Tactics Talk: Performance against Tottenham shows Chelsea know what they are
Dubbed as Andre Villas-Boas’ revenge mission, Chelsea forgot the script on Saturday as they visited White Hart Lane to face a Tottenham side unbeaten in seven games. Roberto Di Matteo’s team have retained the typical Chelsea effectiveness from last term going unbeaten in eight domestically, but added a creativity which had them sitting five points above their opponents going in to the meeting between two of London’s biggest clubs.
The pre-game news for the home team surrounded Gareth Bale’s exit from White Hart Lane to be with his partner who was giving birth to his new child. Andre Villas-Boas, devoid of his primary attacking weapon, shuffled his personnel accordingly but retained the adventurous system which has served them well so far. Brad Friedel returned in goal with an unchanged defence to the one which started their previous two Premier League fixtures. Kyle Walker, Steven Caulker, William Gallas and Jan Verthongen lined up behind the two sitting midfielders, Sandro, and Tom Huddlestone – who was making his first start since May 2011. Clint Demspey moved to the left to replace Bale, Aaron Lennon on the right and Gylfi Sigurdsson played through the middle behind Jermain Defoe up front.
A key aspect of Chelsea’s play this term has been their reliance on the wings. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic play an average of 42 and 46 passes respectively each game with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, who regularly play in front of them, top of the Chelsea assist charts with five in seven Premier League games. Petr Cech began in goals, but the suspended John Terry was unable to continue a strong partnership with David Luiz – Chelsea haven’t lost in the league when both have started together since December 2011 – so Gary Cahill came in at centre-half. John Obi Mikel and Ramires sat in front of the defence allowing Oscar to operate through the centre supporting top scorer Fernando Torres in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
First half – Chelsea control abject Spurs
“Our game now is based a little more on possession,” as Di Matteo put it and his side personified that in the first half. While they dominated possession for large spells allowing their full-backs to play high and Mikel to drop deep to build play, they retained a typically Chelsea solidity in defence.
Mikel was particularly influential in the opening exchanges as he took just 90 seconds to make seven passes. He’s been a consistent top performer this term, completing over 50 passes in every one of his league appearances, but he has largely gone unnoticed as he develops in to the Chelsea equivalent of Xavi Hernandez.
The first goal came midway through the half – a goal which, despite admirable technique, must be blamed on a terrible defensive clearance. Hazard’s deep corner looked to be easily dealt with by either Gallas or the better placed Walker, but the French defender sent a looping header back in to a box full of static Spurs players and on to the swivelled leg of Gary Cahill who thundered Chelsea in to the lead.
The half continued in a similar pattern with Di Matteo happier than his former boss going in to the break.
Second half – Spurs bullish before Spanish Mata-dor kills them off
Whatever Vilas-Boas said at half-time it certainly worked on his team as they emerged reinvigorated for the second-half.
Where it took Lennon 25 first-half minutes to make his first run at Cole, he tested the full-back countless times within the first ten of the second half – a tactic which paid off for Spurs.
Just a minute in to the second half, a free-kick, given as a result of a foul on Lennon, was whipped in to the box before Verthongen cut across goal for Gallas to make his one decent contribution of the day and nod home. 1-1 and the home fans had something to shout about.
Eight minutes later, after a sloppy Chelsea clearance, Lennon again ran at their back-line before his shot was turned in by a sharp Defoe. Momentum appeared to have swung in Spurs favour.
Undeterred, Chelsea continued to play football and their response came ten minutes later. Maybe Di Matteo told his players to give Gallas the ball as any time he got near it Chelsea had a chance. This time a nothing cross was cleared to the edge of the box by the defender giving Mata one touch before he slotted past Friedel. 2-2.
Despite Torres looking slack, Chelsea had another Spaniard who they could rely on and Mata was pulling the strings – he made more than double (18) the amount of attacking third passes in the second half as he did in the first (8). In another episode of comical Spurs defending, his give-and-go with Mikel found Hazard who fed his run off the lazy Jake Livermore to burst through on Friedel and score. Players like Mata are too good to be allowed a free run and Livermore’s inability to track him resulted in the pivotal third goal.
Daniel Sturridge completed the scoring and it was no real surprise that Mata laid it on a plate for him.
Chelsea know what they are
It was a topsy-turvy game, but one which, despite an early second-half scare, never really looked in doubt for a highly effective Chelsea team.
Where Gallas struggled to cope all day, Chelsea’s defence was calm and assured. Where Tottenham’s midfielders struggled to impose themselves, Mikel, Hazard and Mata were majestic in a display which showed all the attacking verve of a Barcelona or Real Madrid.
The Chelsea fans quite rightly sang “We know what we are, we know what are, champions of Europe, we know what we are,” and unfortunately for Spurs on Saturday, their opponents played like the champions of Europe too.Tagged in: AVB, chelsea, football, Premier League, tactices, Tottenham
Recent Posts on Football
- The Football Lawyer: Uefa has made moves to stamp out racism, but only time will tell if they grow more forceful
- The Wasteland: Cruzeiro's Brazilian title triumph turns Rio and São Paulo into footballing tiddlers
- From the Centipede to the Rat Hunter – How Brazil’s longest suffering club escaped from the wilderness
- Fifa threatens Brazil with World Cup expulsion (almost...)
- The Football Lawyer: Qatar 2022 compensation claims and the problem with quotas
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter