Hull City: 23. Marshall // 7.Meyler, 14. Livermore, 6. Davies, 3. Robertson // 11. Clucas, 25. Mason, 22. Henriksen // 10. Snodgrass, 18.Mbokani, 20. Diamonde
Chelsea: 1. Courtois // 24. Cahill, 30. Luiz, 28. Azpilicueta // 15. Moses, 7. Kante, 21. Matic, 3. Alonso // 22. Willian, 19. Costa, 10.Hazard
Chelsea were coming off the back of a lacklustre trio of results. A controversial 2-2 draw at the Liberty with Swansea, a reality check at home in a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool & a humbling 3-0 defeat at the Emirates to rivals Arsenal, a defeat which offered a turning point; a chance for Conte to wipe the board clean & start fresh whilst the season was still in its infancy. Chelsea were 8th heading into this fixture but little did they know that this result would spark a monumental change in regards to the rest of the campaign.
Hull, however, were experiencing a dissimilar type of turmoil prior to the game. Off field problems had hindered Mike Phelan’s respectable start. Despite winning 2 out of his first 3 games in charge, he had only picked up a single point in the next 3 games by the team Chelsea strolled into town. Add into the mix owner Assem Allam’s disruptive interventions, Hull as a club weren’t as near as prepared for a football match let alone a 38 game season. Neither side had reason to be pompous yet neither had any reason to believe a win was beyond them.
Versatile pressing disrupts Hull’s first phase:
Chelsea’s front three would press narrowly when the ball is central & then the wingers would press the corresponding full backs whilst being backed up by their own wingback. This would make it hard for Hull to enter Chelsea’s half.
In order to bypass Chelsea’s high organisation, Hull would attempt to utilise the half-spaces in order to sneak in behind Chelsea’s first line of pressing. This required intelligent movement from Ryan Mason & Markus Henriksen, as they had to vacate the centre areas at just the right time to avoid leaving Sam Clucas to face a counter-attack alone. Henriksen struggled at this, partly because he was playing on the same side as makeshift right back David Meyler (a central midfielder by trade) but his mediocre comprehension of space vacation was part of the reason why he drifted in & out of the game. Mason, on the other hand, found this role simple & would wonder into the left half-space with relative ease as he turned at various angles in order to open up space towards Chelsea’s goal. The few chances Hull created were a result of Mason’s passing ability & superior spatial awareness in comparison to his teammates.
Clucas’ inability to play on the half-turn meant Hull’s 1st phase was largely ineffective, making their 2nd phase relatively inactive which ultimately caused their 3rd phase to be non-existent. Once Chelsea reverted to a 3-4-3 defensive shape, it enabled Chelsea to cover all 5 vertical passing lanes resulting in Hull being unable to use the half-spaces the way they did. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 allowed them to overload the wings which would make it imperative for the opposition winger to drop back or risk conceding a chance. With an opposition winger defending it would significantly reduce his attacking threat. This allowed Chelsea to simply recycle the ball using the wing backs in order to re-organize themselves.
Weak Hull counter-press exposed:
Chelsea scored their second goal 6 minutes after their first. A poor ball from David Meyler was intercepted & cleared to Nemanja Matic by Marcos Alonso, surprisingly (or rather alarmingly if you’re Marcos Silva) Matic had no immediate danger in front of him, allowing him to carry the ball from behind the half-way line to Hull’s penalty area before being put into the net by Diego Costa.
Matic was allowed to run on for so long due to the fact that Hull had fallen into Chelsea’s zonal invitations to try & open up the half-spaces when they were very much closed. Once Chelsea had claimed the ball Hull lacked the players to fully activate a counter-press which left Hull’s remaining defenders having to choose either sticking to the original plan & stick to their positions or act according to the situation & close Matic down. In the end, whatever (if any) decision was made it came out rather terrible as Diego Costa had time to make himself comfortable before compounding Hull’s miseries.
This was uncharacteristic of Hull as they had shown signs of positive communication & pressing during moments throughout the game but on this occasion, in particular, they were made to look like the unsystematic club they are.
Chelsea defending crosses:
When Chelsea are expecting a cross or are defending when the ball is in a wide area, they automatically revert to a flat back 5 system. This is done in order to cover all 5 vertical lanes and their zonal marking approach makes it hard to find gaps in between the defenders. In this instance, David Luiz has decided to go with Mbokani as Marcos Alonso was recovering his position. Nemanja Matic filled David Luiz’s spot & his towering height provides added security to Chelsea’s defence (even though Hull had one player in the box). Kante’s position is also important as his endless running provides a link between Chelsea’s 3rd & 2nd when they are under pressure. He stays on the edge of the box as it is a vantage point for tracking late runners & picking up any knockdowns from crosses.
So far Chelsea have already been instilled with heavy defensive organisation and Conte’s Italian twist during his revamp of Chelsea seems to carry perks but the chinks in the system remain to be exposed. Should Conte persistently fine tune his 3-4-3, he may reap the rewards soon enough.