Chelsea 2-2 Spurs: gift and curse of the inside right channel

The inside right channel proves both gift and curse as our Premier League clash finishes Chelsea 2-2 Spurs at Stamford Bridge.

On a night where it was all on the line, Spurs lost their discipline. It wasn’t just the nine yellow cards and the numerous melees that broke out, but the discipline to retain focus in our successful attacking of the inside right channel. Without the ball it was the discipline to defend properly, as we let a two-goal lead slip with sloppy errors to finish Chelsea 2-2 Spurs.

Lamela on the left

Without Dele Alli, we all wondered just how Mauricio Pochettino was going to play this one.

Our head coach went for Son Heung-Min, but surprisingly played him through the centre with Erik Lamela down the left. Son’s inclusion in the centre was interesting. Pochettino was hoping for him to make quick breaks forward beyond Harry Kane in transition. However, with Chelsea crowding the space between the lines with the inclusion of two defensive midfielders in Nemanja Matic and Jon Obi Mikel, and dropping deep, there just wasn’t the space for him to do this.


Matic and Mikel crowd out space between the lines.

Midway through the half and Pochettino had Son and Eriksen switch. This then saw the South Korean out wider and become much more of a factor through the inside right channel.

The inclusion of Son, shifted Erik Lamela out to the left, a position he doesn’t often frequent, but the reasoning became clear as the half progressed.

Pochettino wanted to Lamela to use his speed to get beyond Branislav Ivanovic, who can frequently get caught up-field. With Chelsea going back to their trusted back four of Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic, the space has always been to opponents that can get in-behind the Serbian right back. That was the case here, as Lamela got in to a couple of decent crossing positions whilst Ivanovic was caught forward.

Spurs in the inside right channel

With no space between the lines, the switch of Son and Eriksen did two things.

Firstly, it got a player that is quick and neat with his feet in an area where time on the ball was minimal. Secondly, it freed up Son to make his bursts forward through the inside right channel rather than centrally, an area previously not worked by Eriksen as he was drifting inside.

Son broke free for one chance and then our opener arrived. It once more encapsulated everything that is good about this Pochettino-inspired side. Pressure and hounding of the ball to win it back, as Lamela recovered in midfield. Swift forward ball movement as it went through Rose, Vertonghen and Dier up to Eriksen. Quick one-touch passing triangles to carve the opposition open. Resulting in a high chance scoring opportunity with Kane finishing.


Eriksen gets the ball with Kane set up in the inside left channel.

With little time and space due to Matic and Mikel, the one touch passing was key to the move. As was Chelsea’s vulnerability through the inside right channel. We looked at this weakness in the Chelsea vs Spurs match preview and Harry Kane darted in to this space between Terry and Azpilicueta to receive the first-time pass from Erik Lamela. Kane was cool and calm in rounding Asmir Begovic to make it 1-0, right in front of the joyous away fans.

Spurs were in the ascendancy and it was apt reward for not only Pochettino’s small tactical adjustments, but also the level of football we were playing. Disciplined, targeted and in control.

Ten minutes later and one became two. Again, it was targeting the inside right channel between Azpilicueta and Terry, which was swiftly exposed.

A mistake by Branislav Ivanovic was pounced upon by Harry Kane, who nicked the ball towards Christian Eriksen. With the ball now between the lines, Mikel out of the game and Matic off-balance, Eriksen could find Son’s forward run through the inside right channel.


Eriksen finds Son racing through the inside left channel.

The South Korean made no mistake, in spite of a slight miscontrol taking the initial pass, to smash the ball in at Begovic’s near post. Our disciplined and constant probing was paying off, 2-0 and the 25-year hoodoo of not having won in the League at the Bridge was being quashed.

Discipline drops

Straight after the first goal going in and a spat broke out between everybody’s least favourite spaghetti western villain Diego Costa and Jan Vertonghen. Chelsea were massively up for this game, but were riled as they knew they couldn’t match us playing football.

