Written by Zach Wu
It was another Battle of Stamford Bridge. Spurs were looking for revenge after the Blues ended their title hopes last season while Chelsea were eager to show that London was Blue again. Of late, Spurs had crashed out of the Champions League in midweek and were eager to get back to winning ways while Chelsea meanwhile were aiming to go back to the top of the league.
Chelsea’s initial strategy
Chelsea’s were reluctant to keep the ball straight from kickoff, launching a long ball forward just seconds after kickoff. They were expecting a Bielsaesque press – a high intensity press from Spurs, high up the pitch with semi-man orientations and did not want to lose the ball unnecessarily in deep positions. They decided to give Spurs the ball and sit deep to negate Spurs’ pressing.
However, after their early concession, the onus was now down to them to break Spurs down, which meant that they had to take more risks and be more proactive when in possession, leaving them vulnerable to a well drilled pressing side.
Numerical inferiority in the centre
Spurs had a quantitative advantage in the middle of the pitch on paper, with a 3 vs 2 in midfield. Chelsea’s problem was compounded further when Spurs’ wide players drifted into narrow zones, at times making it a 4 vs 2 or 5 vs 2. As a result, Spurs’ attackers were constantly able to find space between the lines, especially when one of the Chelsea midfield pivot would go and press.
This is wonderfully demonstrated by Spurs’ goal finished by Eriksen
Kante (yellow circle) comes out and press Dembele (orange circle) on the ball. Dembele evades the press and is able to play in Alli (blue circle) who is in acres of space.
Alli (blue circle) is subsequently able to drive into space (black box) right in front of the Chelsea backline which was previously vacated by Kante
Luiz (purple circle) who is slow to step out, allows a pass from Alli (blue circle) to find Eriksen (pink circle). Cahill (red circle) is too deep here and allows time for Eriksen to take a shot that leads to a Spurs’ goal.
Spurs’ Bielsaesque semi man-orientated press was causing problems for Chelsea when they tried to play out from the back. Options were closed down quickly with the use of angled runs and intelligent positioning.
In the snapshot bellow, Alonso (yellow circle) has only one clear passing option to Matic (red circle). Spurs recognize this and hence Wanyama (blue circle) immediately closes him down. More often than not, such instances happened and Chelsea were pinned back, forced to make numerous sideways passes deep in their own half.
To create more options for the player on the ball, Chelsea needed their wider centre backs to push into midfield quickly as soon as the ball was switched to their side but unfortunately instances such as these were far from common from Chelsea during the first half.
Spurs were pretty successful in their efforts, as seen from the diagram bellow. Chelsea were constantly forced wide with few passes between the centrebacks and centre midfielders as shown by the lack of arrows between these 2 units of the team.
Spurs overloading the left
Pochettino decided to overload his left flank and exploit the space behind right wing back Moses on counter attacks. Tottenham would overload Chelsea’s right flank and look to use quick passing between front four to get into the space behind Moses. This kind of movement and overloads created in the left half space of Spurs wreaked havoc between the Chelsea lines with Moses caught ahead of the ball and Kante forced back to cover for his teammate.
This worked well, with Spurs’ players constantly receiving balls between the lines, which eventually led to Eriksen’s goal.
The loss of Danny Rose was a disadvantage for Spurs as Wimmer a natural centre back was unwilling to get forward and supply width to further overload the Chelsea right flank. If he was around Spurs could have hurt Chelsea even more by offering an additional passing option and to take men on.
With the game level, Chelsea sensed that they could perhaps more from Spurs this game, hence they began be pressing higher up the pitch than the first half. This was shown by the statistics. Comparing the two halves, Chelsea attempted more interceptions (7 to 10), tackles in the opponents’ half (2 to 6). This shows a much higher press from Chelsea, wanting to press higher and disposes Spurs and to force turnovers in Spurs’ half
Changes for Spurs
Spurs had overloaded the left in the first half and exploited Moses eagerness to get forward. It worked pretty well, and Kante was continuously forced backwards to defend his half space. For some reason, Pochettino decided to shift emphasis to the other side of the pitch. Perhaps he was afraid that Moses would sit back after the space behind him was continuously exploited.
Whatever the reason, Spurs increased the use of their right flank after the break, as seen from the diagram bellow.
Spurs were now up against the natural defender Alonso who did well to snuff out Spurs’ attacks that came down his flank. This made it much more difficult for them to break Chelsea down, and create clear cut chances for themselves to score.
In the second half, the intensity of Spurs’ pressing dropped, having played 3 matches in a week, it was understandable. Their defensive ability especially was then compromised. Comparing the two halves, they attempted less ball recoveries (31 to 25), less attempted tackles (15 to 10), less interceptions (6 to 4), showing a decrease in performance defensively. With a dip in intensity, Chelsea had more time on the ball and were able to pick passes out with greater ease. This allowed them to progress up the pitch and pick out better passes to teammates.
Response to going behind
After going behind, Spurs threw on Harry Winks which now meant that Alli played wide. With Alli himself later being replaced by Nkoudou, Pochettino was trying to stretch Chelsea’s with width. With Vincent Janssen thrown on, Spurs went 442/424 which made it comfortable for Chelsea, with 3 vs 2 at the back and 2 vs 2 in centre midfield. Chelsea saw out the game with defensive minded but similar substitutions.
Spurs played well defensively, pressing Chelsea well and pinning them in their half of the pitch. However, they were unable to fashion clear cut chances themselves which contributed their measly Expected Goals tally of 0.39. Chelsea weathered the early storm and fashioned slightly better quality chances in the end, just edging the encounter.
Chelsea in all honesty have not faced a genuine title chasing side yet ever since the change to the 343 formation. United and Spurs are nowhere near the title, 11 and 7 points off the pace. They have passed both tests but other sterner tests lie around the corner, starting with away at City this weekend.
Spurs have not played well ever since the 2-0 victory over City. They have been unable to fashion clear cut chances of late, with shots coming from poor positions as seen from the diagram bellow. If they continue playing this way offensively, they might not have Champions League football next season.
Written by @cityzenforlife
Credits to @11tegen11 and footballytics.com for the diagrams
What do you make of these points? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Ben Sutherland