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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: Chelsea 3-0 Leicester City | Back 3 works magic for Conte

Lukai Ma writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Premier League match that ended Chelsea 3-0 Leicester City. 

Chelsea welcomed the defending champions of the English Premier League at Stamford Bridge. The Blues dominated the game and achieved a crucial 3-0 victory. With this past weekend, Chelsea continues challenging the top 3 in the table, while Leicester are still struggling for an away victory.

Antonio Conte is the 3rd manager of Chelsea since Claudio Ranieri took charge of Leicester City. The game found a certain style: very “Italiano” under 2 managers who came from the Apennine Peninsula, especially given that Chelsea played with a 3-back formation.

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Chelsea (3-4-3): 13-Courtois; 24-Cahill, 30-David Luiz, 28-Azpilicueta; 3-Marcos Alonso, 21-Matic, 7-Kante, 15-Moses; 10-Hazard, 19-Diego Costa, 11-Pedro.

Leicester City (4-4-2): 1-Schmeichel; 28-Fuchs, 6-Huth, 5-Morgan, 2-Hernandez; 11-Albrighton, 13-Amartey, 4-Drinkwater, 15-Schlupp; 9-Vardy, 7-Musa.

Antonio Conte has shied away from this starting formation since the pre-season but changed after the away 0-3 defeat against Arsenal. For this game, he switched the 4-5-1 into a very Italian formation 3-4-3. Terry just returned from injury, but he started from bench considering he had not been given a chance to rehearse with the new formation. Conte still prefers a more defensive midfield duo with Kante and Matic providing great coverage. In the attacking phase Kante would be more important to connect the midfield with the forwards.

In comparison to the home 0-0 draw with Southampton, Claudio Ranieri made 2 changes considering the midweek UEFA Champion’s League group stage match. Normally, he favours a stable starting XI. Schlupp started on the flank rather than Mahrez, and Musa worked with Jamie Vardy up front. As always, Leicester would play a sat-back, non-aggressive style of football, attacking directly. On the flank, Schlupp always swapped positions with Albrighton, and kept testing the opposition defense.

Great movement on the set play from Chelsea

Video Clip 1 from Lukai Ma on Vimeo.

Chelsea’s opening goal was a little bit surprising, because it was their first goal of the season from a set piece.

In the video above, we can see quite clearly that it was not a coincidence or an individual effort, this had to be well organised by Conte during the set play training.

Matic started near the goal, while his 4 partners including Diego Costa were further, they were all marked by a direct opponent.

When the set play started, Matic moved quickly for the near post, while Gary Cahill, Marcos Alonso and David Luiz all moved towards near post as well- their movement distracted the Leicester defenders and took them going to same way.

Actually, Cahill, Alonso and Luiz were just decoys, the key men were Matic and Diego Costa: before the Serbian’s back heel flip, Costa moved to the back post- a different direction from the other 3 teammates, to support the delivery from Matic.

This was a very classical Italian set play tactic.

Leicester’s defensive strategy

Ranieri did not make too many changes to the defending champions’ tactics compared to last season. Were it not for some new recruits and the departure of Kante, Leicester would simply look like an unchanged team.

The defending strategy used by Ranieri worked well in the early stages away at Stamford Bridge. The 3 lines sat deep and gave the attacking initiative to Chelsea. When Matic had the ball in the midfield, Vardy did not apply pressure on him, and the midfield duo Amartey and Drinkwater, considering it a less dangerous option, left Matic alone and the Serbian enjoyed space and kept his head up.

Low pressure up front means the opposition has more opportunities to play accurate direct delivery to the front players.

Ranieri’s team always keeps great distance between the defenders and the midfielders. For instance, once Diego Costa received the ball Huth would follow him out tightly. In case the striker turned; Amartey (last season that was Kante, who was crucial in the defending phase) and Drinkwater would squeeze the channel to deny space to Costa and Pedro.

This low pressure, positioning oriented defensive strategy worked very well last season, but couldn’t make a positive impact this time around.

Chelsea possession, and Hazard positioning

Video Clip 2 from Lukai Ma on Vimeo.

Conte has truly improved Chelsea in the attacking phase by using his familiar 3 at the back formation. At the beginning of this season, when Chelsea played without Cesc Fabregas, it became quite chaotic for the front players, the build-up was sloppy, Hazard and Willian relied on their individual efforts, and Diego Costa appeared to be lacking support up front.

In the Chelsea attacking phase, Vardy and Musa barely worked together to defend a wide area, which meant Cahill could move forward to receive in space. The wing back Marcos Alonso took a wide position, occupying the right winger Schlupp, but the interesting thing was, Hazard was not in his original position to occupy the opposition right back Hernandez. Instead, he took a position in the midfield, away from Hernandez, which means the Leicester right full back has no one directly to mark.

Hazard’s position created problems for the opposition side, because the back 4 sat deep, and Amartey had to retain the distance between the midfield and the defense. Drinkwater could not apply pressure by himself, and so Chelsea created a 3v2(Hazard, Matic and Kante vs Drinkwater and Amartey) superiority on the edge of the attacking third.

