Chelsea impressed in Amsterdam as they defeated Ajax to leave them 2nd in Group H, so what has this win taught us ahead of their game against Burnley on Saturday?
Chelsea’s Centre Backs Still Susceptible to Press:
Despite restricting Ajax to an xG of 0.45, Chelsea did occasionally show signs of frailty at the back. Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma have shown a susceptibility to being pressed high, and this was evident once again, particularly in the opening periods of the game.
There were warning signs after just a minute as a mistake from Tomori was pounced upon by the Ajax attackers, and this allowed them to break quickly at the Chelsea backline. In a game where Chelsea’s shape defensively was so impressive, reducing these errors will be key for Chelsea moving forward in tight games, as the high positioning of full backs in attacks leaves them susceptible to quick breaks. It is an area to note moving forward, as the shape of Chelsea (shown below) will leave them open to quick breaks, and is definitely an area opposition can exploit, potentially through a targeted press of the Chelsea centre backs.
However, once the ball was moved into midfield with Kovacic and Jorginho, Chelsea were able to break quickly and exploit spaces in behind, and their counter attacking prowess came to the fore, led by the impressive Callum Hudson-Odoi, and aided by the energy and perseverance of Mason Mount.
If the avenues to the midfield are effectively shut off, Tomori and Zouma can be pressed and forced into mistakes, however as Chelsea proved, if they can play through this press, they have the personnel to make teams pay on the break.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was influential for Chelsea, however there was room for improvement in his performance, as his decision making and effectiveness on the ball at times could be called into question. He often found himself in threatening positions in the Ajax final third, however as shown below, he often struggled to pick the right pass (completing 50% of his passes in the final third), and this is an area he will be looking to improve upon in the coming games.
He also fired wide when placed well after 25 minutes, but nevertheless, he showed good awareness to find the space in the box, and is a promising sign that he continues to find himself in these strong attacking positions.
Despite these concerns, it was still a promising performance from the young Englishman, as his pace and positioning on the break was integral to Chelsea’s game plan, and offered his side a key outlet in breaking the Dutch pressure.
It was a bold selection from Lampard to select Hudson-Odoi, and he repaid his managers faith, as he put in a notable shift defensively. Moving forward, it increases the trust Lampard can have in the winger in big games regarding his defensive work rate, and will offer a key outlet when required to sit in against sides such as Ajax in the future.
An area of worry heading into the game against a physical Burnley side is that Lampard’s side are struggling to defend set pieces, and Ajax were once again able to target this area. Hitting the post after 58 minutes from a corner, Martinez was able to lose Marcos Alonso too easily, and if they are to continue to struggle with set pieces, it could be a major worry on the weekend.
Match winner Michy Batshuayi was introduced for Abraham after 71 minutes, and in those 19 minutes the Belgian highlighted his ability to find himself in goalscoring positions. Firing over after 73 minutes with a guilt-edged opportunity, he redeemed himself on 85 minutes with the winner. His shot map shows the positions he was able to find himself, and moving forward is a promising sign. He represents an excellent option from the bench for Chelsea, and when games need killing off in particular, he excels. He will need to improve his finishing moving forward, but it is equally promising to see the number of chances he was afforded.
Looking ahead to the Burnley match, a few angles from a betting point of view have stood out. Given Chelsea’s susceptibility from set pieces, James Tarkowski or Ben Mee to have a shot on target takes an appeal, especially given Burnley’s direct nature of play. Not priced at time of writing, it is certainly a market to keep a keen eye on.
If Batshuayi is to feature, even off the bench, his intelligent positioning and ability to get shots away means he also takes appeal on the shot markets. Potentially one to look at in play if used off the bench, the Belgian is priced at 1/1 (William Hill) to score anytime, which is a little on the short side given he may not start. However, this price will be much larger in play if used as a substitute, and as a result is another to look into.
Given the positions that Callum Hudson-Odoi constantly found himself in against Ajax in the final third, he is of interest when priced at 11/4 (SkyBet) to get an assist on Saturday against Burnley. However, it is worth approaching this with a level of caution as the game will take a different shape and the Englishman won’t have the same level of space to exploit as against the Dutch side.