Moments after the second went in and Rose’s late challenge on Willian saw the Brazilian straight up and in his face, a frustrated reaction from a usually calm player. A mass melee ensued. Pochettino was on the pitch; Dembele was gouging Costa in the eye and both benches emptied.

The event was unsavoury, but also sparked as a turning point. Unlike previous versions, this Spurs side isn’t to be bullied. It is tough, physical and can mix it with anyone. But, as West Brom showed, if you can rile us then players can be provoked and it takes us off our game of playing fast, fluid football.

These continuous minor events took us out of our rhythm. We lost our discipline, both in our shape and in our heads, allowing Chelsea back in to the match.

Chelsea corners

Throughout the first half, Chelsea were a threat from corners. They gained way too many of these through us being happy to settle for them as opposed to clearing the ball properly.

Twelve minutes in to the second half and they were back in the game after two back-to-back errors from the usually composed Toby Alderweireld.

The Blues sent a long ball forward and with Alderweireld shepherding Diego Costa to the corner flag, he uncharacteristically tried to jump in and flick the ball out for a throw. He misjudged it and the ball squirmed out for a corner. Why Alderweireld did this, only he will know, as Costa is no threat to run past or beat anyone when he is so far away from goal and penned in by the corner flag.

On the resulting corner kick there were two errors as we lost our discipline defensively. The first came from Alderweireld being slow to pick up and then getting lost whilst tracking Gary Cahill. The second was through the zonal and man-to-man hybrid system we defend corners with. The three zonal players – Lamela, Kane and Rose – are supposed to clear up any lose balls that fall around the six yard box and penalty spot.


Alderweireld slow and our three man zone across the 6-yard box.

Lamela stood still, Rose backed off to defend the post, Kane got lost trying to double up on John Terry, leaving Gary Cahill to smash home to make it 2-1.


Cahill scores uncontested as our 3-man zone capitulates.

Failure to make it three

Getting up 2-0 on teams, only to be pegged back, has been a feature of our season and one reason why we have drawn so many matches. That elusive third goal to put opponents away is something that needs to be worked on and once more we had the chance here.

After the interval, with Chelsea’s desire to win this game, they were forced to attack more. This meant that they had to get their full backs forward and it left spaces for us down the outside. Harry Kane got in-behind Branislav Ivanovic for a tame shot across Asmir Begovic that the keeper held. Kane then rumbled past and shrugged off Cesar Azpilicueta, sending a dangerous low ball fizzing through the six-yard box. The signs were there.

It culminated with Ryan Mason having a glorious chance to seal the match. Toby Alderweireld sent a long ball out to Kyle Walker in the Chelsea left back zone. Walker took it down and squared the ball in to Ryan Mason who was running through the inside right channel.


Defence parts as Mason runs through to shoot.

The defence parted as Harry Kane’s run took Gary Cahill away and Mason was in. This was supposed to be the moment, but Asmir Begovic easily saved his tame low shot and the opportunity was gone.

Hazard in the inside left channel

We looked at Eden Hazard and his relationship with Diego Costa in the Chelsea vs Spurs match preview. The diminutive Belgian loves to play one-twos with the Brazilian Spaniard through the inside left channel and Hazard’s introduction gave Kyle Walker a problem. Walker has trouble when defending players that drift off the line and so it proved again here.

Hazard carried much of Chelsea’s second half threat, which ended up with him scoring the goal to make it Chelsea 2-2 Spurs. Again we lost our discipline as we looked to jump in and tackle players, selling ourselves and making the attacker’s mind up for them.

It started on the halfway line where an innocuous ball in to Hazard saw Kyle Walker jump in and get wrong side, allowing Hazard to turn and move forward. We were now in trouble. Eric Dier came over to cover and stall the Belgian, allowing Walker to at least get back near him. Hazard then passed the ball in to Diego Costa and surged through the now vacant inside left channel, looking for the return.


Hazard gets in through the inside left channel.

Dier didn’t track Hazard’s run, neither did Walker, leaving Mousa Dembele to try and get round on the cover. Costa returned the pass, Hazard was in and made no mistake, giving Hugo Lloris no chance as the ball curled into the top corner to make it Chelsea 2-2 Spurs.

