Tactics Talk: Performance against Tottenham shows Chelsea know what they are

Jonny Boyle

Juan Mata 300x224 Tactics Talk: Performance against Tottenham shows Chelsea know what they areDubbed 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.

THFCvCFC1 182x300 Tactics Talk: Performance against Tottenham shows Chelsea know what they are

How the teams lined up (click to enlarge)

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.

THFCvCFC2 248x300 Tactics Talk: Performance against Tottenham shows Chelsea know what they are

Lazy Livermore allows Mata in to score (click to enlarge)

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: , , , , ,
  • isthisreallife2

    “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.”

    I stopped reading the article after this. While the team have been superb it is clear to all Chelsea fans that Mikel is and always has been the weak link and is being carried by the 3 world class players we have in midfield. He is ok in possession only when he is given time and space but if the opposition even slightly harries him he loses his head and gives the ball away cheaply. You are comparing him to one of the best players in the world when he doesnt even warrant a place in the Chelsea side side. He is obviously the pet signing of someone very high up in the Chelsea hierarchy and he is untouchable despite having been consistently poor for us in every single season.

    The stats dont always give you the full picture – and this is a classic example….

  • Finesse

    You have a point in terms of his potential to lose the ball carelessly. However you and other chelsea fans are being extremist not to acknowledge his contributions to the team. Statistics may not give the full picture but they give the clearest picture. It is no co-incidence that he has retained his position across almost every Chelsea manager.

    There are several statistics that measure the quality of a player, if the ‘careless loss of posession’ in mikel’s game is removed, notice you have no point anymore. The idea that he makes a large amount of safe sideways passes has been disproved so do not attempt to go there.

    Excuse this final point but the same way statistics do not give the full picture, Majority (Including you and other chelsea fans with your position) do not always represent the fact. It takes a more competent soccer head to understand and appreciate the role of the likes of Mikel and gilberto silver of back in the days Arsenal. You appear a nice passionate chelsea fan but much less of a soccer pundit in general. In Business, academics, sports and almost all spheres of life when your claims diverge from the numbers in the statistics, you are likely wrong.

  • ferret70

    This comment is typical from some fans who continue to ignore the importance of Mikel as an anchor in midfield. What rubbish to say that he “loses his head and gives the ball away cheaply” under slight pressure. On the contrary, he rarely gives the ball to an opponent, he makes key interception and tackles, and opponents rarely even try to take him on as he is such a quick mover and physical presence they are unlikely to succeed. In addition, he covers intelligently when the centre backs or full backs go forward, and heads away a good number of corners.

    Maybe this contributor should get Chelsea TV to discover how highly all at the club rate him. One commentator referred to him as “Mikelele” which may be a little over-complimentary.

    Besides, he has now played 250 plus games (including two Champions League Finals) for the Blues under managers like Mourinho, Ancelotti, and Hiddinck, who presumably know a good player when they see one

  • Deni Sokolovic

    Couldnt have said it better myself. KTBFFH!

  • Brad

    Gotta agree about Mata-he is a midfielder on top form and scoring as well. As far as Mikel goes…I wouldn’t start comparing him to Xavi just yet, he is very hot and cold. I’m not impressed. One thing I will say is imagine if Chelsea had a striker that didn’t play like he’s in the way! Torres is a drag on this team and he makes it like playing a man down. If/when DiMatteo gives up on the Torres experiment Chelsea will be very hard to beat.

Most viewed



Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter