Manchester United vs Chelsea- A Tactical Analysis

In the game of the weekend, Chelsea travel to Old Trafford hoping to stop the run of draws after dropping points in the final minute in their 3-3 draw against Southampton and failing to score in their midweek champions league match against Sevilla. Whereas United have turned around their poor domestic start with impressive victories on the road dismissing Newcastle 4-1 and escaping victorious from Paris beating PSG 2-1 thanks to a late Marcus Rashford goal. Chelsea head into this one with a better record in this game edging it 18 wins to United’s 17. However, in their last visit to they were emphatically beaten 4-0 in the opening day of last season with Rashford (2), Anthony Martial and Daniel James getting on the score sheet. A defeat for Manchester United here means that they could lose their opening three home league matches for only the second time in their history and first since 1930, when they finished bottom of the First Division. However, the omens don’t look good for Chelsea either as the Blues have conceded 63 goals in 43 Premier League matches under Lampard at an average of 1.5 goals per game - the worst rate of any permanent Blues boss.


Here’s how the teams lined up heading into this one:


Full Time Score: Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea

In a game dominated in defensive solidarity neither side managed to find the target in a close and tight encounter. The game mainly consisted of half chances with the 2 best openings falling to Rashford who went close twice but was denied both times by fine reflex stops from Chelsea stopper Edouard Mendy. The expected goals (xG) showed that Man United had better chances with a score of 0.65 compared to Chelsea’s 0.22, which is emphasised in the xG timeline showing they were a more consistent threat. United looked the side more likely to score with 14 shots to Chelsea’s 6, which meant Chelsea had more defensive actions with more interceptions, clearances and blocks. The shot map below proves United were better going forward and were the more dominant side.

Shot map showing shots on goal from all distances

A key part of the game was the involvement or therefore lack of involvement of the 2 sides integral and creative players, Bruno Fernandes and Kai Havertz. Both players are a fundamental part of the sides attacking fluidity and are the catalyst for goal scoring chances. During the game both players were looking to get on the ball in dangerous areas to combine and create with forward players. Fernandes was primarily more involved with almost double the amount of touches than Havertz however the German was substituted in the 71st minute for Mason Mount. Fernandes had more shots and a higher passing accuracy with the Portuguese recording 77.6% to Havertz’s 75%. Here’s a closer look at how the 2 compared below:


From a tactical perspective Chelsea attempted to start their attacks by playing out from the back with Mendy looking to find Cezar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma. This would result in United transitioning from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 out of possession to press man for man against the Chelsea back 3. Juan Mata would drop in from wide right creating a midfield 3 of Mata and Fred either side of Scott McTominay. This would mean Fernandes would join Rashford and James as a front 3 who looked to use their energy to press high and attempt to force mistakes. This was a constant theme of the game with Chelsea defenders recording the highest number of passes and therefore highest pass completion percentages out of every Chelsea player. Silva with the highest pass accuracy (93.9%) and the highest number of total passes (82), who was only surpassed by his international teammate Fred with the highest number of total passes (83) in the game. This was a United attempt to prevent passes being played between the lines into Chelsea’s 2 pivot players, Ngolo Kante and Jorginho. This was deemed successful with Chelsea only managing 20% of their attacks through the middle. Furthermore, Kante and Jorginho had the 6th and 5th highest touches from any Chelsea player respectively. United were joined in the press by midfielders McTominay, Fred and Mata limiting Chelsea to pass wide into wing backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell.

United front 3 cutting passing lanes in Chelsea pivot players

As a result of central areas being tight and congested, Chelsea looked to bypass this central press by either switching wide to wing backs or playing into vacant half spaces. These spaces would be occupied by Havertz and Christian Pulisic who would look to drive forward into space in front of them. These players dropping in meant they couldn’t be tracked by defenders and would have to be screened and hassled by Fred and McTominay. Fred was mainly assigned with dealing with Havertz in those areas, allowing Fernandes to drop inside and pick up the nearest pivot player, most commonly Jorginho. This was replicated on the right-hand side with Pulisic dropping in tracked by McTominay, subsequently Fernandes was marked by Kante.


With Fred attracted to Chelsea pivot, Havertz is free in half space

As a result of central areas being cramped, a lot of Chelsea’s attacks relied on getting the ball wide into their wingbacks. This meant United full backs were drawn out from their shape leaving spaces to be exploited by 3rd man runners such as Havertz or Pulisic. Once the ball was played into Chilwell for example, space was left vacant behind McTominay from advancing midfielders as a result of Aaron Wan-Bissaka being drawn in and McTominay not tracking a runner in behind. This mean the United defence would have to shuffle over leaving time and space for Havertz to get on the ball between the lines. He could possibly switch play once more to the advancing Reece James, or look to slip through Timo Werner in the channels.

Whereas United also looked to build up using their centre backs where possible on many occasions. Once with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, option inside of Fred and McTominay where marked in front by Havertz and Pulisic respectively and marked behind by Jorginho and Kante. This meant Fernandes would look to drop in to create an overload in central areas to play through lines and bypass the press. However, this option was considered risky due to a congested area leaving not much room for a central pass at risk of a transition turnover. This often occurred in a long ball looking to either find Fernandes between the lines would look to find Rashford over the top to chase as a result of Chelsea defenders looking to join the press. United struggled to play out as Chelsea wing backs were always high out of possession in final third to prevent United full backs from getting forward. This is emphasised with Luke Shaw and Wan-Bissaka having the 2nd and 3rd highest touches out of any United player with 93 and 96 respectively. In addition, 42% of United’s attacks started down the left-hand side implying that Shaw looked to get forward to combine and create with Fred and Dan James.

Chelsea pressure prevents United building up forcing long to win 2nd balls.

United much like Chelsea, struggled to spark any creativity in the final third even after the introduction of new signing Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba. Rashford was reliant on his pace over the top and players around him to feed off scraps from longer range passes. Rashford also tested Mendy twice with a shot from the edge of the box after being put through, and a late curling effort parried away by the Chelsea keeper. Cavani also had a snapshot from a corner narrowly wide at the front post shortly after being introduced. Both managers will be happy with solid defensive displays with Solskjaer happy that his side created the better chances and will hope to convert them against German outfit RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday. Whereas Lampard and Chelsea will aim to be more expressive in the final third but will be happy with a composed and calm back line as a result of dealing with pressure well. With Chelsea travelling to Krasnodar they will be looking to get the best out of their attacking talents to end a run of 3 consecutive draws.


This article was written by Tom Carter

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