Disciplinary disappointment

Any title hopes were close to being extinguished with just 8 minutes left of the 90. It was Chelsea 2-2 Spurs and instead of coming together and staying focused, regrouping and going for the winner, we fell apart. Our discipline went and so did our heads.

We still had time on the clock, but we totally lost it. Goaded in to it or not, we were intent on taking out our frustration and four yellow cards ensued in the closing minutes.

Dier could’ve been sent off for two woeful challenges. Lamela petulantly trod on Fabregas’ hand, escaping a second yellow. Then Mason, Dembele and Kane all followed in to the referee’s notebook. Nine yellow cards in total was a joke for a team that had conducted itself with pride in playing proper football all season. It was embarrassing to see us drawn in to this and giving the Leicester fairytale writers’ unnecessary ammunition.

Chelsea 2-2 Spurs overall

Title race aside and just focusing on this as an individual game in the season, it was another match where a commanding first half was not backed up after the interval.

We were disciplined in our attack and ruthless at exposing Chelsea’s defensive deficiency in the inside right channel. In the second half, we lost sight of the objective. Our discipline, both defensive and in mindset, went and we ended up losing the plot.

I like the strength, power and the fact that this Spurs side won’t be bullied or pushed around, but it needs to be smarter. Maybe this is the spirited youthfulness of the team coming through or a lack of experience from not having been in this position before? But more calculated and cooler heads are needed to take the step to the next level.

West Brom and Chelsea have shown that opposing sides that can get under our skin is the way to unhinge us. Others will now surely follow their lead. Mauricio Pochettino, and more importantly the players, cannot allow this to happen and must let their football do the talking.

Final score: Chelsea 2-2 Spurs.

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13 Responses to Chelsea 2-2 Spurs: gift and curse of the inside right channel

  1. Northolt Sammie 3rd May 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    Excellent observations of the second halfs crucial points that led to our devastating defeat.
    On the positive note the defeat in the Carling Cup final & now yesterday’s against the former title holders shows we are getting closer to where we want to be in competing with the big boys!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th May 2016 at 10:54 am #

      The gap has closed, you might even say that we have moved past some of our rivals!

  2. Mark 3rd May 2016 at 10:08 pm #

    I love to read your pre and post game analysis, it is beyond compare. Maybe you can comment on another aspect of Chelsea’s first goal – Eric Dier was blatantly fouled by Ivonovic right in front of the ref. Major handful of shirt that kept Dier from covering Cahill. This is what I saw anyway. Vertongen was carded for this in the first half. It seems likely to me that Spurs got a bit frustrated with the inconsistent calls and they’re own lack of discipline. An older voice/example of reason was needed to be introduced after we conceded the first, but we just didn’t have that player on our bench. I have long thought that not winning the title will be better in the long run!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th May 2016 at 11:01 am #

      Hi Mark, Dier was fouled on their first goal. There was a lot of pushing, shoving and holding going on, which is now the norm at corners these days. The irritating thing is that different referees have different levels of what they are prepared to accept. To be fair, there is so much going on that it is impossible for refs to see it all and maybe they need some help from 5th officials behind the goal that actually can make calls on corners, fouls in eth box, handballs and penalty decisions. Every week it is a point of discussion in a number of games, but until referees start giving free kicks or penalties to penalise it, then it will only get worse.

  3. Antony 4th May 2016 at 6:06 am #

    Excellent analysis and yes once teams realise they can provoke us they will all have a go at unsettling us.

    The warning is there.

    Hopefully wiser heads will consider ways to train our players to maintain discipled focus whilst subjected to intense provocation.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th May 2016 at 11:08 am #

      It is a genuine point of concern for me. I like the mindset that Pochettino has of not backing down and allowing players to express themselves and this needs to continue. Opponenets won’t mess with you if you are big and strong, but we do need to be smarter about not getting drawn in to these petty squabbles. Teams will just try and provoke us, knowing that there is a good chance of a reaction, throwing us off our game, which is what they want. I remember reading one coach who when asked how they can compete with the bigger sides said that they “try to draw the opposition down to their level.” We cannot allow this to happen to us, whatever the provocation is.

