Chelsea versus Spurs has become a bit of a rivalry of late. While the two are London rivals, there hasn’t been the same animosity in this fixture, as there have in some other London pair ups. However, Spurs have gone a long way in getting rid of tags like ‘3 Point Lane’, and this has left a competitive edge to this fixture.
A lot of the talk pre-match centered around Chelsea looking to recapture the spirit of 2005, but Spurs’ recent record over Chelsea meant that there were no clear favourites coming into this cup final. Moreover, both sides had been facing indifferent form in the lead up to the final, with Chelsea dropping points at home to Burnley, and Spurs getting knocked out of Europe in their last fixture.
Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic; Cahill; Terry; Azpilicueta; Zouma; Ramires; Fabregas; Willian; Hazard; Diego Costa.
Tottenham: Lloris; Walker; Dier; Vertonghen; Rose; Bentaleb; Mason; Townsend; Eriksen; Chadli; Kane.
Zouma in midfield
When the line ups were announced, a few eyebrows were raised by the team that Jose Mourinho put out. Many wondered about whether Chelsea were beginning the game with 3 at the back, or, the majority, believed that it would be Gary Cahill in midfield. Finally, Kurt Zouma was the man who started in midfield, just behind the duo of Fabregas and Ramires. The team lined up in a 4-3-3, a throwback to the 2005 days.
The number of midfielders did have to increase in order to compensate for the lack of Matic. An added layer of protection afforded by the extra man in midfield was what Mourinho was aiming for, and what he got, especially in the second half.
Eventually, Zouma came to play a very crucial role in the game. The Zouma vs Eriksen battle became the key one, as the performance of both teams was quite highly affected by the performance of both those individuals. Placed in key positions, and filling key roles, their teams were heavily reliant on their performances, and Chelsea and Mourinho will feel very vindicated by the fact that Zouma eventually came out on top.
For the first half, it was all Eriksen, as the youngster struggled to get close enough to the Dane. Eriksen displayed impressive movement, and kept Zouma very busy. The Frenchman was never really close enough to his direct opponent to stop him, and a lot of Tottenham’s play flowed through Eriksen. Not by coincidence, Tottenham dominated the first half, and had Chelsea on the back foot for most of it. Eriksen was able to pull the strings in midfield, and get shots and passes off in and around the penalty area himself.
While Eriksen was allowed to call the shots in the first half, the tide turned in the second, with a half time briefing from Mourinho possibly making the difference. Zouma was a lot tighter to his man, and far more aggressive in making the tackle. While the first half often saw him playing as the covering midfielder to Ramires’ aggressive ball winner, we saw many more attempts to win the ball from him in the second half. He proved to be a much better shield for his defence, and expertly marshaled Eriksen. Eventually Eriksen was moved into a wide area, and that was the end of that battle. The move may have been an attempt to get Eriksen some space, but it was too little too late from Spurs.
As for the other two midfielders in the Chelsea midfield trio, both had more attacking roles. Ramires was in his favoured box to box role, and had a lot more freedom, and consequently more impact on the game. His pressing in particular was key, and got tougher for Spurs to deal with as the game went on. Fabregas was, as usual, the play maker, and expect to provide the killer pass. To his credit, he did just that, picking up an assist for the Diego Costa goal.
Chelsea’s work on set pieces
Mourinho identified set pieces as a potential area to exploit in the Spurs armour, and clearly, Chelsea had done their preparation and homework coming into this game. We got to see a very focused display on such situations from the men in blue.
Corners, and free kicks saw two primary plays being employed. Firstly, the ball delivered to the far post. Chelsea consciously aimed a lot of dead balls at this area. They felt fairly confident that Lloris would be unable to come out and make the punch/ catch, and were quite keen to exploit this. To their credit, Lloris made 0 punches over the course of the match, and generally looked to stay on his line. Chelsea won headers at set pieces more often than not, and eventually got their first goal from a corner that made it to the far post.
The other tactic, that we got to see later on in the game, was playing it outside the box, and then looking to get behind a defence i.e. looking to get up the pitch. Hazard managed it very well on the first occasion they tried it after some neat interplay, and in general, it worked well against a Spurs side that was looking to get to the ball quickly.
Tottenham moving to exploit wide areas
Chelsea defended fairly narrow, and were quite happy to do so. The likes of Kane and Eriksen were struggling to make an impact because they just didn’t have the time and space. Kane was crowded out when he got the ball, and Eriksen was being taken out of it by Kurt Zouma. The creativity that saw them dominate the opening half was missing, as Chelsea were quite comfortable in stifling them, and holding them at an arm’s length. 8 shots from open play, and only 2 got on target, reveals that Spurs were often reduced to speculative attempts from distance, that didn’t really test Cech. Chelsea were very well drilled and organised in defence, with Spurs mostly having to resort to players trying to dribble their way through. Spurs couldn’t really match the penetration that Chelsea had. Both teams had nearly the same number of shots, but 79% from inside the penalty area, while Spurs saw 62% from outside the box.
Eventually, Pochettino changed the emphasis, and Spurs were looking keen to get the ball wide. Strangely, this happened mainly after their two wide men, Chadli and Townsend were taken off. The likes of Kane began wandering into wide areas in search of space, and put in a few dangerous ball,s but nothing that really got Chelsea in trouble. With players like Kane and Eriksen out wide, a sort of void was created in the middle, with no one really attacking the crosses with aggressive intent.
Effective counter attacks by Chelsea
The Chelsea of last season was a much better side when pitted with the top teams because the top teams actually came out and attacked, leaving spaces for Chelsea to counter. The double over City is the perfect example. However, as results showed, they struggled to break down the smaller sides, in matches where they had to take the initiative. This Chelsea side, in contrast, is quite comfortable with either approach, making them very dangerous.
The Cup final saw them display both sides of their game. Early on, and for large parts of the second half, they were the side that had control of the game, and were making the attacking moves with the likes of Fabregas and Hazard on the ball. We even saw the counter attacking side, with them doing the basics very well. They defended their goal in a disciplined fashion, and launched into the wide areas on more than one occasion. They always left 2 people up front to launch the break, with Costa and either of Willian or Hazard to give him company.
As a lot of people have already mentioned, this was what we can call classic Chelsea. 2-0 is the most common scoreline that Chelsea have achieved under Jose Mourinho, and the ruthless efficiency was on display today. Costa epitomized it when he scored with his first real chance. They didn’t really blow Tottenham off the park, but were good value for their win.
Spurs will have to contend with this, and hope that it doesn’t derail what has generally been a positive season. Pochettino will be looking to put this behind the team as soon as possible, and get his focus back on the chase for fourth place. The team is due a win anyway, as they are without one in 5 games in all competitions.
Written by Vishal Patel