Talking Tactics

Summer Series: What we learned from the opening round

By Adrian Clarke 24 Jul 2023
Jackson and Buendia

Fluid formations, high lines and much more. Adrian Clarke analyses the first three matches of the tournament

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Summer Series highlights: Newcastle 3-3 Aston Villa
Summer Series highlights: Chelsea 4-3 Brighton
Summer Series highlights: Fulham 3-2 Brentford

Adrian Clarke reviews the first three matches of the Premier League Summer Series.

Chelsea 4-3 Brighton & Hove Albion

Summer signings Nicolas Jackson and Joao Pedro stole the show in Philadelphia with a pair of stellar second-half performances.

Chelsea's new striker Jackson, 22, delivered a goal and two assists, all within 11 minutes, during an incredibly bright showing of an absorbing contest.

His link-up play was exquisite for Mykhailo Mudryk’s glorious strike, swapping a couple of sharp one-twos in quick succession with the Ukrainian on the edge of the box.

The Senegal international was also involved twice in the build-up for Conor Gallagher’s goal, making calm and accurate passes in and around the box.

He scored from a trademark 1v1, too, racing on to a sublime Marc Cucurella through-ball down the centre of the pitch.

If opposing teams hold a high line against Chelsea this season, Jackson’s pace and movement will ensure this type of goal is replicated on numerous occasions.

See: Clarke's analysis of Jackson's style

Joao Pedro was also eye-catching for Brighton, with his quick feet and acceleration causing Chelsea's defence a host of problems.

The forward's dribble across the box won a penalty that he converted.

The 21-year-old also set up Deniz Undav’s late consolation goal with a delightful dribble and cutback inside the area.

He was often used as a No 10 at his previous club Watford, but Joao Pedro's display may persuade Roberto De Zerbi to deploy him as a main striker.

See: De Zerbi - Joao Pedro hands me selection headache

Positives for De Zerbi

Brighton will be disappointed to have conceded four goals, but for most of this match they were the more cohesive side.

In a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, they moved the ball well, rotated positions cleverly, and created several chances.

De Zerbi will also have been delighted to see his side score from a set-piece.

They only scored six set-piece goals in 2022/23, but Danny Welbeck’s opener came from a smart move developed on the training ground.

From a short corner, Brighton forged a 3v2 overload before identifying space at the far post for Kaoru Mitoma to run into and knock the ball down for Welbeck to score.

Pochettino’s tactics

Maurico Pochettino set Chelsea up in a 4-2-3-1 in both halves of this thriller.

Out of possession they wanted to press when Brighton played out from the back, but on occasion they also dropped into a mid-block to deny the Seagulls space.

We did not see a great deal of controlled possession until Brighton were reduced to 10 men on the hour mark, but down the wings Chelsea were lively throughout.

Left-back Ben Chilwell produced a buccaneering first-half performance, while Mudryk was electric for spells of the second period down the same side.

Fulham 3-2 Brentford

Fulham’s passing under pressure from their west London rivals was superb in their Summer Series opener.

Brentford tried to suffocate them with their closing down, but Marco Silva’s side looked very well coached, bypassing them on numerous occasions with calm one and two-touch football.

Harry Wilson’s opening goal typified Fulham’s quality. The Wales international rounded off a slick seven-pass team move that began with goalkeeper Marek Rodak

Inverted wingers make an impact

Silva and his opposite number Thomas Frank like deploying wingers who cut inside on to their stronger foot to shoot, and this was a theme of the contest.

Wilson’s screamer owed much to a well-timed overlap from Kenny Tete that created a 2v1 with Rico Henry, who couldn’t get close enough to prevent the goal.

Fulham Summer Series 1

Bryan Mbeumo, from another quick switch of play, almost scored a near-identical goal, cutting inside before striking the far post from outside the box.

Right-back Mads Roerslev’s decoy run distracted Antonee Robinson enough to allow Mbeumo time to line up his left-footed shot.

Bobby De Cordova-Reid’s goal, Fulham’s second of the match, was another example of a winger chopping the ball inside before firing a powerful shot from distance.

In the second period, Willian forced David Raya into the best save of the contest too, driving infield before whipping a terrific right-foot shot towards the far corner.

Inverted wingers were key figures in this derby duel.

Newcastle United 3-3 Aston Villa

All three Aston Villa goals against Newcastle United stemmed from well-constructed moves that began deep inside their own half.

Newcastle elected to push five or six men forward in a bid to stop Villa playing through the thirds, but Unai Emery’s side made them pay for emptying their central midfield.

For their opener, Emiliano Buendia made a clever out-to-in run from the left to show for a clipped pass by Emiliano Martinez.

It left him in a 1v1 duel with Sandro Tonali, and as soon as he nicked the ball past the Italian a 4v3 was created, from which Ollie Watkins scored.

John McGinn isolated Tonali in a similar manner for their second, receiving an Ezri Konsa pass out from defence, catching the Magpies' summer signing off guard.

On that occasion the breakaway he sparked was finished off by Buendia.

After half-time we saw 17-year-old midfielder Omari Kellyman drift in from the right to receive a forward pass out from the back, and within seconds Villa broke down the centre to score once more.

Emery will have been thrilled at the way his team sprung full-pitch breakaways that circumvented the Newcastle press.

Villa’s high line exposed

One of the most pronounced tactical features of this six-goal thriller was the way Villa’s defence squeezed up towards the halfway line to congest space.

It was an effective ploy in many respects, denying the Magpies’ midfield time on the ball, but on occasion it did leave their back four exposed.

Martinez stood in an advanced position to sweep up balls knocked in behind, but Elliot Anderson did punish Villa with a brilliantly timed run from deep to score.

Aston Villa Summer Series

Villa played well in this encounter but if they choose to persist with this high-line strategy in 2023/24, they do have some refinements to make.

At times it was a little too easy for their opponents to turn them with well-placed passes into the zone between their defensive line and goalkeeper.

Tomorrow: What to look out for on Matchday 2

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