      • Chris 6th May 2016 at 12:21 am #

        How about, rather than looking for that 3rd kill off goal, realising the game is won and changing tactics, have the fullbacks sit back and tuck in, Dier drop a bit to help with crosses, and then have our speedy front players (and Kane’s good hold-up play) playing on the break.


        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 6th May 2016 at 5:39 pm #

          I like us to look for that third goal for two reasons. Firstly, 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football. Secondly, changing tactics to be more passive and reactive has been dangerous for us as we struggle to defend when we invite teams on.

          • Chris 6th May 2016 at 10:08 pm #

            Surely 1-0 is also dangerous – if the other team score, it’s 1-1 and the momentum is with them. But I agree 3-0 (or even 3-1 (from 2-1) is a good place to be).

            I know we’re not good at it, but I reckon we could become better at it. I’m guessing the problem would be that Vert/Alder are really good defenders, but not ones who will sit deep and defend crosses, etc.

  4. YouShubes 5th May 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    How do we address this Achilles heel or was it more the occasion/pressure as even Kane got involved….

    Fatigue, Hazard is a one of the few players who can match Walker for speed…

    Sometimes you get few perfect storms… others are just shit showers…

    We need a deep volume passer a Luka for want of a better term in midfield as while Eriksen and Lamela are great at the through balls, they are not great as keeping the ball moving in multiple directions as Rafa and Luka were.

    I was impressed with what Athletico did on Tuesday…and as we spoke about much for us to learn from Diego Costa in term of keeping concentration levels high.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 6th May 2016 at 5:31 pm #

      Experience is often the best teacher and i’m pretty sure a number of our players learnt a lot from that match. It’s also up to Poch and the coaching team to instill more discpline. Whether it’s through watching film with the players and talking through different situations or just one-on-one coaching, its an important part of building the mental psyche to deal with this kind of adversity.

  5. Chris 6th May 2016 at 12:19 am #

    The frustration our team (and supporters) must have felt prior to the match, when multiple Chelsea players heavily suggested that they would not only try really hard against us (which is fair enough, though a little bizarre), but also implied that they would basically roll over for Leicester if it came to it. And then they proceeded to work their hardest all season against us.

    That would really wind anyone up.

    The second point is that, as with all those top teams (and in this case I include Leicester this season), they know how to get away with stuff. Off the ball stuff, crowding the ref (great bit where the ref has 3 Chelsea players in front of him saying their piece while Vertonghen stands off to one side waiting for the decision), sneaky stuff at set pieces, etc etc. And we don’t. And that’s frustrating, and the result is 9 yellow cards.

    Watching Alli this season, I’ve both liked and shaken my head at his off the ball antics, walking into people after tackles, little pushes, etc, but what really occurs to me is how amateurish it is. He’s got a long way to go before he gets anywhere near the snide cynical level of some of the ‘top’ players. ;)

    We never should have expected to win this league, but where we failed was not towards the end of the season, but at the beginning – and the team looks a completely different one to what we were watching last Aug/September.

    Oh, and just a quick thought on Arsenal (and what befalls any pretty successful club at some point, I imagine). Poor Wenger, when all the other top teams have messed up and fallen back, he’s won a cup recently, he’s managed to get champions league for them again _even_ with Spurs and Leicester getting in the top four, while Liverpool, Man U, Man C are all scrambling around … and his fans hate him! I know he’s frustrating with his choices and recruitment, but come on!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 6th May 2016 at 5:37 pm #

      Chelsea’s level of commitment was frustrating. They’ve cheated their fans this season if that’s the level of effort they can actually give. But hey, what else do you expect from that club?

      Top teams, including and especially Leicester, do know how to get away with stuff. Huth and Morgan have been at something on every corner or set piece this season, for and against their side. It was remarkable that the FA actually did something with Huth tugging Fellaini’s hair. Admittedly, this comes after Leicester have won the title, so scant consolation.