Dele Alli scores during Spurs vs Chelsea at White Hart Lane, London.

Spurs vs Chelsea preview: tactical scouting report (h)

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.

Zaha and Benteke in the space behind Chelsea's midfield during Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace.

Zaha and Benteke in the space behind Chelsea’s midfield.

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.

Matic and Kante get drawn out, leaving Dele free during Chelsea 4-2 Spurs.

Matic and Kante get drawn out, leaving Dele free.

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.

Eriksen in space beyond a stretched Kante and Matic during Chelsea 4-2 Spurs in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley Stadium.

Eriksen in space beyond a stretched Kante and Matic.

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 free as Kante and Fabregas caugt forward during Chelsea 2-3 Burnley in the Premier League.

Hendrick free as Kante and Fabregas caugt forward.

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 signals for the ball ahead of scoring during Chelsea 2-3 Burnley in the Premier League.

Vokes signals for the ball ahead of scoring.

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.

Burnley's 2 strikers attack the 3 Centre backs as Vokes scores during Chelsea 2-3 Burnley in the Premier League.

Burnley’s 2 strikers attack the 3 Centre backs as Vokes scores.

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.

Dele Alli joins Harry Kane in the box to score during Spurs vs Chelsea in the Premier League.

Dele Alli joins Harry Kane in the box to score.

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.

Burnley attack the space vacated by the right wingback ahead of Spurs vs Chelsea in the Premier League.

Burnley attack the space vacated by the right wingback.

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.

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9 Responses to Spurs vs Chelsea preview: tactical scouting report (h)

  1. Daudi 18th August 2017 at 2:55 pm #

    As much as Chelsea might be patchy on Sunday, we have to approach with caution and also make sure to hurt them. They do still have some players that can cause us problem.. And yes, that little issue of the Wembley jinx… Wonder who is at right back/wingback for the game if its KWP, hope he turns up for it.

    As for mirroring opponents formations, did that for the 2-0 at the Lane last season, maybe the only time he mirrored, and that was a 50-50 battle till the two headers. Same for this game? We’ll wait and see…

    I think we are more up for it than them. And a good atmosphere from the crowd would be a !2th man boost. Lets go Get em!!!


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th August 2017 at 3:27 pm #

      If Poch goes with KWP I think he’ll use wingbacks to give him some more protection of an extra centre back inside of him.

      Poch mirrored Chelsea’s back 3 twice last season and did for other teams we faced, but I noticed for the final 10 Premier League games of last season that he always went with an opposite formation to the other team. I found this quite curious and so I’m interested see what he does here as matching Chelsea’s back three has been successful in terms of being more dominant, even though we lost the cup semi final.

  2. YouShubes 18th August 2017 at 4:33 pm #

    That game at the lane was much closer than the scoreline suggested… we had two chances and took them… they had two and didn’t…

    Sucks we don’t have tripps as between him and our sat nav we would cause them hell with our crossing. I think the wildcard will be Davies though…

    IIRC Sideshow Bob can also be a loose cannon with his positioning…

    Their injury list could miraculously disappear

    I think we have no choice but to match their formation. I just hope Big Vic can beat Kante once more. He was my MOTM back in January

    Our belgian CBs will know Bats… Morata not so much… he is a very smart player and Real were dumb to let him go before they snagged Mbappe properly

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th August 2017 at 11:44 pm #

      Trippier’s crossing would’ve been good in this game. Although KWP can deliver a decent ball too, so don’t discount him from being a factor. He will be playing on the tougher side vs Alonso tho.

      Wanyama and Dembele dominated Kante and Matic in the FA cup semi final, so I’m confident they will do again, especially with no Matic. Morata is a bit of an x-factor at the minute. Hoping Conte starts with him on the bench again and plays Batshuayi.

    • ashley collie 19th August 2017 at 2:14 am #

      Shubes/Mark, Poch says Tripps may be in contention depending on training on Saturday…

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th August 2017 at 9:43 am #

        Good to have the option. Fingers crossed.

  3. Matt 18th August 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    I thinks Sons pace is really important to us, hope he’s a starter. Looks like Tripps making progress, KWP did well against a very limited Newcastle. But this is different gravy, we need Tripps out there. So important on Sunday, we need to get that confident Wembley start.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 18th August 2017 at 11:45 pm #

      An early goal would put the cat amongst the pigeons.

  4. Peter 19th August 2017 at 10:00 am #

    I guess Conte knows this by now… I expect a very defensive Chelsea with Batshuayi, Morata, Willian and maybe Moses speculating on the rare counter. I agree we might see a Chelski player that is supposed to be not fit… There is also the referee who often plays an unexpected role when we play Chelsea… Let’s hope Son will not be our LWB😏