The Big Analysis: Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea

The Big Analysis: Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea

There is something special about a game played under floodlights at White Hart Lane; the atmosphere seems to grow in these evening matches. This was further enhanced on Wednesday by the fact that the visitors were Chelsea, who share a deep rivalry with Tottenham, matched only by that shared with Arsenal.

Stakes for the match were even higher give the run of form that Chelsea were currently on as they stretched their lead at the top of the league table. Indeed, the away side were on a run of 13straight wins coming into this match.

Spurs, on the other hand, were operating somewhat under the radar with little in the way of positive media coverage, whilst still managing to keep in touch with the sides at the top of the table. Much had been made of the rotation policy of coach Mauricio Pochettino this season with players, including England international Eric Dier, receiving fewer minutes than they did last season and a tendency to rotate tactical systems leading to some inconsistent performances.

Chelsea, however, had discovered a rich vein of form as soon as their Italian coach had moved away from the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 that had been the staple at Chelsea and back to his 3-4-3 system which has served him so well in his career so far. The change of system has given a new lease of life to players like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro in the attacking third and allows N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matić to operate alongside each other in roles that suit one another and shield the defensive structure.

To this point, teams in the Premier League seem unable to cope with the change in structure from Chelsea and we have already seen Everton and Bournemouth switch to a back three of their own with little success.




We saw something approaching a 3-5-1-1 system from Spurs, with Dier slotting into the back line and Dembélé forming a double pivot with Christian Eriksen, whilst Victor Wanyama played in the defensive midfielder role. The role of Dele Alli was an interesting one, and of course with two goals he would go on to settle the game. He played at times as an orthodox striker alongside Harry Kane but he also had freedom to drop back into midfield when required.

There were little surprises from Chelsea with their 3-4-3 system. Cahill, Luiz and Azpilicueta formed the back line with Alonso and Moses in the wing-back positions. In midfield, Kanté and Matić again provided the backbone of the system with Hazard, Costa and Pedro playing in attack.


Spurs’ defensive structure


One of the keys to the 3-4-3 of Chelsea is the fact that it creates overloads across the final third of the pitch. As the wing-backs advance in the attacking phase, they allow the wide attackers space and freedom to take positions in and around the defensive structure of the opposition. This freedom allows the likes of Hazard, in particular, to wreak havoc for the opposition as he takes possession in pockets of space before turning and driving to goal.

In order to effectively nullify this movement from Chelsea, you have to defend in such a way that prevents them from finding and using space.

With the ball in the wide areas of the Spurs half of the pitch, you can see how well set the defensive structure is for Spurs. Eriksen has moved out to engage the man in possession and Walker as the right wing-back is positioned to negate the threat of the pass into the wide area. The defensive and midfield lines are also deep and compact, denying Chelsea the space to play centrally which is where the likes of Diego Costa excel.

This particular defensive structure is extremely effective but only if you are also able to transition into the attacking phase effectively when you win possession of the ball back.


The role of Wanyama


Throughout the match, the role played by Victor Wanyama was key to disrupting Chelsea and preventing them from playing in quick vertical transitions to catch the Spurs defensive block off guard. For most of this season we have seen Wanyama deployed as part of a double pivot in midfield with a role to play both in the defensive and attacking phases of the play. As the lone defensive midfielder, his role was defensive as he sat deep and broke up the Chelsea attack before playing the ball simply and safely out of danger.

Above you can see the structure from Spurs as Chelsea look to bring the ball out from the back. In David Luiz, Chelsea have a player who is capable in his ability to play the ball out and find team-mates in the final third through vertical passing. With Spurs set up in this manner they have depth in their midfield as Wanyama sits notably deeper. This depth makes it difficult for Chelsea to play out and through the Spurs midfield line.

This time we see Wanyama move out from his central position to apply pressure to the man in possession of the ball as Chelsea seek to counter-attack quickly. As Wanyama moves out and presses the ball, the Spurs midfield rotates with Dembélé taking his turn to drop back into the defensive midfield strata. This prevents Chelsea from capitalising on the space being left behind and ensures that there is always balance in the Spurs defensive structure.


The freedom of Eriksen


One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the performances of Danish international Eriksen this season is that he goes missing in the biggest matches. He is devastating in matches against smaller sides but can struggle to truly influence the game when it really matters. This can in part be attributed to his position within the side, with Pochettino preferring to use him from the left where he can cut inside and cause problems centrally.

In this match, Eriksen played as part of a double pivot ahead of the defensive midfielder and, with his intelligence and appreciation of space, he shone.

The ball is on the right side of the Spurs defensive line. They are in an enviable position as all of their back three are comfortable in possession and playing the ball accurately through lines of the opposition into advanced areas. Eriksen has drifted into a significant pocket of space between the defensive and midfield lines for Chelsea. With Kanté and Matić deployed in a flat midfield structure, these spaces can be devastating against the 3-4-3 if used correctly.

This image is taken from an attacking transition from Spurs. As they look to break forward, Eriksen finds himself once more with space to attack in the Chelsea defensive third of the field. His ability to move, identify and utilise space in these areas makes him extremely effective playing from a central platform. This movement actually led to the first Spurs goal as he ended up on the corner of the penalty area where he was able to clip the ball to the back post for Alli to attack.

Eriksen has moved out to occupy space in the wide area of the field as Spurs are moving into an attacking position. On this occasion, he is quickly closed down, preventing him from attacking down the wide area. As he is closed down, though, he is able to shift the ball centrally to the huge open space ahead of Kanté and Matić Once again, the positioning of Eriksen has hugely affected the game by forcing the Chelsea defensive structure to adjust and cover him.




A deserved 2-0 win for Spurs ended the winning streak of Chelsea. Spurs were clever in the way that they set out their resources, and their use of space in the attacking phase ended up being the undoing for Chelsea. It remains to be seen whether other sides can take this as a tactical blueprint to follow as they face Chelsea or whether this will make any realistic dent in the title hopes of the West London side. On the evidence of this match, though, there are no teams in the league who will be looking forward to facing Spurs.

By Lee Scott. Follow @FMAnalysis

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