Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea: Tactical Analysis as Conte’s side find unlikely hero in Marcos Alonso

By  - Aug 24, 2017


Defending champions Chelsea showed great resolve as they bounced back from their 3-2 defeat against Burnley last weekend to beat rivals Tottenham in a closely contested derby. This was incidentally the first game for Spurs at their new home in Wembley. The goals came from an unexpected source in Marcos Alonso who scored a brace to continue Mauricio Pochettino’s’ miseries at their ‘home’ ground. The Argentine was left disappointed with the result as he saw his side squander some good chances throughout the game. However, Chelsea were deserved winners and Antonio Conte’s side would rightly feel proud of grabbing three precious points on their London travel.

On paper, both sides looked to have similar formations, 3-5-2 for Chelsea, while Spurs opting in a 3-4-2-1 shape. Conte’s men tried to adopt a counter-attacking approach for this game like they had done for the majority of last season. Spurs, on the other hand, tried to use their possession game to manipulate Chelsea’s structure.

Build up patterns for Tottenham:

Tottenham used a 2-3-4-1 shape in possession with more players towards the left half of the pitch. This may have been done to isolate Kieran Trippier and Christian Eriksen in the right half of the pitch as both are adept at delivering final balls to the forwards. So Pochettino attempted to use this to his advantage by ensuring that these two players had ample time and space to pick provide the final ball.

They did this by using Mousa Dembele in the left flank during early phases of buildup. As Dembele dropped deeper in the left flank, this enabled left back Ben Davies to push up high into Chelsea’s half. Davies in a higher position also pushed Chelsea’s back line deeper which increased the space for Delle Alli, Harry Kane and Eriksen behind Chelsea’s 3 men midfield comprising of Tiemoue Bakayoko, David Luiz and Ngolo Kante.

Spurs 2-3-4-1 shape easily seen in the above snap

Spurs 2-3-4-1 shape easily seen in the above snap

Moreover, Dembele’s press resistance came in handy in the early phases of Spurs’ buildup as he could bypass Chelsea’s pressing when he found himself out of passing options in front of him. His quick feet and good use of his body to shield himself enabled him to bypass Chelsea’s pressing in confined spaces.

However, the ball circulation was not optimal enough for Spurs to trouble Chelsea. It was sluggish which meant that the visitors’ defensive block could easily reorganize themselves to deal with any threat before any damage could be done. Victor Wanyama was poor throughout the entire game as he was dispossessed several times despite having sufficient options ahead of him. His error also led to the winner for Chelsea.

For the most part of the first half, Spurs were sluggish on the ball. This also meant that they could not make the necessary switches to Eriksen and Trippier in Chelsea’s final third. Eriksen had to drop deeper as a result to influence his side’s build up play. Spurs had some moments towards the later stages of the first half when their quick passing returned. It was during these phases that Kane had few shots at the Chelsea goal, one of which hit the woodwork.

Spurs 1-2 Chelsea Tactical Analysis

Spurs trying to build up play through the left half of the pitch to isolate Eriksen (marked in red) and Trippier. Notice how space opens up on the right half of the pitch because of left sided overloads.

Chelsea’s approach:

With many key players missing for Chelsea including Cesc Hazard and the suspended Cesc Fabregas, Conte set up a side made for the counter attacking style of play. david Luiz was used as a makeshift defensive midfielder with Kante and new signing Bakayoko. They sat deep in a 5-3-2 formation with Victor Moses, Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Alonso forming the back five. Willian and Alvaro Morata served as the main counter-attacking outlets as soon as Chelsea won the ball. Kante and Bakayoko threatened too at times with their box-to-box abilities enabling them to get on the end of passes just on the edge of the box.

