Chelsea F.C was doing great. They had not lost a match since April. They beat Real Madrid with an aggregate score of 3-1 to get to the Champions League final.
Then, they travelled to Manchester to play against the team at the top of the table, Manchester City. They won 2-1 and celebrated. Perhaps that match could even be a forecast of their Champions League final match against City?
But then, on a Wednesday night, their London neighbors, Arsenal came visiting. (Keep in mind that Chelsea had been unbeaten in their last eight home Premier League matches against Arsenal before that night, with six wins and two drawn games.) A goal by Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe, Croydon’s Kevin De Bruyne, in the 16th minute was the only goal of the match, and Chelsea’s eight game advantage ended that day.
Then, on Saturday that week, Chelsea faced Leicester City in the FA Cup final. The Blues tried their best but had no answer to Leicester’s Tielemans’ amazing goal in the second-half. Mount and Chilwell had attempts at goal but Schmeichel put paid to them. And let’s not forget the dramatic, controversial VAR decision that will probably make all Chelsea fans cringe at the sound of the term.
In a perfect case of dramatic irony, Chelsea would face the Foxes only three days later at Stamford Bridge. However, this was not the same team that lost against Arsenal and Leicester days earlier, this was a team ready and out for a win. They avenged their FA Cup loss and, to the delight of the 8,000 fans watching in the stadium that night and the others around the world, they moved, not only above Leicester City, but now sit in the Premier League’s third place, behind the two teams from Manchester.
Chelsea also stands to push out Leicester’s Champions League dreams if Liverpool win their match against Burnley (Which they did).
For Chelsea, it was a full 180 of the team that played at Wembley on Saturday in a match that cost them silverware and left N’Golo Kante injured. They really gave Leicester a run for their money, though they didn’t seem all that sad after the match to be honest.
But why did Chelsea need to lose twice in two different competitions and at crucial stages before waking up to win their penultimate match? And what did they do differently in that second match against Leicester?
CHELSEA 0-1 ARSENAL
Chelsea lost at home to Arsenal with one goal to nil, which possibly was good news for Liverpool, but definitely not for Tuchel. Though it was a good, and needed win for Arsenal, they did not really deserve it to be honest.
The Gunners barely put up a fight even with their attacking 3-4-2-1 formation. They defended well enough and got lucky with a goal which was ultimately thanks to Chelsea’s slipups and mistakes.
Chelsea could have won this match quite easily to get into third place. They should have used this opportunity to seal the deal and innovative give themselves some breathing space to relax before their FA Cup final that weekend, and the Champions League final at the end of the month, but their loss ultimately put them under more pressure.
It looks like this is becoming a steady theme for Chelsea these past few months under Thomas Tuchel; to have dominance in the game and better statistics than their opponents on paper, but never really converting any of those chances into goals, instead conceding to a lackluster opponent.
This was seen in their Champions League semi-final matches against Real Madrid. Against Arsenal for example, they had 34 percent more possession, 19 total shots and 5 on goal to Arsenal’s total 5 shots with 2 on goal. Chelsea managed to complete a whopping 386 more passes than Arsenal and with that kind of performance, they were expected to score at least one goal given their efforts.
They had one attempt that hit the bar and a goals that as disallowed because it was offside. They were generally not great, and Arsenal, with much less effort, took advantage of that and won the match. Again, this would have been a chance to settle down in a Champions League spot for next season, but teams are allowed to have their bad days, and this was one of them. The most important thing is that they are able to bounce back from it.
Their performance in the first half was truthfully not that bad. Chelsea played well and had chances, but were just unable to convert them. Once Arsenal scored, the Chelsea players just switched off and things went downhill in terms of their tactical creativity and eagerness to play. If they had played for two more hours in that condition, they probably would not have been able to score.
Arsenal had a good win, and though most of their time was spent defending, they did defend well and scored a goal. Chelsea on the other hand, had higher possession and more chances to score but failed to convert it.
CHELSEA 0-1 LEICESTER – FA CUP FINAL
As usual, Chelsea dominated the game but their attack was toothless and so were ultimately beaten by Leicester with a truly game winning goal from Tielemans.
Chelsea played in their regular 3-4-2-1 formation, with Reece James as center-back to cover Jamie Vardy’s base. Leicester played in a 3-4-1-2 formation and played very defensively, only having 36 percent possession throughout the game.
Whenever Leicester attacked, they would usually go through the right side so they could open up the play for Vardy, who likes to play in from the left side. Leicester continuously played high up on the pitch whenever Chelsea came forward, so it was hard for them to play back to their defenders and all their forward passes were blocked, which meant that they would lose possession before they could even reach Leicester’s back line.
