Tactical Analysis: Chelsea knocked out by Manchester United as Sarri's system fails yet again
Written by: Waseem Zaidi
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer outclasses the experienced Blues' tactician as the FA Cup holders were beaten at home.
It was a mature display from both the manager and the players of Manchester United as they secured an important 2-0 win away at Chelsea and entered into the quarter-final stage of the tournament. In a show of managerial maturity, the Norwegian caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, brilliantly identified the weaknesses in the opposition and exposed it for the benefit of his team.
Despite missing regular starters like Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard due to their respective groin and hamstring injuries, United were able to shift to a system that suited their needs better.
While Chelsea on the other hand, under the Italian coach, Maurizio Sarri, are looking like a jaded team which is still coming to terms with the new system that the gaffer swears by. His commitment towards a system that brought him success at Napoli and unwillingness to alter his approach is now bearing negative reactions from the fans of the London outfit.
Interestingly, this was United’s third win at Stamford Bridge in the last 23 away games here and the first in the last 10 matches.
Chelsea were outdone by a couple of headed goals from Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba in the 31st and 45th minute respectively in the match. While United relied on counter-attacks and were more direct with their passing and forward moves into the wings, Chelsea dominated the possession but majorly in their own half due to Sarri’s system of playing the ball patiently from the back.
Paul Pogba was the star-performer for Manchester United who contributed with an assist for the first goal and scored the winner that depleted Chelsea’s morale. For the Blues, Marcos Alonso had a night to forget as both goals were a result of the direct mistakes from his end. The January signing, Gonzalo Higuain, failed to deliver as well and Eden Hazard was the only player that looked like threatening the United backline.
The second-half was more about Chelsea’s lack of firepower going forward. Fans who were expecting a reaction from their side were left bitterly disappointed as Sergio Romero walked away with a well-deserved clean-sheet.
Sarri made only like-for-like personnel substitutions rather than implementing a change in tactics. It was, in the end, easy for Manchester United to deal with Chelsea’s lacklustre attempts at scoring and making a comeback in the fixture.
Line-ups and Formations
Chelsea fielded their squad with a 4-3-3 formation with Sarri continuing to put his faith in Jorginho in the holding midfield role instead of Kante who was again playing in an advanced right midfield role.
David Luiz and Rudiger were the center back pairing while Alonso and Azpilicueta as full-backs made darting runs down the wing while going forward and provided width; but however, were caught out of position several times in case of a turnover.
The second goal they conceded was due to Alonso finding himself out of position after Kovacic gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the park. Higuain was the only recognised striker with Hazard and Pedro playing behind him in the left and the right flank respectively.
However, the Argentine cut a lonesome figure at times due to the lack of quality service into the box. Kepa Arrizabalaga had a disappointing outing and should have done better with the second header that found the back of the net.
Ole Gunnar set up his squad keeping in mind the personnel that were available to him. Playing Juan Mata in the center instead of the right-wing, behind the striker pairing of Rashford and Lukaku was a pleasant surprise for the United faithful.
David de Gea was rested today and Romero took his place between the sticks, Smalling and Lindelof were rock solid at the back while Ashley Young and Luke Shaw played as full backs. The midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba performed their roles amicably in the center, right and the left midfield respectively.
First half analysis
First Half Team Stats & Ratings
The above overview of the first half indicates a close contest where Chelsea dominated the possession but United were more efficient and direct. Despite having less of the ball, they managed more shots and registered more successful tackles and aerial duels.
Matic, Herrera and Pogba effectively closed any passing lanes between the Chelsea backline and the forwards which led to the Blues playing horizontal passes for the larger duration.
The first goal of the game
The match was won and lost in the midfield where the United players looked more sharper from the first minute. However, it was Chelsea that looked more threatening in the early minutes of the game with Hazard and Alonso combining well on the left flank, creating several good chances.
???? | Romero with a good double save! pic.twitter.com/QIxU0U11Y5— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) February 18, 2019
The wonder saves of Sergio Romero
A swerving free-kick from David Luiz and the following volley from Pedro were brilliantly dealt with by Romero in goal who hardly made any errors. Higuain also had a couple of good opportunities but failed to hit the target.
Paul Pogba scored the second goal himself
Jorginho’s lack of defensive awareness gave Mata a lot of space in the center, which allowed him to free Pogba on the left flank, and a decent cross in the box with some amateur defending from Alonso gave Herrera an easy header which he buried in the bottom corner for the first goal in the 31st minute.
The credit must be given to Solskjaer who perfectly countered Chelsea’s “Sarriball” with high-pressing and putting pressure on the midfielders forcing them into errors. This led to the crucial mistake by Kovacic that led Rashford to find enough space on the right flank to whip in a cross for Pogba’s header.
The Argentine's miss in the first half
Second half analysis
Second Half Team Stats & Ratings
The onus was on Chelsea to get back into the game and they needed an early goal in order to do that. Despite a frantic start to the second half, United easily managed to deal with whatever Chelsea threw at them and Sarri’s inability to change tactics made it easier for the visitors to hold on to their lead till the final whistle. Chelsea continued to dominate possession but failed to capitalise due to the lack of creativity upfront.
The second half lacked any direct scoring opportunities as Chelsea failed to break down a solid United defence which defended in units.
Substitutes Willian, Barkley and Zappacosta failed to impact the game and Chelsea fans were left frustrated due to the gaffer leaving Callum Hudson-Odoi on the bench and sticking by his tactics that clearly were not working.
In the end, United sat back, absorbed the pressure, stayed compact and did not allow Chelsea players any breathing space in their own danger box. Andreas Pereira, Scott Mctominay and Alexis Sanchez were brought on from the bench to replace fatigued Mata, Lukaku and Rashford and continued the high pressing tactics to disallow Chelsea defenders any time and space to find runners in the final third.
Points to consider
Eyes will definitely be on Manchester United who are major favourites now to win the F.A. Cup after disposing two London clubs in Arsenal and Chelsea. This result will also be a major confidence boost for Solskjaer’s men ahead of a crucial Premier League fixture against Liverpool on Sunday.
As for Chelsea, this will be a tough defeat to digest, especially after the recent 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City. They will now meet Pep Guardiola’s men again in the final of the Carabao Cup next. Maurizio Sarri is under tremendous amounts of pressure, with the fans now turning on the 60-year-old. The upcoming final almost becomes a season-defining fixture for the Italian and could decide his future at the London club.
Published: Tue Feb 19, 2019 05:22 PM IST