Cardiff vs Chelsea: Contrasting tactical styles compared

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Cardiff host Chelsea live on Sky Sports this Sunday with both clubs desperate for points at polar ends of the table - and it should be an intriguing contest between two very different styles of play.

Neil Warnock's side experienced a harsh top-flight lesson at Stamford Bridge in September when Sol Bamba scored an early opener, but Eden Hazard hit back with a hat-trick before Willian sealed a 4-1 win.


The contrast between the approaches of managers Neil Warnock and Maurizio Sarri was evident on the day and, ahead of the reverse fixture in Wales, we examine a range of statistics to highlight just how radically different the two teams are in their approach...

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Cardiff are struggling to secure top-flight survival with just eight games to go and have talismanic defender Bamba sidelined with an ACL injury - but their form has picked up significantly in recent weeks.

The graphic below shows Cardiff's five-game average for expected goals scored and conceded - which reveals the true quality of chances at both ends of the pitch - and suggests Warnock's side are rekindling their form from late last year.


In contrast, Chelsea have typically created an inferior number of chances to their opponents in recent games - suggesting Sarri's side have hit a season low in form, while sitting three points shy of fourth-placed Arsenal in sixth spot.


Formations & changes

In terms of formations, Sarri is the only manager in the Premier League this season to start every game in the same formation - using a 4-3-3 in each of his 30 top-flight games as Blues boss.

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Conversely, Warnock has experimented with a joint-league-high 11 formations, using a 4-1-4-1 on 13 occasions and a 4-4-1-1 seven times, while achieving impressive wins against Wolves and Southampton with three-at-the-back systems.

Mounting pressure appears to be forcing Warnock and Sarri into making more line-up changes recently, with both teams making a season-high five changes one month ago and shuffling the pack in both games since.

Despite making more changes to his starting XI in recent weeks, Sarri's preference for consistency is reinforced by eight of his squad completing in excess of 2,000 minutes this term - with Cesar Azpilicueta completing every minute.

In contrast, five Cardiff players have clocked 2,000 minutes or more in the Premier League during this campaign: Neil Etheridge, Bruno Manga, Bamba, Sean Morrison and Victor Camarasa.


The graphic below shows where both team's average activity has occurred, and reveals how Cardiff typically sit back and fire long passes to the wings.

In contrast, Chelsea record considerable clusters of activity in the centre-circle region - where Jorginho typically conducts play - and down the wide attacking thirds, the domain of star man Eden Hazard.


The interactive graphic below shows the teams' average positions and passing combinations during their clash at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.

Warnock's side only achieved 23 per cent possession on the day, with Joe Ralls (No 8) sinking deeper and protecting the two centre-backs.

Cardiff attempted, when possible, to advance in wide positions - down the right with Bruno Manga (No 5) and Victor Camarasa (No 21) and the left with Joe Bennett (No 3) and Junior Hoilett (No 33). But Chelsea's diamond shape and superior possession paid dividends on the day.

Season stats


Eden Hazard says Chelsea 'must' qualify for the Champions League
Image: Eden Hazard is Chelsea's top goalscorer with 13 league goals - in addition to creating a team-topping 76 chances

Unsurprisingly, the London club have created far more goalscoring chances than their Welsh hosts this term, in addition to attempting more shots and dribbles - scoring almost twice as many goals.


General play

Sarri has implemented his possession-based passing style at Chelsea, known as Sarri-ball, which has seen the London club's average number of passes increase by 23 per cent this season.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho in action against Manchester United
Image: Jorginho has made a team-topping 2,554 passes in the Premier League this season

Chelsea have the league's second-highest average possession with 65 per cent, behind only Manchester City - while Cardiff have a league-low 34.6 per cent.

However, the Welsh club have recorded superior numbers for long passes and aerials this season - suggesting an obvious tactical plan to deploy on Sunday.



Sol Bamba during the Premier League match between Cardiff City and Burnley FC at Cardiff City Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom.
Image: Sol Bamba is sidelined with an ACL injury but has made a team-topping 30 blocks for Cardiff in the Premier League this season - in addition to being the club's joint-top scorer with four goals

The contrast between the clubs also bears out at the back, where Warnock's side have conceded almost twice as many goals as their upcoming visitors, shipping 57 compared with Chelsea's 33.

Cardiff have typically sat back and soaked up pressure, which has produced superior numbers across a raft of defensive stats, including blocks, clearances, interceptions, duels and tackles.



Cardiff midfielder Harry Arter
Image: Sol Bamba has made three errors leading to goals this term, while Harry Arter (pictured) and Bruno Manga have each made two costly errors

In terms of weaknesses, Cardiff and Chelsea have almost made an equal number of errors leading to shots, but eight of the Bluebirds' 16 errors have led to goals conceded, while Chelsea have only been punished on three occasions.


Advanced metrics and running

Opta's advanced metrics highlight the contrast in styles further, with Chelsea completed a staggering 628 sequences involving 10 passes or more - while Cardiff have only achieved 48.

The data also shows how Chelsea build attacks patiently and successfully gain ground with possession, but Cardiff surpass the London club for forward-momentum speed when in possession.


Running data reveals Cardiff typically concede possession, rather than chase it, and cover far less distance than Sarri's side with an average of just 104.5 km per game - compared with Chelsea's 113.5 km.



The two clubs have it all to play for on Sunday, with top-flight survival and a top-four finish on the line with just eight games to go and it will be the ultimate clash of styles in Cardiff on Sunday.

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Watch some of Eden Hazard's best Chelsea goals since arriving at Stamford Bridge

Cardiff will look to maintain their form after a morale-boosting 2-0 win over West Ham last time out, while anything other than a win for Sarri would pile more pressure on the Italian's tenure after the 2-0 defeat to Everton two weeks ago.

The Bluebirds are likely to sit back and soak up pressure again, and hope to hit the London club with counter-attacks down the wings - while Sarri's men will look to dominate possession in the centre of the pitch. But which style will come out on top?

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