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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.