If a team wants to play counterattacking football, it must be able to sustain long spells of opponent pressure and must be very well organized defensively. Chelsea showed great discipline in defending throughout the match as they positioned themselves perfectly inside the box to deal with Tottenham’s crosses from wide areas. They managed to clear every cross that came their way. Read about Harry Kane’s conversion from crosses in this article. Chelsea managed to block all potential spaces inside the box which Kane normally attacks from crosses.

In the defensive phases, the spacing between the three Chelsea midfielders was good for the most part of the game as they had minimal distances between them. This prevented Spurs from penetrating them centrally so the home side had to rely on the spaces on the sides of Kante and Bakayoko in midfield. Conte was willing to give this space to Tottenham because he knew Kante and Bakayoko had the necessary work rate to prevent most threats that can arise from this area. Kane often looked to drift into the spaces between Kante/Bakayoko and the touchline when one of the wider

Kane often looked to drift into the spaces between Kante or Bakayoko and the touchline when one of the wider center backs got the ball. By doing so, he tried to create overloads in those areas. However, Spurs were below par in their passing game. So they could not create too many clear cut chances despite the overloads.

Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea Tactical Analysis

Spaces on either side of Chelsea’s midfielders which Spurs tried to exploit during the game. Chelsea perfectly organized in their narrow 5-3-2 formation. They also had good horizontal spacing between their CBs to deal with all crosses from Trippier.

Though they employed a deep block for most of the match, sometimes Kante or Bakayoko stepped into the first line of Chelsea’s defensive block to put pressure on the Spurs center backs who were looking to build patiently from the back. They normally did this whenever the ball made its way into one of the wider center-backs like Eric Dier. When the ball was with a player in a wide position, his passing options were limited. This had the potential for a turnover. So, Kante or Bakayoko often stepped up to put pressure on Dembele and Dier who found themselves in wider positions in early parts of the build-up.

When the ball is with a player in a wide position, his passing options are limited. This has the potential for a turnover. So, Kante or Bakayoko often stepped up to put pressure on Dembele and Dier who found themselves in wider positions in early parts of the build-up.

The above snap shows Bakayoko stepping up when the wider centre back has the ball

The above snap shows Bakayoko stepping up when the wider centre back has the ball

Chelsea had some great chances on the break when Willian got spaces to run into after a turnover. However, he could not deliver the end product. Chelsea missed Hazard who was crucial in their title winning campaign last year. Even Morata looked out of sorts as the Spaniard is still trying to find his feet in the Premier League. The

The 24-year-old has a completely different set of attributes compared to Diego Costa. While the latter Costa lacks the pace to run behind defenders, Morata has that in abundance. However, the former Real Madrid striker lacks in his hold up play while Costa excels in the same for his faster teammates to get into attacking positions after a turnover. Chelsea missed that in this game.

Second half tactical changes

Midway through the second half, Spurs switched to a back four with Hueng Min Son coming on for Dier. Also, Dembele no longer drifted wide during the early stages of Spurs’ build-up. Instead, the Belgian moved in centrally. which meant Davies playing in a bit deeper role in the second half. Son meanwhile was tasked with the job of stretching Chelsea’s backline to create space for Alli. A carefully worked combination between Son, Alli,  Dembele found Wanyama on the edge of the box but the latter’s shot was poor as Spurs looked to get their equaliser.

Pochettino’s tactical change did not quite work because Chelsea then started seeing more of the ball. Moreover, because the 2-3 shape was not maintained after the tactical change, Spurs started facing more counter attacks. The 3 in front of the back two provided good coverage across the pitch to stop counterattacks. But following the tactical change there was a man less in midfield which gave Chelsea a man advantage in the middle. Kante and Bakayoko therefore started driving forward with the ball into the spaces opened up.

Conclusion

Conte would have been proud of his players as they showed great character to win the game after last week’s disastrous outing against Burnley. However, the Blues still miss Hazard’s brilliance in transitions. Conte would be thus hoping for the Belgian’s return soon. Pochettino, on the other hand, must be thinking about solutions to end his poor record at Wembley.