel like there’s a plan, and the team follows that plan. Everyone knows where everyone should and will be. With Chelsea, right now, it feels like a collection of young talented individuals who are not currently on the same wavelength.

Once players start tailoring runs to showcase the strengths rather than highlight weaknesses and you bring in those creators who will play that final pass, they’ll click. Until then, it’ll look disjointed.

Match: Chelsea vs Brentford, October 28, 2023,

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