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With City and Arsenal not playing Premier League football this weekend, the Blues of Chelsea had the perfect opportunity to extend their lead and put the chasing pack under pressure. Spurs on the other hand came to Stamford Bridge, looking to end their hideous run at this venue. It wasn’t going to be easy for them, but they had great incentive to upset the Blues, because 3 points would not only end their Chelsea jinx, but were also important in their chase for the coveted 4th place.
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic; Cahill; Terry; Azpilicueta; Ramires; Matic; Lampard (Oscar, 45); Schurrle (Willian, 66); Hazard; Eto’o (Ba, 76).
Tottenham: Lloris; Naughton; Dawson (Fryers, 72); Kaboul; Vertonghen; Bentaleb; Sandro; Walker; Lennon; Sigurdsson (Paulinho, 61); Adebayor.
Goals: Eto’o (56′), Hazard (60′), Ba (88′, 90′)
Spurs playing high and squeezing the game
In such a tough away game, the key for Spurs was to stop Chelsea getting off to a flyer. Once they do that, Chelsea are nearly invincible, and Sherwood was successful in stopping the Blues from taking off early. His tactics managed to stifle Chelsea, and stopped them building up any attacks.
What Spurs did very well was squeeze the game and reduce the space for Chelsea to play their game. The defensive line pushed up very high, and the likes of Adebayor and Lennon did very well to drop deep and get close to their midfielders when Spurs didn’t have the ball. This reduced the spaces Chelsea had to play the ball in, and they couldn’t play passes among each other, or indeed to their flair players like Hazard. The problem was compounded by the fact that Ramires, who isn’t as good as Oscar technically, started in that role. The idea behind starting him was correct, i.e. getting him to use his pace to get behind the Spurs defence, the execution didn’t work out because he needed to be involved defensively and help out in the rather crowded midfield. This left Chelsea a bit short on numbers going forward. Eto’o was a willing runner but really lacks pace, and Hazard and Schurrle alone didn’t manage to make much of an impact. There was one chance when Hazard got past the keeper and missed, but that was all Chelsea got from Spurs.
Instead, the Lilywhites did a swell job of building some of their own play after breaking down Chelsea moves. Sandro’s shot stands out in memory of a good quick Spurs break.
Because of the high line that Spurs played, there was bound to be a lot of space behind their defence, and a lot of chances for Chelsea to attack this space. Spurs are a possession based team, and try to play out from the back. To counter this, Mourinho had his side press them in midfield, with the Chelsea midfielders lining up in a straight line across the pitch to stop Spurs playing out from the back. The objective was to tackle and intercept any loose passes from the back, and launch quick counters behind the Spurs defence. This worked out once in the first half, with Hazard getting a chance, and it paid off handsomely in the second half, with Spurs making a catalogue of individual errors to gift Chelsea a glut of goals.
As you can see in the image above, the midfield is in a straight line, and Ramires is breaking out to press the slightly loose pass that Vertonghen has played into the middle.
After compressing the play so well, Spurs then had to spring forward to counter attack, and after compressing, the team will naturally spread out to open up the field and spaces for players to move into. Spurs also did this to attack, and aside from that, neutralize the Chelsea side. In order to achieve this the 2 full backs constantly pushed high up the pitch, and stayed very wide, almost always on the touch line. By doing so, they also found a lot of space due to the fact that the natural defensive movement from the Chelsea attackers was towards the inside. The Chelsea full backs were also occupied in keeping the Spurs wingers at bay.
On the left, Vertonghen got forward with great aplomb, adding to the numbers up front. It meant that the Chelsea attackers had to follow him back, and reduced their effectiveness going forward. On the right, Naughton was not as adventurous going forward, but this was made up for by Kyle Walker, who naturally adopted a wider position. Vertonghen’s heat map is almost like that of a midfielder. The Belgian was more of a wing back than a full back and the energy he showed was key in keeping Chelsea quiet.
In the first half, Chelsea struggled because they were unable to keep the ball in threatening territories for a long time. Tottenham managed to keep the ball away from their goal for long periods, and this spurred Jose to change things at half time. He took Lampard off, played Ramires in the pivot with Matic, and brought on Oscar, to play in the hole. This meant that there was an extra body higher up the pitch, for Chelsea. This added body in front meant that Chelsea had more to aim at, and Spurs had to get more people to cover, or take a risk. The extra body also meant that Chelsea had more to aim at in front, and the second half saw a lot of passes from back to front, long vertical passes. These passes managed to bypass the congested midfield and the compressed Spurs side, getting the Chelsea forwards in among the few Spurs defenders who formed the last line, making it very difficult for them to keep runners out. The pass out from the back for the second goal is a perfect example. It went straight to Hazard, who was in space, and the Belgian put a cross into the box that led to the penalty and subsequent sending off.
This match must have been heartbreaking for Tim Sherwood, and the Spurs gaffer did not hide his disappointment post the game. Despite making some very good moves tactically, his side ended up losing by a heavy margin. The greatest reason for this was the large number of individual errors. Vertonghen and Walker in particular made dreadful errors, and a poor decision by the ref also led to Kaboul getting a red. Though not really a strictly tactical point, this definitely had the most influence over the game, as Chelsea capitalised to score a lot of goals.
This is surely going to be a bitter pill to swallow for Tim Sherwood, but he can take some positives from it. The individual errors cost them the game, but Spurs did very well to stand up to Chelsea for a large part of the game. Sherwood’s tactical acumen was doubted by many people, but he showed his versatility and willingness to change things to accommodate opponents, a bright sign.
For Chelsea, they’re in pole position. City will be top if they win their 3 games in hand, but the pressure will be on them during each of these games in what is turning into a very hectic campaign. Besides, one of the matches is the big game away at Old Trafford, so Chelsea can probably count themselves ahead of competition for now. They look to be getting stronger too, which is a good sign, and Mourinho’s job is to keep this up.
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