There was a landmark appearance for Cesar Azpilicueta but he wasn’t able to celebrate with a win in what the statistics show was a physically demanding draw at Nottingham Forest.

It was a game which switched dramatically at half-time. We had controlled proceedings from the start and went in for the break with a 1-0 lead after Raheem Sterling smashed in the rebound when Christian Pulisic’s cross had been deflected off his own crossbar by Nottingham Forest defender Willy Boly, scoring his first Premier League goal since the end of August.

However, although we retained our high levels of possession, the home side produced a much bigger threat in the second half and equalised from a corner through Serge Aurier.

We may have enjoyed 72 per cent of the possession over the course of the whole match, but the chances created suggest a draw may have been a fair result, even if Forest were the happier of the two sides with that result.

Perhaps the point in our first match of 2023 shouldn’t have been too surprising, as Chelsea have a long-standing habit of starting the year in muted fashion. We haven’t opened a calendar year with a victory since a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace in 2016, drawing five of the seven matches since.

Azpi stands alone

Having matched Petr Cech’s overseas appearance record when he came off the bench to replace the injured Reece James in the 2-0 win over Bournemouth last time out, Cesar Azpilicueta captained Chelsea from the start at the City Ground to play his 495th game for the club.

That means no foreign player has featured more times for the Blues than the longest-serving member of our current squad. The Spaniard is now sixth on our overall all-time appearance list, behind only Englishmen Ron Harris (795), Peter Bonetti (729), John Terry (717), Frank Lampard (648) and John Hollins (592) in all competitions.

Forest threat

Nottingham Forest hugely changed their approach to the game at half-time. During the opening 45 minutes they were content to defend deep and allow Chelsea possession in their half while protecting the penalty area, resulting in even our centre-backs spending large amounts of their time across the halfway line.

After the break, they switched to a high-intensity press, putting the Blues under pressure all over the pitch in an attempt to win the ball in dangerous positions and exploit opportunities in transition.

However, in both instances, their approach when in possession remained the same, as they looked to use the pace of their front three in direct counters. The speed with which they attempted to get the ball forward was shown by the fact their average spell of possession featured just three passes, compared to seven for Chelsea.

That was mainly done in wide positions, looking to get Brennan Johnson and Taiwo Awoniyi into the channels between our full-backs and centre-backs. Their focus on the flanks is clear from Marc Cucurella’s five tackles being the highest of any player on the pitch, although it was down our right side that a full 45 per cent of Forest’s attacks took place.

Countering the counter

Overall we dealt with those counters and Nottingham Forest’s pace reasonably well, with their only goal coming from a set-piece rather than a quick attack.

We also attempted to respond by matching Forest’s intensity and physicality to try and beat them at their own game. The resulting physical nature of the game is demonstrated by the fact that the number of both teams’ successful tackles was only two more than their fouls committed.

We also looked to a more direct route than is familiar to see from Chelsea recently, actually playing a similar number of long passes to our opponents – 43 for Chelsea compared to 46 by Forest – although they came from a much higher total of passes due to the one-sided possession.

That direct approach was highlighted by Kalidou Koulibaly creating the highest number of chances for Chelsea, two, both from balls over the top into the box after spotting the runs of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz brilliantly, even if neither of them were able to convert those opportunities into goals.

They were rare occasions when we managed to threaten inside the opposition’s box, though, as Forest’s tactics before and after half-time made it difficult to find space to exploit in the final third and get our attacking players on the ball in the penalty area.