Competition for Champions League places is heating up and Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea is a game that may yet have serious effects on European qualification at the end of season for two teams placed so closely together in the table.
Both Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had an opportunity to show how their teams are progressing in this match which was eventually won by United 2-0. We used Wyscout’s match report to derive key statistics and findings from this game.
Lampard rolled out his usual 4-3-3 with United playing three at the back with two wingbacks to complete a 5-3-2 setup.
Chelsea in Possession:
Chelsea tried to play out from the back when possible with centre-backs Christensen and Rüdiger aiming to feed Jorginho at the base of midfield and Mateo Kovacic in central areas.
When playing out from the back, Chelsea would push their wingers high to pin United’s fullbacks deep, which when effective would leave their own fullbacks, Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James, as wide outlets to advance the ball up the pitch. James had 109 actions with the ball, which was the highest of any player in the match. The below passing matrix shows how often Chelsea’s players passed to one-another, here you can see Rüdiger found Azpilicueta 13 times alone over the duration of the match.
Jorginho and Kovacic in the pivot:
Also what can be seen here is that Jorginho and Kovacic were the dominant passers in the midfield. Jorginho completed 86 passes was the highest of any player on the pitch, with Kovacic second on 79.
Often, United’s attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes sat on Jorginho and forwards Daniel James and Anthony Martial marked the Chelsea centre backs, but Chelsea could beat this press with Kovacic dropping next to Jorginho in a double pivot to provide an extra option and Kante moving further forward to force united’s midfield pivot deep.
Mason Mount created, but Chelsea were wasteful:
Kante's injury in the 13th minute meant Mason Mount took his place, he created two opportunities that were wasted by the Chelsea attack.
As earlier mentioned, Chelsea would often move the ball forward with their fullbacks, which in turn would pin United’s wingbacks deep. In this instance, Chelsea wingers Pedro and Willian would move into narrow positions to occupy United’s central pivot which then left space in for a central attacker to run in behind. Mason Mount was that central attacker and created a big chance for Michy Batshuayi, crossing from a wide position, that was wasted by the Belgian striker.
The same happened again as Mount got in behind Luke Shaw to cross for Olivier Giroud. This time the ball hit the back of the net, but the goal was chalked off by a VAR offside call.
Manchester United countering Chelsea's high fullbacks:
United also looked to play out from the back. But to deal with United’s three centre backs, Chelsea brought their wingers in narrow on the press. This meant the ball could be recycled wide to the United wingbacks who had time on the ball.
On occasions where Chelsea pushed their fullbacks up, Martial from a forward position, would look to pull left towards the touchline and receive a long pass from deep to isolate Martial against the centre back. Harry Maguire had three deep completions in the match, which was a match-high for his team. A deep completion can be defined as a pass (excluding crosses) that was received in a 20-meter radius from the opponent goal line.
Eventually it was a link up between United fullback Wan-Bissaka and Martial that combined for the opening goal.
Bruno Fernandes the creative force:
With James and Martial fast players, Chelsea’s centre backs would often stay deep to avoid them running in behind, when the Chelsea mids would press high, this left a gap between midfield and defence in which Bruno Fernandes would take up attacking positions.
Fernandes moving into this position would draw a Chelsea mid, and when Martial would drop deeper to draw a centre back, this left space for James to run into. This action was fluid between all three players who could be any part of this attacking sequence.
Aside from providing the corner from which Maguire headed in United's second goal, Fernandes engineered 3 key passes, which was the most of any United player.
Chelsea would look to counter attack or relieve pressure by getting the ball to Batshuayi with Pedro in support. But united’s back three and midfield were up to the task, pressing and harrying the Chelsea midfielders and attackers and causing them to lose possession.
The below graph shows both teams' PPDA, which can be defined as opponent passes per defensive action in opponent's final 60% of the pitch. This is a
well-studied metric used to qualify pressing intensity.
As can be seen in the PPDA graph below, United's pressing intensity was much higher than Chelsea's.
The next image down shows losses of possession by Chelsea players. The top four in losses for Chelsea were all attacking midfielders who were pressured by United's midfield with ground duels being by far the best source of recouping possession for United. Fred led the way for United with a game-high 22 ground duels in the United engine room.
A strong performance from the United midfield in terms of workrate, combined with the creative force of Bruno Fernandes meant the three points went back to Manchester. Chelsea will rue their missed opportunities especially when they could have opened the scoring in the first half. Chelsea were however just the second side ever to have two goals awarded and then overturned by VAR in a Premier League match this season, after Sheffield United against Brighton in December.
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