Leicester switched tactics and sat deep in a 5-3-2 formation, leaving Chelsea to struggle to find space to get to the back line. This meant that Chelsea’s defenders had to step into Leicester’s half, which is exactly what the Foxes wanted, so that Vardy could run in and play, but Reece James was always on Vardy. Leicester’s style of play meant that Chelsea could not control the game’s tempo as they would have wanted.
In the second half, Kante pushed forward a lot more as Chelsea was looking for a goal to redeem themselves. As they pushed forward however, it left a gap in their midfield. They had no promising chances to score, and were unlucky not to get the handball decision just before Tielemans scored the only goal of the match.
After Leicester’s goal, Chelsea changed formation to a much more pointed one, unlike how they switched off against Arsenal some days earlier. Leicester on the other hand compressed their play even further and sat deep in a 5-3-1-1 formation, leaving only Vardy in front.
Chelsea was unable to make a way through their opponents’ defensive play, even after bringing on three very creative players: Havertz, Hudson-Odoi, and Pulisic. There is no doubt though that Havertz’s aerial prowess and ability to hold on to the ball would have come in very handy earlier in the game.
Thus, Chelsea suffered their second FA Cup final defeat in a row. If they don’t find the bite their attack desperately needs, they might end up losing the Champions League final as well, and without a fight.
Chelsea’s problem was that they were unable to convert their chances and lacked creativity in front of goal. Even though they dominated the games, little slip ups and mistakes caused their opponents to score at least one goal and then defend and lock their side down.
The interesting thing is that the teams Chelsea played against came prepared to defend against them and played quite conservatively, only scoring because they took advantage of Chelsea’s mistakes. So, what did they do to win 2-1 against Leicester only three days after their FA Cup loss?
CHELSEA 2-1 LEICESTER
In this match, Chelsea was able to get revenge for their FA Cup final loss and gained a massively useful three points in the final days of their Premier League top four chase.
Tuchel again used his usual 3-4-2-1 formation with Rudiger, Silva, and James at the back, the same positions that they played in the FA Cup final, but this time Pulisic was at the point of the formation, replacing Ziyech.
Leicester came on with their 3-4-2-1 formation that put Maddison up front as the primary attacker instead of Ihenacho who struggled at the weekend. This game saw Chelsea dominate the game as usual, and played their usual “press the backline, draw them out” tactic, they never really pressed forward with the expected intensity.
As the game progressed, Chelsea employed a new extremely interesting tactic where the defenders would lay back, being pressed by Leicester, and would pass to Jorginho, who would fall back to support them and move forward with the ball. This allowed Chelsea to dominate in a way that was different from the way they usual did this season.
With their defense and Jorginho having plenty of touches on the ball, they regularly looked to find Timo Werner, who would also drop back in a much deeper position than normal. He did excellently well and greatly helped Chelsea progress through the middle. Werner playing in that position made sure that Kante could break forward through midfield to join the attack.
Before his injury, Kante looked quite threatening when he made runs forward through midfield and used his energy to help move the attack. His replacement, Kovacic, did a great job continuing the play and moving the ball forward just like Kante did.
Chelsea progressed with the ball easily and steadily up the pitch, allowing Mount to leave his starting position on the left to drift across to the other side and continue to drive the attack forward.
Chelsea’s attackers could move forward and narrow in on the goal because their two wingbacks were getting forward, providing width on the sides. Azpilicueta on the right, for example, regularly looked to get into this sort of position on the wing before passing into the box to the forwards who by then, were narrowed in on goal. Chilwell did the same on the left and even ended the match with 7 attempted crosses.
Leicester’s defense spread out to spread out to give room for Schmeichel to come out between them, so when Chelsea’s forwards came in their narrow shape, the ball could just be chipped out wide to one of Leicester’s defenders on the wider ends, by passing the Chelsea players press.
By doing this, they drew Chelsea’s wingbacks behind and this was the only way Leicester could move forward during the match. The Foxes also played narrow in Chelsea’s half with Maddison and Perez moving towards to support Vardy, but this unfortunately had no real impact in the final third. Tielemans would move forward to assist up in front, attempting a total of 9 crosses during the match.
Despite this though, Vardy was often left out alone in the front of Chelsea’s goal and never really caused any trouble. This was a constant struggle for them during the match, and despite late pushes, Leicester never really ruffled Chelsea.
At a point the final third was completely empty, save for Vardy and a couple of Chelsea’s defenders. Leicester ultimately failed to create chances and Chelsea finished the match as well-deserved winners.
This is a happy outcome for Chelsea, bouncing back from disappointment on the weekend and getting into the Premier League’s Top 4.
So, though it has been a successful season for Chelsea thus far, reaching both the FA Cup and Champions League finals, they had some rocky bits. They won against Leicester because they converted and creatively adapted to the situations. They were innovative in their style of play and ultimately got the rewards for it.
They face Aston Villa today, and hopefully can win against them as well, not just for the points, but even for the team’s morale.
Thank you for reading!