Tactics: How Chelsea tried to break down Häcken defence

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Jennifer Falk of BK Hacken claims the ball at the feet of Sam Kerr of Chelsea during the UEFA Women's Champions League group stage match between Chelsea FC Women and BK Häcken FF at Stamford Bridge on December 14, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

BK Häcken have done extremely well in the Swedish Damallsvenskan, but have surprised friend and foe with their performances in the UWCL, this was the same against Chelsea. They are pretty good in attack, but their defensive solidity can prove to be difficult for anyone. And, Chelsea did experience that too last week.

Formations: Chelsea vs BK Häcken

Chelsea lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with a back four of Charles-Carter-Buchanan, Perisset, where the full backs were tasked with moving up down the line. Reiten and Rytting-Kaneryd were the wide midfielders but played as wingers in possession of the ball while Cuthbert and Ingle were the controlling midfielders. Kerr and Kirby played as the two-striker duo with Kirby being very dynamic and Kerr slightly more static.

Häcken chose a slightly different formation with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is a more fluid formation in terms of switching in transition phases. they played a double pivot of Bergman-Lundin and Fossdalsa, which gave them more defensive solidity in defensive midfield.

BK Häcken defensive tactics without possession

BK Häcken came to Stamford Bridge with the idea that they needed an excellent defensive performance. They wanted to achieve this by limiting the danger that Chelsea brought to the table from the middle. In other words, Häcken wanted to control the central areas.

In the image above you see the pitch divided into three different areas. Each area has a code for interaction for the defensive side and this is Häcken. The red area is the central zone. This area should be dominated and overloaded at any time. The idea is to have more numbers than Chelsea in this specific area and therefore also have great chance of control. They figured this was how Chelsea created the most danger.

The yellow areas are the half-spaces. This is a good area to create from, but not as vital as dominating the central areas. Some people can cover this area as well, but too many players or too much emphasis will lead to stretching the central areas and then the dominance is gone. This is also the reason why they leave the areas free for Chelsea to attack from.

So how did that look on the pitch? In the image above, you can see how that manifested in the 28th minute of the game. Chelsea recover possession from the middle and you see that Häcken wants to dominate and regain the ball again in the middle. It’s a 6v3 situation, but Chelsea stretch it wide as they have space on both flanks. It’s a dangerous situation but in Häcken’s mind, this would limit the danger from the middle.

Chelsea’s emphasis on wide players

So Chelsea had a lot of space on the wide areas, but how did they make it work for them? How did they make the most of it while not getting into that defensive trap set out by Häcken?

Chelsea made sure they occupied the wide areas and had space to attack that space. Not only because there was space there, but there wasn’t much space in the central areas as shown in how the Häcken players occupied those spaces.

Chelsea had two options on the ball against this defensive display one would work, and one wouldn’t. The thing that didn’t work was inverting when you had the ball.

Rytting-Kaneryd inverts and goes into that busy central area where many Häcken players are. Yes, she can pass the ball back. But the runs being made by Kirby and Kerr will never lead to success. This is because of how Häcken has managed to line up their defensive players. Häcken has set up two diamonds of defenders and therefore this option will lead to a loss of possession because an attacker will be marked/pressed by at least 4 players.

What Chelsea did well

What Chelsea did well was make sure the pace was high enough to switch flanks and force Häcken into errors. How Chelsea did this is as follows. They made sure that Reiten en Rytting-Kaneryd inverted into the middle. This has two advantages:

  1. Dragging a defensive player to more central areas, creates space on the flanks
  2. It gives the opportunity for the attacking fullbacks to move up the pitch

And if we look at the image above, this is exactly what Chelsea did. Reiten inverted and is marked by at least 2 players, but can go to 3 players. At the same time, the flank is open for fullback Charles to move up and make a movement from there.

The next opinion is to cross it into the box, or link up with a more advanced player and come in the box and have a shot herself for either Charles or Perisset. This is in essence how Chelsea tried to break down the Häcken en defence and move forward to more shot opportunities.

Final thoughts

Chelsea didn’t play well against Häcken, but they understood how Häcken was set up to limit their goalscoring opportunities. Emma Hayes recognised that and put emphasis on playing from the flanks and overlapping of fullbacks in attacking phases of the games. This gave Chelsea an advantage over Häcken, but in the end, it’s about individuals creating good opportunities as well. Tactically it was sound, but the execution wasn’t.

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