Emma Hayes has moved away from her favorite three-back formation and confirmed her own flexibility by using a 1-4-2-3-1 formation in this season, although she can still adapt to situations. That’s why we may also see her Chelsea in a 1-3-4-2-1 or 1-4-3-3 starting line-ups.
Chelsea defends high and aggressively and the team’s hallmark is intense pressing on central defenders using the entire offensive front four. Moving gradually to the middle block they include very active central midfielders in the pressing, but the basis of their defense in the middle zone is overloading in wide areas forcing rivals to play through the middle.
Once the ball is intercepted the usual pattern is to find one of the two key players in the middle, who depending on the situation on the field, either start a fast play to bring the ball into the offensive third (Kirby) or a more patient playmaking from deep (Cuthbert).
Nevertheless it is the team’s offensive players who are the most frequent target of direct passes in the first transition phase skipping of the second line and entering the half-spaces to receive the ball.
If this maneuver is unsuccessful the team moves to a wide setting in the second line with central defenders who come up higher and circulate in a swinging motion in a 2+3 shape in the side zones or 2+4 in the center.
In the immediate vicinity of the box Hayes players get more freedom to move around, looking for channels to forward between defenders and attempt individual dribbles. The wingers (Reiten, James) then gain in importance coming from wide overloads to look for opportunities to operate closer to the center. Impressive variety in attack and unexpected passing angles are then provided by their 2-3-5 attack shape then.