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Why Chelsea Struggle Against Low Blocks & How Lampard Can Correct This

 A low block is when the defending team have most of their players close to the goal they're protecting. To break down a low block...

 A low block is when the defending team have most of their players close to the goal they're protecting. To break down a low block, the team in possession needs to disorganise a defence often consisting of 8-10 outfield players. Teams can overload areas of the pitch and have players in between the lines to disorganise defences forcing them to lose their shape, thus creating space for the team in possession which can be exploited. For example, pushing on a full back can create a 2v1 against the opposition full-back in wide areas, leading to a centre back moving wider to support the full-back. Creating space in the centre which can be exploited. This happens against us quite a lot. 

Liverpool and Man City use far more pre-rehearsed circuits to break down low blocks. These are movements that are mastered in training. Something they do well is time runs from wide areas into the middle. The aim is to arrive in the centre from wide areas. Starting wide offers spaces to run into by drawing full backs wide but starting central in front of a back 4/5 is easy to defend against. None of our forwards make this type of run enough. Maybe because no-one can pass it to them. 

Football is 11v11 and if a team is defending with a low block often all 11 players are involved. This requires some analysis of our players and their ability to break them down. Essentially, this Chelsea team isn’t suited to breaking teams down who defend deep and if we don’t improve in this area teams will continue to play and continue to beat us using a low block. Lampard needs to find more solutions and needs more from his players. It doesn’t help that no matter the quality of performance it seems players will still play regardless.

Goalkeepers and Defenders

Kepa doesn’t have the range of passing to be considered a football-playing goalkeeper this season, his weight of pass and choice of pass is also below average. He’s currently a huge and expensive problem.

Zouma is a victim of being tall, strong and fast. The perception of him is that he is in cumbersome in possession when actually, he is not. Unlike Rudiger and Christensen, he does try to play passes in between the lines, not with a huge degree of success but he does try. In possession, Rudiger doesn’t offer any more than Christensen. Christensen is composed, tall and slim but not fast or strong, yet the perception is that he must be good in possession. He’s not, he very rarely even attempts a progressive pass. Tomori has potential to be better than the other 3 but has fallen out of favour for some reason, admittedly he was poor against Arsenal. 

Reece James is the only full back who can cross and is often the free man when we set up in possession. Even if James puts in a great cross from the right, it is only Tammy who has a chance of heading it in and even he isn’t prolific in the air despite his size. Loftus-Cheek would be useful in the future as he has shown quality in the air, similar to Ballack.

Azpilicueta is a solid defender but at LB he doesn’t offer much in attack, but he can move into midfield when the ball is on the right to help deal with counter-attacks.  Alonso is a goal threat but can’t defend well enough to play in a 4, he would be useful to have on the bench though. Emerson can’t attack or defend. Despite being mobile and Brazilian he doesn’t offer an attacking threat as good as Alonso or defend as well as Azpilicueta.  


Jorginho will have a lot of the ball against a low block when he plays. Do not fall into the trap of thinking he is controlling the game because he has the ball a lot. Unmarked against a low block he is like a fifth wheel to a car, some will argue he is central when others know he is useless. Newcastle showed that teams don’t need to press him because he can’t hurt teams unless receiving a pass from a right back to him to play first time to the striker. Kovacic and Kante are useful as they can dribble past players thus disorganising defences which are so crucial. Their ability to progress the ball from deeper areas is so important but Kante is often stranded closer to the striker and both Kovacic and Jorghino prefer picking the ball up off the centre backs. Mount has got lots of stick and some of it is justified as his end product hasn’t been good enough, but he is the best midfielder at receiving the ball on the half-turn in between the lines. Barkley has sometimes played with Mount and Jorginho with success but he doesn’t offer creativity or goals consistently so it is no surprise he doesn’t play regularly.


Our wingers are good…. Sometimes. They all have the ability to dribble 1v1 and create but the inconsistency is an issue. Willian has never been consistent for the club hence why Conte fell out with him. He also lacks positional discipline. Width is key against low blocks especially when only 1 of our full-backs can cross, it is vital that wingers create overloads out wide where space often is. Willian drifts inside far too much thus clogging up space in central areas.


Tammy is a decent striker but shouldn’t have to start every single match we play this season. Giroud was poor against West Ham and should play regularly with the Euros on the horizon so I understand the move. But he isn’t starting ahead of Lukaku at Inter so he could have been rotated more here, especially as his wonderful combination play would help as well as being an aerial threat. Batshuayi isn’t capable of starting matches as he can’t hold up the ball or link play - a nightmare against a low block. His only purpose is and has been to come on in games where we already have control and hope we create a chance for him, thinking of Athletico away and Ajax away. Even then he doesn’t even score consistently off the bench.   

Too slow and predictable

A common pattern of play from us against low blocks starts with our centre backs. Now approaching February, none of our centre backs have learned to pass the ball in between the lines regularly. When Jorginho plays he comes short, every time. He gets the ball off the centre backs and plays it to a full back or sometimes a winger who is outside the opposition’s shape. As if our centre backs don’t spend half the game playing the ball to the full-backs anyway.

Against low blocks, it is these players who are free more often than not. Jorginho fails to make progressive passes in between the lines to attackers often playing easy passes from side to side or back to centre backs. Against Newcastle away was a prime example of teams not even needing to defend Jorginho or the centre backs and only moving out to the full-backs once they receive the ball. Everton is also a classic example of teams not pressing our centre backs meaning they overload our midfield with forwards dropping into central midfield positions.  

Playing 4-3-3 leaves 4 players who can’t hurt a team defending in a low block, 5 if you add Azpilicueta or Emerson at Left back. This often leaves us with a front 3, James, Kante and one other midfielder trying to break down low blocks. 6 players trying to disorganise 8-10 outfield players and score is incredibly difficult.

Full backs positioning

Earlier in the season, we struggled with full-backs too high. Reece James has helped this as he can cross brilliantly and has the energy to recover defensively. Azpilicueta hasn’t ever been able to cross a moving ball very well, but this season he’s been marginally better than last season with Sarri drilling him into the same low cross every time but he doesn’t offer a great deal against a low block. Recently Azpilicueta has been tucking in when the ball is on the right which makes a lot of sense with Jorginho in midfield. But as we don’t have a left-footed winger our left side play becomes very predictable and stagnant. This won’t change until we bring in a strong left-back capable of doing everything Reece James can do. Alonso could be used more but he often likes to charge into the box for crosses, would be good when the ball is on the right but less good when a left-winger has possession. Not mentioned Alonso’s powers of recovery when the attack breaks down and he’s in the box.  

Comparisons with previous Chelsea teams

Mourinho’s Chelsea was the last team who were encouraged to make their own decisions in the final third and used patterns of play, a very similar methodology employed by Lampard. Mourinho’s team overloaded the right side with Fabregas, Oscar and Willian in midfield with Ivanovic operating as a right-winger. This forced the opposition to become lopsided defending leaving Hazard 1v1 on the opposite side where the ball could be switched to. If the opposition remained symmetrical those players had the quality to link and create chances for Costa or themselves. We had Matic who used to play quickly and intelligently and Fabregas who is one of the best passers in the last 10 years of the premier league. Teams had to press them and when they did it left space for Oscar and Willian roaming in between the lines or Ivanovic on the wing.

Conte’s first season had no problems dealing with low blocks. High-intensity circuit football with an unusual formation and the perfect players to play it. This gave the opposition huge problems:

- Leave Luiz free and he controls the game brings into play the wingbacks.
- Defend wide and Hazard and Pedro find spaces between the lines.
- Leave the back 3 free entirely and Azpilicueta would cross it into the striker or move into an advanced midfield role creating an overload with Moses, Fabregas and Pedro. Thus disorganising the defence leaving hazard 1v1 and Alonso free
- Remain symmetrical and hope to defend a cross from Azpilicueta or Moses, a through ball from Fabregas or a shot from Pedro.

After Xmas in his second season, we became more reliant on Hazard as the circuits got figured out and Costa had left.

Sarri did struggle to break down low blocks. Passing circuits on a loop with an old fashioned 4-3-3 and the use of the regista. Implemented by October, figured out by November. Sarri’s system needed players to abandon it. We picked up at the end of the season when Kante, RLC and Hazard started dribbling past players disorganising defences and creating space. If teams sat back only Luiz offered any threat with a long ball in behind to Pedro and even a team sat deep enough there wasn’t the space to do that. And in a low block, Jorginho’s first-time pass over the top after receiving it from the right-back is easy to defend when there’s no room in behind and the striker is Higuain, Morata or Giroud.   

What can we do?

We are almost always going to concede at least 1 goal, so we need to score at least 2 to win matches. As shown from previous Chelsea teams, quality players is a big part of it and we lack them at the moment. But there are some things I think we could do a lot better.

Free players need to offer more, these are usually the centre backs, both full-backs (except James) and our deepest midfielder. Our centre backs need to be braver in possession and try to play it into a player in between the lines and show more quality when switching the play. Too often our centre backs play it back and forth to each other before playing to a full-back or a midfielder who has come short. Jorginho needs to do far more in possession to disorganise teams. Against Newcastle away they didn’t press him or the centre backs because they didn’t need to. Jorginho made 104 passes, Christensen 62 and Rudiger 63, out of 229 passes there was only 1 key pass from Jorginho. Compared to the Everton game where the centre backs were also unmarked Kante made 59 passes and Kovacic 68 and 5 key passes between them, Zouma and Christensen made 175 with 0 key passes.
Tomori and Zouma should be the centre back pair and Kante and Kovacic should rotate as a lone midfielder against a low block and sit in front of the defence. As well as offering anything Jorginho does in possession and the ability to dribble Kante can also cover the wide areas better on transition. It would also allow us to play another player in between the lines or someone else who is capable of progressing the ball from deep. Using rotations where if one drops to receive the other creates an overload with a number 10 and a winger. Our centre backs will always be passengers so we can’t afford passengers in midfield. No more Sarri style 4-3-3 in possession against low blocks.  

The forwards also need to contribute more and I think motivation would increase if Lampard actually dropped players who underperformed. Willian seems certain to play as does Mount and Tammy regardless of performance, albeit this is partly due to the lack of adequate depth in the squad. Creativity isn’t a major issue as we are creating chances in matches, we’re just not taking them. Probably as CHO has 1 league goal, Willian has never been prolific, Pulisic is suffering from injuries, as is Pedro. Abraham is doing well but doesn't yet have a creative spark and Mount’s goals have dried up. Willian averages 2.1 key passes per game, Mount, Kante, Pulisic and Azpilicueta all average over 1.2 as well.  But Tammy has missed 14 big chances, Pulisic 6 and Mount 4.

Ultimately, Chelsea at least need to sign a progressive LB, a creative / clinical outlet to replace Willian and an adequate back-up for Tammy.

To Summarise, a 4-2-3-1 with a rotating duo of Kante and Kovacic with a 10 in front of them would be the best solution. Kepa – James, Zouma, Tomori, Azpilicueta – Kovacic, Kante – CHO, Mount, Pulisic – Abraham. But there is room for rotation amongst the 3 attacking midfielders.

Written by - @benbell98

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