Spurs vs Chelsea promises to be an epic battle in our home Premier League opener at Wembley, so we look at the key tactical flaws of the Blues.
A new season, but the same problems remain for Chelsea. Antonio Conte continues to have issues with his pivot, teams that can down the outside of his three centre backs, the inside left channel and opponents with twin strikers. Can Tottenham take advantage? Ahead of Spurs vs Chelsea we look at the key tactics that will decide the match.
Space behind the defensive midfielders
All Premier League teams go through phases where they give up too much space between the lines. However, after their scintillating unbeaten run last season, Chelsea started to allow more and more space between their defensive midfield and three centre backs. Clean sheet after clean sheet turned in to just three in their last sixteen Premier League matches.
The problem was amplified when Cesc Fabregas played alongside N’Golo Kante. Fabregas’ defensive positioning is often reactive, which gives the proactive Kante too much to do. The result, large areas of space start to appear.
Manchester United and Crystal Palace both took advantage of this in their wins at the back end of last season. Both Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha were in this space behind the Chelsea midfield on Palace’s opening goal.Spurs also sought to set Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen in to these pockets in the 4-2 FA Cup Semi-Final defeat.
Both Alli and Eriksen popped up in this space time and time again as Spurs controlled large parts of the match.Remember the magnificent Dele Alli goal in that match? Christian Eriksen was in the space behind Chelsea’s defensive midfield when he delivered the pass of the season. This issue continues to remain this season and Burnley took advantage on opening day. The Clarets first goal saw Jeff Hendrick in this space as Kante and Fabregas tried to recover. Hendrick swung the ball out to Matt Lowton and Sam Vokes headed his cross home. The goal highlighted another Chelsea issue that remained from last season.
Problems defending twin strikers
Chelsea has had and continues to have issues defending teams with twin strikers. The image above from the Crystal Palace match is just before the Eagles’ opening goal. Palace played with Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha up front that day and earned a 2-1 win.
Manchester United played a 3-5-2 formation in their win at the back end of last season. This setup again got twin strikers on the pitch. The Red Devils comfortably won 2-0.
A new season and Chelsea again fell foul of the twin striker approach as Burnley rolled up at Stamford Bridge with their 4-4-2 formation.
We saw above the image of how Jeff Hendrick was free between the lines on the Clarets opener. Seconds later and as Matt Lowton is about to cross, we can see how Burnley has their twin strikers ready in position. Sam Vokes is even raising his arm to tell Lowton he is ready for the cross.Vokes scored and then grabbed his second of the game as Burnley repeated the trick. Again the ball was out on the right. Once more Burnley had their twin strikers looking to run the channels between the Chelsea centre backs. Vokes connected with the cross and Burnley was on their way to three Premier League points.
Inside left channel issues
The two Burnley goals highlighted Chelsea’s issue with space between the lines and marking twin strikers. However, they also bring back a third issue, the inside left channel. This is the space between David Luiz and his right-sided centre back. Against Burnley it was Antonio Rudiger, but it is usually the shorter Cesar Azpilicueta.
Burnley targeted this zone probably expecting the Luiz, Azpilicueta combination. Luiz is not great in the air and Azpilicueta while dominant on the turf can be out jumped. Two goals from the towering Sam Vokes positioning himself in the inside left channel were the result. His signal for the ball on the first goal highlighted that Burnley was looking for this match up.
Remember the carbon copy goals that Dele Alli scored in our 2-0 victory over Chelsea at White Hart Lane? Both Burnley strikes were remarkably similar. A cross from the right for a taller player to isolate himself against the leaping ability of Luiz or the smaller Azpilicueta in the inside left channel.
Spurs didn’t play with twin strikers that day, but had Dele Alli racing forwards to join Harry Kane as much as possible. Making a strike duo up in this way is a tactical option for Mauricio Pochettino in Spurs vs Chelsea this time.
Getting down the sides of the centre backs
The weakness of many a three centre back setup is to teams that can get beyond the wingbacks and down the sides of them.
Chelsea is no different and we’ve seen Mauricio Pochettino previously target their right side. This flank frequently sees the attack-minded Victor Moses who is susceptible to teams that can break in-behind him.
Pochettino has tried to expose Moses with the speed of Son Heung-Min. The flying South Korean was instructed to stay high and gamble on getting in-behind Moses in Chelsea 2-1 Spurs at Stamford Bridge last season. In the FA Cup Semi-Final, Pochettino used Son as a wingback on this flank with the same objective.
Mauricio Pochettino brought Son Heung-Min back earlier than expected and gave him thirty minutes during Newcastle 0-2 Spurs last weekend. Was this an indicator that he may be trying to get Son match fit for a similar job this weekend?
Just how Mauricio Pochettino approaches attacking this zone will be one area to play close attention to in Spurs vs Chelsea this Sunday. Burnley had success doing it last weekend, as Stephen Ward raced on to Jack Cork’s pass to score.Ward found himself behind the Chelsea wingback and matched up on N’Golo Kante. Ward shrugged Kante off to fire across the goal and in to the top corner of the net.
Spurs vs Chelsea outlook
Now is a good time to be playing Chelsea. The Blues are struggling with suspensions and injuries, so much so, that we may well see a very patched up back line. However, Spurs have the Wembley factor to overcome and the bigger playing surface will suit Chelsea’s counter attacking game.
Mauricio Pochettino’s setup will be of particular interest. Our manager has flip-flopped his formations throughout the final ten games of last season. When facing a back four, he went with our three centre backs formation. When facing a team with three centre backs itself, Pochettino went to the 4-2-3-1 setup.
Mauricio Pochettino does this to avoid both teams setting up in the same formation and cancelling each other out. The full backs are the key men in his system and freeing them up by being in a different setup is the intention behind this. However, the outlier has been Pochettino using three centre backs the last two times we have faced Antonio Conte, so we will see if he opts for this setup again.
Spurs vs Chelsea will be played in front of packed house at the national stadium. Can Spurs exorcise the Wembley demons? A win here will create a tidal wave of momentum that will really set the season off and running.
Spurs vs Chelsea prediction: Spurs 2-1 Chelsea.