Three days before visiting Stamford Bridge, Huddersfield went to Manchester City and held the champions to a 0-0 draw. Chelsea appeared to learn very little from that match.
Huddersfield played the same defence, the same tactics and same formation in both fixtures. Despite the complete lack of surprises, Chelsea could not break down, overcome or create openings in Huddersfield’s protective structure.
The similarities between the two matches are uncanny, even at the statistical level. Manchester City had 79% possession, Chelsea had 78%. City had 10 corners, Chelsea nine. Manchester City had 3.7 times as many passes as Huddersfield, Chelsea had 3.3 times as many. Here are four areas where the Blues should have been better prepared to break down the survivalists.
1. Long-range shots: Pedro and Willian were trigger-shy
Chelsea took 22 shots against Huddersfield, seven more than Manchester City did. However, the Terriers blocked half of the Blues’ shots. Seven of the 11 blocked shots came from within the penalty area, and all were from the centre of the pitch. City, on the other hand, took six of their 15 shots from outside the box. Huddersfield blocked three of those, and two of the blocked shots were from the centre.
Huddersfield played a narrow and compact defence in both games. When pressed back into their box, the spacing of the three lines of defenders were like a lattice. They took away any clear lane towards goal. If the shot went between two of the defenders at the top of the box, it would hit one of the defenders at the middle line. If it deflected off of one of them, the back-line defenders would keep it away from goal. As a result, only five of Chelsea’s 22 shots reached Jonas Lossl.
Pedro and Willian have cemented their reputations at Chelsea by scoring shots from the top of the box. Both can curl a ball from 20 yards into the top corner, arcing it over and through traffic in the box. Willian is highly adept at shooting while moving laterally across the top of the box, painting either corner off his right foot. His lateral movement lets him pick up the ball centrally, and then dribble to a sharper angle before unleashing his shot.
Neither player created these opportunities. Together, they combined for only three shots. Antonio Rudiger – the centre-back – had five shots, while Marcos Alonso – the wing-back – had four. Of those three shots, only one was on goal: a 25-yard effort from Willian at a sharp angle to the far post.
Huddersfield’s positioning in both games and Manchester City’s shooting map showed the importance of shooting from distance and at angles. Once the ball came into the box, Huddersfield threw no fewer than three bodies towards it. In doing so they risked a pinball into the net, such as the one off Marcos Alonso’s face for the Blues’ lone goal. But that was a worthwhile risk, since the high-probability options were the shots from outside the box. The ones Chelsea did not take, despite having two players who otherwise specialize in such opportunities.