The low pressure also left time and space for Matic and Kante. They occupied Drinkwater and Amartey, and Diego Costa dropped back to receive, took out Morgan, which left the space behind, and there was no particular defending player to mark Hazard, who broke into the space left by Morgan, and received the through ball from Kante.

The new formation and tactic solved Hazard’s puzzle from the last few games: He was not very used to taking up width, and Chelsea’s full back could not move too high up and compromise the compactness of the defending team in the defending transition.

In the 3-4-3 formation, the width duty is clearly given to the 2 wing backs, Hazard can be more flexible to link up with the 2 side channels or the central area. That was a very important reason for Chelsea’s attacking improvement.

Leicester struggled in the attacking phase

Actually, even in the season that Leicester City claimed the title, their build-up play was direct, simple and reliant on pace and long through balls. This strategy was more helpful in a counter-attacking phase.

It seemed like that Ranieri did not make much change to his team in  pre-season, because his build-up was simply the same in this match. The only difference was, without Kante and Mahrez, would this still work against an opponent with a deep defense?

Kante’s replacement, Amartey, did not show much supporting sense in the attacking phase. He did not know much about how to play forward, he was slow when he dealt with the ball and was easily closed down by Chelsea players. He always came to his teammate to ask for the ball, narrowing the supporting range- which was not helpful for playing forward.

On the other hand, the 2 strikers (Vardy and Musa) and the 2 wingers (Albrighton and Schlupp) always moved forward once Leicester had the ball, and this made their attack too easy to predict. When Fuchs had the ball, the other supporting players moved forward quickly, and there was no one to make use of the space. Ultimately, Fuchs chose to play a direct ball to Albrighton, who was on the flank, marked by a Chelsea defender. Even if he was available to receive, the angle was so poor that he wouldn’t have been able to create a threat.

Video Clip 3 from Lukai Ma on Vimeo.

Actually Chelsea did not put much pressure on Leicester’s ball carrier, they sat tight and defended non-aggressively- very much the Italian style. They would not try to win the ball back quickly, and Leicester’s back pass was allowed. Conte and Ranieri’s defending strategies were very close. This made Chelsea’s defense better shaped, but left more space and time.

But when Schlupp and Drinkwater had the ball, they were clueless about who to play to: the duo upfront and another winger were all marked simply because of their poor positioning. There was no depth, no width, and it was too easy for the defenders. There was also a lack of movement. Albrighton was the first one to recognize the problem and once he made an incisive movement to use the space between lines, it became much easier for him to collect possession. Musa made a very good overlapping movement, and he took out Azpilicueta but when he went to the right hand side the Spaniard couldn’t leave his position so he just let Musa go.

Albrighton’s quick decision shot was fine, but maybe, Musa was a better option in space and with no one noticing him, if Albrighton showed more patience he might have been able to find Musa in a good position.

Chelsea Took Advantage of the Gap Between Lines

Video Clip 4 from Lukai Ma on Vimeo.

The compactness of Leicester City kept dropping as the game went on. You have to admit that Jamie Vardy was not a player with discipline in the defending phase in this game. While the defense and midfield lines sat deep, he needed to stay in front of the midfielders to cover, so that Kante would not enjoy much space there.

While Chelsea’s back 3 was in possession, Vardy tried to press alone, but Slimani was not covering his partner up front. Leicester must miss their well-deciplined striker, Shinji Okazaki. Though he was not strong with finishing and dribbling, the Japanese centre forward was the one keeping up the pressing and protecting the midfield line. Apparently neither Musa nor Slimani had the sense to defend as a unit, especially when the other striker Vardy couldn’t provide defending discipline either.

Kante was crucial because he always read the situation and knew about using the space between lines to help link up the team. The biggest problem for Leicester was when Chelsea made it to the final third. Leicester did not know how to prevent penetration under low pressure. Andy King and Fuchs were marking Moses. King was reckless and showed Moses inside, which was dangerous because Moses could drive in and face the goal directly, and the key men Drinkwater and Amartey could not come back in time, so it was chaotic even on a one-two combination. Amartey and Drinkwater were simply not mobile enough to cover such a big gap.

The problem for Amartey was not just with his poor attacking mind, he was also very sloppy with defending. He only attempted 3 tackles against Chelsea, and none of them succeeded. More important than the stats was the fact that, Amartey couldn’t put pressure on the first attacking player, nor could he cover his teammate in time while he was in the cover position.


Ranieri still needs to think about his game plan: it is hard to keep Leicester playing like last season, considering Kante has left. It becomes much harder for the midfield duo to defend such a large area while they sit back; or else he has to find a replacement for Amartey, who is making Leicester’s attacking and defending slow in both phases.

As for Antonio Conte, things have turned after he switched to his master plan: 3-back formation. Chelsea played more patient and more organized football. The 2 wing backs take their wide positions, which frees Hazard and Willian (or Pedro). This way, Chelsea’s attack creates more chances than they did in the first few games of this season.

Read all our tactical analyses here.

Lukai Ma

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