Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Chelsea's cliques

The selfishness to try to do it all on your own and the lack of movement when the creators have the ball, because they only pass to each other, for me, is the reason why Chelsea have trouble maintaining leads past the 30 minute mark.

Figure 1.1 - Malo Gusto on the overlap with Manchester United drawn to Cole Palmer. Nicolas Jackson is free in the box.
Figure 1.2 - Cole Palmer takes the shot and it's easily saved.

Cole Palmer elects to shoot when a clear goal-scoring opportunity is there. Pass to Gusto, he cuts it across to Jackson for the tap-in. But no, shoot.

In the first 30 minutes of a match, the game is frantic, there are spaces. Defenders are marking everyone, which allows Cole Palmer to get open.

Once those 30 minutes end, the patterns become predictable. Cole Palmer receives on the wing, he cuts inside, he shoots. The defense can fully commit and de-mark from everyone else because they know where the ball is going, they know where the shot is coming from, they know where to block.

Doing it all on your own only works in short periods. After a while you are double and triple-teamed, then you constantly lose possession. The shot is blocked or saved, he misses. Chances elsewhere are wasted.

Figure 2.1 - Carney Chukwuemeka is open for a wall pass to an onrushing Enzo Fernandez into the box.
Figure 2.2 - Cole Palmer doesn't pass to Carney Chukwuemeka, who's open to turn into the box, and instead shoots into traffic. The shot is blocked.

For example, Chukwuemeka should be passed the ball in Figure 2.1 because he can immediately play Enzo into the box. He moves back to receive, and then he again is open to turn into the box in Figure 2.2. But no, shoot.

Chelsea have cliques. In the critical phases, certain players only pass to certain players and won’t pass to others unless they are wide open, and even that’s not a guarantee.

  • Axel Disasi, Enzo Fernandez, Conor Gallagher (to a degree), and Cole Palmer
  • Mykhaylo Mudryk, Nicolas Jackson, Marc Cucurella, Carney Chukwuemeka

The first group of players avoid passing to the second group of players. It’s like watching a training game where you have to complete a certain number of passes before passing to the second group. But the second group will work with the first group.

Then there’s in-between players like Caicedo, Gusto, Madueke, Gilchrist, Chalobah, Colwill, Thiago Silva, and Badiashille who will pass to everyone.

Raheem Sterling used to belong to that first group but he has been better lately at spreading the love.

You’ll notice these cliques because the players in the second group won’t make runs when the players in the first group have the ball. Compare it to when a player in the second group has the ball. Their run is purposeful, they’re on the same page, the pass arrives in time. When the first group has the ball, why make the run when you know you won’t get the ball?

Figure 3.1 - Axel Disasi plays a through ball to Nicolas Jackson.
Figure 3.2 - Nicolas Jackson takes the shot. Look at the space for Enzo Fernandez and Cole Palmer.

When the entire team works together, they spread the responsibility of dragging defenders away, which opens up more room for the players in the first group, which opens space in other parts of the pitch.

But the trust needs to be there to know, if I expend all this energy making a run, I will eventually be rewarded.

They need to work together because they’ve thrown away too many leads.

Match: Chelsea 4-3 Manchester United, 4 April 2024

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