The Blues successfully qualified for the fifth round of the FA Cup with their 3-0 win over the Magpies. Thanks to their goal-leading speedy plays and Alonso’s set-piece which clearly upset the opponents and forced them to keep defending for the majority of the game. The opponent mostly got possession in their defensive zone just after they cleared or broke Chelsea’s respective attacking run. But as the away team had only a few bodies forward to carry on their play, they mostly ended up losing possession to Chelsea while showing very few glimpses of offensive threats in the second quarter. Though that’s too due to Chelsea’s still-prevailing defensive flaws whenever they concede a quick attack or high press.
Chelsea’s play headed to left-wing
Chelsea deployed a 3-4-3 set up with Batshuayi as a false nine and Pedro and Hazard as the inside forwards. However, unlike the prior fixtures, Hazard didn’t assume the central role but as the left inside forward. This caused the Blues to divert their play to the left. Pedro, too, often shifted to the left wing to facilitate his teammates when in possession. However, the opponents outnumbered the respective Chelsea players in possession to block their route forward via the left wing, even though Alonso, Kante, and Hazard were all structured around the flank to make their way. Thus, there were a lot of interceptions and possession battles on the left flank up to the attacking wing.
Newcastle’s tight pressing game
Newcastle played with a 5-3-2 formation unlike their last clash when they got threatened by Chelsea’s back-to-back counters. The back-5 setup was meant to hold up Chelsea offensively by forming a low block. Another motive behind the formation was to press the in-possession home team tightly in a man-to-man fashion from the defensive zone up to the midfield.
The opponent full-backs closely marked Chelsea’s wing-backs, especially in the defensive zone. Hazard got closed down by multiple presses whenever he got into the attacking third with the ball or was about to receive a pass in that area. Kante, who often became the source of distribution around the left wing, was constantly blocked being the midfielder. This forced Chelsea to shift their game to the right flank since the opponents were compressed at the left while outnumbering and pressing the home team there. With quick shifts to the right flank, Zappacosta tried to create or help in attacks from there at different instances but Chelsea’s attacking run got ended every time the ball got into the opponent box.
Chelsea did enjoy most of the possession and made frequent attacks, but the tight press of the Magpies at the back left the Blues stuck in their attacking third with no way to find the net. Yet, as the away team were concentrated in their own half, their clearances of most of the attacking threats via long passes caused Chelsea to gain possession back near the half way line. And the home team kept up with their attacking, yet goalless, streak.
Pedro’s quick switch-plays
The Magpies were too aggressive with their press that they were willing to leave their positions to follow their respective opponent. Since their formation was outnumbering Chelsea in the central region being 6v5, the one spare man moved to the back to cover for the space opened by his teammates in tracking down Chelsea’s advanced players. In such a situation, the only way for Chelsea to exploit these spaces at the right time was to execute quick transitions from defence to attack while dragging the opposing defenders out of position. In the first quarter, Hazard did drag his opponent leaving space for Pedro who dribbled up quickly in space and passed to Alonso.
Although the followed-up attacking run got disturbed by the press at the left width near the touchline and later saved by Darlow, this prompted Chelsea to open up the opponent’s low block press with a quick switch-play or counter.
The fast switch plays forced the Newcastle defenders to leave their positions earlier. The strategy which then finally worked was that only Pedro, rather than Hazard, would drop deepest to instantly transit the game while Hazard and Batshuayi would remain more advanced than him for the attacking runs, making a 3-4-1-2 shape. One such passing play led to Chelsea’s first goal of the game followed by Pedro’s long cross back from the deep.
Then in the box when Hazard passed to Alonso, Lascelles left Batshuayi unmarked to block the path of Alonso since the latter was also in a perfect position to find the net. But the wing-back passed to Batshuayi who was now open and the striker hit the back of the net. The 1v1 press was still there but the quick cross passing of the three nullified it.
For Chelsea’s second goal too, Pedro at the back tackled Hayden, who had just dribbled past Drinkwater en route to the box, and flipped the ball to Batshuayi. The striker then initiated the goal-leading counter. This time, Newcastle were not pressing individually in their half but instead playing a high-pressing game following the first goal. That’s why they couldn’t settle in time to stop the counter. Yet, the away team went back to their low block pressing for the second period of the game.