It took them over two-hundred minutes and a penalty shootout, but the Blues finally made their way to the fourth round of FA Cup. Expecting such a struggle from the Premier League champions against a team from the second tier league is unconvincing. But unfortunately, that’s the case.
Chelsea’s attacking style
Since the opponents were forepressing them to gain possession, Chelsea relied on route-one passing to relieve the pressure in the initial minutes. This also forced some loose back or side passes which lost possession to the away team. But as Pedro started to drop back to collect the ball and provide for the attack, the Blues’ passing got into rhythm.
As Chelsea started to set their foot in Norwich’s half, their front line turned to disturb the opponent’s backline in their buildup forcing them to make long passes. This allowed Chelsea to gain possession.
Like the first leg match against Norwich City, Chelsea used the central plane and deeper areas to penetrate in between the opponent’s centre-mids. They often pass sideways to keep the ball circulated until they find space in deeper regions where they can hold the ball and look for further attacking. To facilitate this, Pedro or Batshuayi kept dropping and cutting in between the lines to allow Chelsea to penetrate and make space at the front. However, the Norwich backline remained rigid in its position to press any Chelsea player bumping forward. Thus, as soon as any Chelsea forward collected the ball in the deeper region, this resulted in passing back into Chelsea’s half.
This way a lot of time was devoted to backward or sideways passing. Although the back passes were meant to maintain possession, they were often executed so carelessly that the opponents won the first balls. The same chaos was seen in their clearances of key passes and shots conceded. The clearances from the box were not strong enough and could have been dangerous if Chelsea’s defence was not crowded.
But Chelsea were overall better in possession. They penetrated the attacking third more than the opponents did. They made long passes from deep behind to the deep front whenever they got under pressure.
As the second half began, Norwich targeted Chelsea’s deeper region to regain possession by double marking. Chelsea didn’t get to stay in the opponent’s half for ten minutes of the second half until they got a throw in which resulted in a goal. After receiving the throw-in in Norwich’s half, Willian dribbled farther from the goal line to drag his opponent leaving space for Kenedy at the extreme width. The Brazilian then sent a flat pass in front of the goal which Batshuayi headed back into the net. The way Batshuayi crippled out of the defenders to finish Kenedy’s assist is a kind of move Chelsea have been in need and expecting from Morata.
Bakayoko is catching up
The only improvement observed in the match was Bakayoko’s performance. He maintained good midfield stability in partnership with Drinkwater. While Drinkwater pushed out wide to the right flank to help in passing and possession at the wing, Bakayoko moved to a more central position to help in distribution. The French international often pressed the opponents and forced them to pass back, resulting Chelsea in winning possession. It is clear that Bakayoko is better when he plays in a more defensive role than he does in a more advanced area both in terms of distribution and positional defensive stability.
Norwich continued to be stubborn
Norwich used 3-4-1-2 to match Chelsea’s structure. The front three were always there to forepress Chelsea’s backline. They often pressed Chelsea in the central regions to push their game back. But the away team mostly got possession from Chelsea due to the loose attacking or finishing attempts from the later. Other than that, the Canaries relied on counterattacking as Chelsea were enjoying higher possession. They made long passes to initiate counters to penetrate into Chelsea’s half. But they couldn’t make any effective attacking move to make their way into the box.
Since their long passes were ineffective and lost them possession, Norwich also multi-pressed Chelsea players to win possession, especially the ones isolated in their region. They often double marked Zappacosta or Willian at the right wing and won possession. For the last part of the second half, they used Chelsea’s right flank to penetrate given the lack of width by Chelsea. Concentrating on the right flank also allowed Norwich to compress Chelsea so as to make space on the other flank.
Switching to 3-5-2
Chelsea used 3-4-2-1 for the majority of the game until the last ten minutes of the second half when they switched to 3-5-2 with Morata and Pedro at the front. This was meant to stop the consecutive counters from Norwich and have stability at the midfield. However, this was not effective in any way. Having only two men at the front cost Chelsea to reduce their forepressing power and get fewer bodies in the final third which could have helped sustain possession there. As a result, Chelsea lost the share of their action in the attacking third which meant more action in their own half. This was not a smart move when facing an opponent who were actively pressing at the front.
A few minutes after switching to 3-5-2, Chelsea conceded the equalizer. With Zappacosta moving more inside and caring less of the wing, Norwich always had the option to exploit the width. They now used it effectively at the stoppage time. As Zappacosta was not aggressively marking Klose at the wing, the later found space and sent a high cross to an almost unmarked Lewis who headed it into the goal. Thus, shifting the defensive concentration from front to back further exposed Chelsea’s unstructured defence in the box.