Prior to this match, Tottenham found themselves just one point below Chelsea in the Premier League, having been 12 points adrift of the West London club when José Mourinho was first appointed. Spurs’ run of three wins in the league, including the memorable 2-0 win against Manchester City, saw them go into this match as the in-form side, as Chelsea were winless in four. The following tactical analysis of the match will take an in-depth look at how the match played out, mainly looking at the tactics of each side with and without the ball.
Frank Lampard set up his side in the same system that he utilised in the reverse fixture back in December, choosing to part with his normal 4-3-3 with Mount on the left of the midfield three. Instead, he used a back three/five with Jorginho and Kovacic in a double pivot behind a previously unused front three of Giroud, Mount, and Barkley. Azpilicueta returned to his preferred role as part of the back three alongside Rudiger and Christensen, having been used as a makeshift left-back in their 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United in their previous outing.
Tottenham also decided to go with a back five, however, went with a flatter, more cautious variant, the 5-4-1. This is a significant change from Mourinho’s usual system which defends as a flat 4-4-2 but shifts to a 3-2-4-1 in possession, with the left-back tucking inside to form a back three. Mourinho evidently wanted to matchup with Chelsea’s three at the back formation that had exploited the weaknesses in Tottenham’s 4-4-2 defensive organisation in the reverse fixture. Winks and Ndombele formed Tottenham’s central duo, while Bergwijn was chosen to play as a nine, the position usually filled by Lucas Moura in Kane’s absence. Japhet Tanganga also saw a return to the side, replacing regular starter Serge Aurier.
Chelsea in possession
During the first half of the game, Chelsea remained patient in their build-up play, evidenced by their 90% pass accuracy which saw them retain 62% possession.
Chelsea’s wing-backs stayed high up the pitch in their attacking structure, often with the ball-side wing back dropping slightly to provide support to the outside centre back. Chelsea’s midfield two, Kovacic and Jorginho, would occupy the midfield two of Tottenham – Ndombele and Winks.
Here is an example of how Chelsea used the occupation of Tottenham’s central midfielders to their advantage. Once again Jorginho positions himself next to Winks while Lucas is pressing, keeping Reece James in his cover shadow. This leaves a passing lane open in between Winks and Lucas to Mason Mount in the half-space. This passing lane is an excellent option to progress the ball, as it bypasses Tottenham’s midfield four and leaves Chelsea five-on-five on Spurs’ back five.
After winning the ball back on the right side of the pitch, Jorginho receives the ball in space, and Winks and Ndombele immediately step up to press Jorginho and Kovacic respectively. This time, Barkley drops into the space between the lines and, since Tottenham’s defensive line failed to push up with the midfield’s press, receives with the pass with no one around him.
Barkley is then able to drive into space and shoot from the edge of the 18-yard box, narrowly missing the far corner.
To combat the spacing issues between Tottenham’s midfield and defensive lines, Tottenham center-backs would try to step up and close down whichever member of Chelsea’s front three was receiving between the lines. However, Chelsea exploited this by pulling one center-back deep and playing the ball into the gap that that movement created, with another attacker running into space behind the defensive line. This happened to be how Chelsea created the opening goal of the game:
Mount drops deeper in the half-space, pulling Vertonghen with him. This creates a large gap between Vertonghen and Alderweireld which Jorginho uses to play the ball through into the path of Giroud, who (eventually) puts it in the net to make it 1-0 to Chelsea.
Chelsea’s second goal also exploited the eagerness of the Tottenham center-backs to stay tight on Chelsea’s front three:
This action comes directly from a throw-in inside Chelsea’s half. Alderweireld, the central center-back, follows Giroud who has drifted out wide and loses the aerial duel, resulting in a flick-on directed towards Mount.
Now a large gap has formed between Sanchez and Tanganga as Sanchez shuttles across to cover the space vacated by Alderweireld. Mount runs towards goal with the ball in order to force Tottenham’s backline to drop deeper towards their own net, creating space on the edge of the box in front of Tottenham’s defensive line – this enables Mount to spread the ball across to Barkley, who has positioned himself in front of the large gap between the outside center-back and the full-back.
Tanganga is therefore forced to shift across and press Barkley centrally to prevent him from having a clear route to goal. Alonso (out of the picture) makes a bursting forward run into the space left by Tanganga and has a free shot on goal (as shown below) which he drills into the bottom right corner of the net. The combination of movement from Giroud to drag out one of the back three, and excellent use of horizontal spacing by Chelsea’s attacking players, allowed them to get their second goal, which turned out to be pivotal in winning them the match.
Tottenham in possession
In the first half, Tottenham mainly sat off Chelsea in a mid/low block and relied on quick transitions to attack.
Here, Lo Celso wins the ball from Rudiger and lays it off to Ndombele who passes to Winks – now with time to pick a forward pass. Lo Celso comes into a more central position from his starting position on the right, and Lucas makes a diagonal run towards goal, with Reece James still high up the pitch in his usual position in Chelsea’s attacking structure, and therefore unable to recover and track Moura’s run. Bergwijn, acting as the number nine, makes a forward run and suddenly Tottenham have a 3v3 situation. Unfortunately for Tottenham, Winks overhits his pass and wastes a potentially very good attacking position.
Tottenham’s passing combination map clearly displays just how narrow Tottenham’s front three played when in possession (27,23, and 18). Mourinho presumably instructed them to play in this manner to be able to play quick passing combinations in transition.
However, on the whole, Chelsea were comfortable when in possession in their own half for the first 45 minutes, as Tottenham were unwilling to press and potentially leave gaps closer in towards their goal. This is demonstrated by the fact that Tottenham were only able to complete nine ball recoveries in Chelsea’s half in the first 45 minutes, with most coming near the halfway line. In comparison, Chelsea were able to make twenty-one ball recoveries in that same period.
In the second half, Tottenham upped their focus on pressing Chelsea in their own half in an attempt to score an equaliser.
Tottenham began the second half with a statement of intent, by using man-orientated pressing to force Chelsea long. As a result of this, Tottenham essentially flip-flopped the possession stats in the second half, going from 38% possession in the first half, to 63% possession in the second. However, despite an increase in possession, Tottenham struggled to create goalscoring opportunities in the second half. In fact, so much so, that their second half xG (0.05) was even lower than their first-half xG (0.26). This can be contributed to Spurs’ lack of a balanced attacking structure.
In this instance, we see Lucas dropping deep ahead of Chelsea’s midfield to collect the ball, and when he turns to face toward the goal, he has no one ahead of him in between the lines to receive the ball. Bergwijn is instead isolated in a 1v2 position against the Chelsea centre-backs with no support.
Davies, the left wing-back, stays wide and forces Reece James out of his position in the Chelsea back five, creating a huge amount of space between James and Azpilicueta. Despite this, Tottenham have no one positioned in the left half-space to exploit the space, as the front three of Tottenham are all situated in the centre of the pitch, thus, Davies is forced to play backwards to Vertonghen.
Chelsea out of possession
Chelsea were phenomenal at pressing Tottenham, particularly in the first half. In the opening 45 minutes, Chelsea’s pressing intensity was at 6.6 passes per defensive action. This enabled Chelsea to both win the ball high up the pitch to hit Tottenham on transitions, and maintain control of the game through ball retention as Tottenham were forced to go long when Chelsea pressed, and due to the absence of Kane, didn’t have any real physical presence further up the pitch to hold up the ball. This is exhibited by Chelsea’s center-backs winning 77% of their combined defensive duels.
Here are two examples of Chelsea’s man-orientated pressing. The first is inside the first four minutes of the game, whilst the second one is in the forty-third minute, displaying Chelsea’s commitment to press high in the first half of the game. Mason Mount was often used as the pressing trigger – when he went, everyone else followed. They relaxed slightly in the second half in terms of putting pressure on the ball, as sustaining that level of pressing for ninety minutes is unrealistic, especially considering they have an important Champions League fixture against Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening. Having said that, they still maintained a reasonable pressing intensity of 9.4 PPDA in the second half of the game.
In the end, this analysis concludes that Chelsea were good value for their 2-1 win when taking into account chances created by both teams. In fact, xG analysis shows that Tottenham were rather fortunate to get a goal at all (as they had a total xG of just 0.31) which is unsurprising given the unlikely events that led to their consolation goal.
Chelsea will be looking to take this level of performance into their next few games in order to turn around their poor form and extend their lead above the rest of the teams chasing for the top four. Tottenham, on the other hand, will need to improve in possession if they wish to achieve the results they want with the long-term injuries to Son and Kane – Mourinho must work on creating a clearly defined attacking structure that complements the qualities that their squad possesses.
Chelsea will go into the next matchweek four points ahead of Spurs, but, as we’ve seen on many occasions this season, a four-point gap can very quickly disappear.