Chelsea vs Southampton: A Tactical Analysis

December 3, 2013 in Features, Premier League by Matty Deller

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Chelsea hosted Southampton on Sunday evening. The Londoners have almost lost their unbeaten record at home against West Bromwich Albion prior to losing against Basel in the Champions League. Southampton were looking to bounce back from their defeat against Arsenal with a victory.


The formations



Chelsea started in 4-2-3-1 formation, at least on paper. This often became a 4-2-4 in possession in the early stages of the match. Michael Essien started in the Premier League for the first time in the season. Juan Mata was in the starting line-up as well, to the surprise of many.


Southampton have started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Pablo Osvaldo started as the forward, even though Ricky Lambert had been preferred to him in weeks prior to the game.

Southampton take an early lead

Chelsea pressed Southampton right from the kick-off. Southampton were forced to play a long ball out of defence. John Terry was pulled deep by Adam Lallana. Lallana won the header, which Essien kicked into his own area. Jay Rodriguez was the fastest to the ball as he put it past Čech, giving Southampton the lead in the first minute.

Even though it was a poor clearance, Southampton’s movement had an active part to play in the goal. Essien’s clearance bounced right where John Terry was pulled away from by Lallana. Cahill and Ivanović didn’t anticipate Essien’s ball, unlike Rodriguez. The forward started his run before the defenders could, and was awarded with a goal for his efforts.

Chelsea’s early formations

Chelsea were playing with a 4-2-4 in possession in Southampton’s half. Torres, Oscar, Mata and Hazard positioned himself around Southampton’s defensive line, while Ramires made vertical runs behind the Southampton defence to receive cut through balls. Such a situation led to a corner, and Gary Cahill’s header in the 4th minute.

Chelsea’s defensive 4-4-2 was looking shaky. This was a result of the 4-2-4 they have played in possession. Chelsea’s attackers played so high up the pitch, and exchanged positions so often that if the ball was lot, they were too far away from their respective defensive positions. This made transitions lacking order and slow. Ramires often found himself playing as a second forward, Torres had to defend on the right wing, while Mata was defending as a holding midfielder.

Chelsea’s passing

Essien’s tempo of passing was visibly slower than Mata’s or Ramires’. This gave Southampton extra time to adjust their defence, and close down Essien when Chelsea were bringing out the ball. It was hard for Chelsea to play forward, Essien ended up playing it backwards most of the time.

Chelsea’s short passes in the first 30 minutes


Southampton’s full-backs were marking the Chelsea wingers closely. This enabled Chelsea to play the ball behind them. The only thing Hazard and Mata had to do was to drop deeper, and pull the full-backs with them.

If Chelsea’s build-up was slower, and Southampton could take up their defensive position, Wanyama had time to drop into the space vacated by the full-back. However, if Chelsea played a direct, long ball towards the wing, Wanyama didn’t have time to adjust his position. Oscar received the ball on the left wing in the 23rd minute, after Hazard headed on one of these long balls.

Incidentally, Sky Sport’s coverage showed Pocchetino in the 30th minute, while Cech was taking a goal-kick. The Argentine coach could be heard shouting as Schniederlin, and pointing to the left wing, asking his midfielder to adjust his positioning.


Lampard came on in the 42nd minute. Juan Mata moved to the central attacking midfielder position. Ramires moved to the right attacking midfielder role. Lampard played ahead of Essien.

Demba Ba came on for Michael Essien at half-time. Demba Ba played as the main central striker, while Fernando Torres played in a free role, finding space in the hole between Southampton’s midfield and defence, as well as on the wings. He drifted to the left in the 54th minute, to win a free-kick which indirectly led to Chelsea’s equaliser through a corner. Wanyama’s lack of pace showed again when he brought down Torres, as he was unable to deal with the Spaniard dribbling at him.

Chelsea’s strategy for the second half was to get the ball to the forwards as quickly as possible. Lampard and Ramires had a bigger passing range than Essien. Chelsea have attempted 12 long balls before Lampard was introduced. They have attempted 18 long balls after the introduction of the English midfielder. Demba Ba and Torres often drifted to the wings as they tried to get away from Southampton’s central defenders. Chelsea’s long balls and the movement of their forwards gave no chance for Southampton to take up their defensive shape, at the same time taking Wanyama and Scheiderlin out of the game.

With Ramires and Lampard in the holding roles, Chelsea brought out the ball much quicker, and gave no time for Southampton to switch back into defence when they have lost the ball. This was for all to see when Shaw dribbled out of defence on the left, but lost the ball to Ramires. Chelsea played quick triangular passes, and played a long ball into the space where Shaw would have been had he had time to track back.


Juan Mata

Mata found the channel between the centre-back and full-back wonderfully in the 70th minute. Even though his dink to the center was caught by Gazzaniga, this showed what Mata can bring to Chelsea. It is very rare that a player is not only technically gifted, but has a great sense for finding space in tight areas, playing against a tight defence. Very few would have occupied that space, even fewer would have tried such a chipped pass.


Southampton’s early goal made this a strange game. Southampton have not pressed as much as in previous games. However, this was likely down to José Mourinho’s substitutions as well. The visitors didn’t have a chance to press Chelsea aggressively in the second half, as Lampard and Ramires played quick and accurate long balls to the forwards. Southampton failed to find the antidote to Chelsea’s second half strategy.

Chelsea must be credited for coming back after taking an early blow. Southampton have lost their second big game in a row, but they are still in a respectable 7th place in the Premier League table.


Abel Lorincz also writes for Football Stats and Tactics (