‘The Antonio Conte way’ – No, this was Lampard’s way.
Chelsea came away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday with all three points which although a surprise, it was the dominating nature of the performance which left fans and pundits impressed. The game was billed as the master vs the apprentice. Jose Mourinho, the serial winner, taking on Frank Lampard, an inexperienced manager who gave Mourinho so much as a player.
Chelsea fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst going into the encounter, having lost 4 out of the previous 5 league games. The home defeat to Bournemouth was a lacklustre performance with slow passing and a lack of creativity. The performance against Spurs was the polar opposite. Mourinho, with just a hint of sour grapes in his post-match press conference said Chelsea played the Antonio Conte way, in reference to the 3-4-3 system which delivered Chelsea the title in 2016/17 and which also defeated his then Manchester United side 4-0. That system was heavily reliant on swift counter attacks and an almost impenetrable defensive midfield in N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic. Although on paper it was the same formation, the style used in this game was totally different. The forward movement from the two central midfielders Kante and Mateo Kovacic consistently bypassed the Spurs midfield which gave the two standout players in Mason Mount and Willian the freedom to do what they do best. The latter, who receives his fair share of criticism from supporters, produced his best performance for some time. The 31-year-old Brazilian showing why Barcelona were willing to spend upwards of 60 million for him in the summer. After that performance, Chelsea fans will be forgiven for worrying about his contract expiring in the summer.
Much of Mourinho’s impact at Spurs has been the way he has utilised Heung Min Son and Lucas Moura. Lampard nullified this threat by pushing them back with Alonso and Azpilicueta high up on the flanks. This seemed to be an unexpected tactic as Spurs didn’t respond at all. Eric Dier was replaced at half time for Christian Eriksen with Spurs chasing the game. Eriksen, like many other of his substitute performances this season was not inspiring and also gave more space for Kante and Kovacic to run into. Harry Kane was restricted to a half chance in the first half and he cut a frustrated figure throughout. Mourinho has built his career and reputation on being a tactical master in big games, often finding ways to stifle the main threats to his defence. On this occasion it was a complete role reversal. Lampard did a tactical job on Mourinho’s team and he probably knew that, hence the comments in his press conference.
Lampard has a dilemma in the games to come, to stick or twist with a system that has proved so successful in ‘big games’ away at Ajax and now at Spurs. Southampton at home on Boxing Day proceeds Arsenal away two days later. One thing is for sure though, he knows he has the ability to out coach some of the best the game has seen. Gary Neville described the performance as a great day for English coaching, what it has done will give Lampard the confidence he can compete with the very best.
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featured image credit BBC