Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Nkunku is the Runner Chelsea Lacked

Christopher Nkunku stood out for Chelsea when he came on against Newcastle because they have lacked runners behind the forwards this season. His explosive runs open space for others because it makes the opponent’s defense retreat.

Figure 1.1 - Cole Palmer receives the ball. Christopher Nkunku begins his run behind Newcastle's second line.
Figure 1.2 - Cole Palmer chips the ball to Christopher Nkunku.

As we know from their match against PSG, Newcastle get a lead and then they hunker down. Chelsea haven’t been good at breaking down compact low-blocks this season, so it makes sense why Newcastle would deploy a similar strategy.

The finishing has been poor, but the main reason for why Chelsea have trouble against low-blocks is not finishing, it’s a lack of space to create chances. More volume of chances in space is needed.

Connor Galagher and Enzo Fernandez are world-class but they are slower moving. When they receive the ball they won’t draw a defender towards them and they will never worry a defense if they attempt to carry the ball forward. They will never make a run like the one seen in this example by Nkunku, and if they do it’s rare.

Figure 1.1 - Connor Gallagher's great run to open the space for Mykhaylo Mudryk to play in Nicolas Jackson. 1st time Nicolas Jackson was played straight in on goal like this, this season.

When they did make the rare run, like Conor Gallagher did in this example from their match against Aston Villa, they opened space for their forwards which allowed Jackson to be played in on goal. I covered that in more detail in this post “You need to play a striker in on goal to score”.

Cole Palmer will carry to drag a defender out, but he’s not explosive or fast like Nkunku. If Palmer makes a run it’s not going to worry a defender to make them jump or retreat back.

Figure 1.3 - Christopher Nkunku controls the ball with his back to lay the ball off to Armando Broja.
Figure 1.4 - Armando Broja collects the ball and draws in two Newcastle defenders. Space for runs in the channels and on the right-wing.
Figure 1.5 - Armando Broja attempts to pass to Christopher Nkunku. Tons of space on the right side.

One run and control by Nkunku is enough to completely break Newcastle’s structure. Timo Livramento is dragged inside, Dan Burn is attempting to follow Nkunku, Jamaal Lascelles is retreating back into the box.

This opens space between Newcastle’s back-line and second line. Then with Livramento gets dragged inside to challenge Broja, Disasi is open on the right side. Broja could have taken the shot but he attempted to pass to Nkunku.

Chelsea need more of this, more space, more reps, more volume, more chances, more goals. As they get chance after chance they will slowly grow in confidence and goals will come.

This will benefit Nicolas Jackson, Raheem Sterling, Mykhaylo Mudryk, and Armando Broja the most. Jump-start their season. Cole Palmer will be able to take a more passive role and act solely as a creator. Get out of Nkunku’s way so he can create the space, like Julian Alvarez creates space for others.

Bonus points if they use at least one attacking full-back like Malo Gusto, Ben Chilwell, or Ian Maatsen to hold width and attack that space wide that Axel Disasi had on the wing.

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