Both teams could’ve won this game, but Champions League qualification is still possible after it finished Chelsea 2 Spurs 2 at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea set up and tactics
Rafael Benitez lined his side up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. With the inclusion of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, he went for two players who could not only move forward, but also offered a significant defensive presence in front of the back four in Ramires and David Luiz.
Ramires was often the one to burst up the pitch while Luiz was more measured; screening his back four and moving the ball between the defence and the three advanced midfielders. This trio can often interchange, but all three were quite disciplined in staying in their lanes. Oscar kept out to the right, Hazard the left and Mata drifted out to both sides, but predominantly the right where Chelsea were trying to build their attacks.
The Blues were often trying to create overloads down this right side with Mata drifting over to join Oscar and the overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta. With Ramires surging through the inside right channel from deep, as well as Fernando Torres also moving out here, Chelsea had a number of bodies in this area. Their second goal came through this zone, with all of these players combining, as we’ll look at in a minute.
Fernando Torres created their second goal and his passing was a feature of Chelsea’s attacking play. As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Chelsea vs Spurs, he seemed more dangerous to play a team mate in than to score himself.
However, the biggest feature of his play was without the ball, as Chelsea pressed high up the pitch for the first 60 minutes. This unsettled the defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson who were not given time on the ball and often had to go back to Hugo Lloris to clear downfield. Ahead of them Tom Huddlestone was often disposed by being too slow, as was Scott Parker.
When Chelsea dropped their pressing was around the time Gylfi Sigurdsson was introduced on 62 minutes. It was difficult to tell if the decision was made as they were fatigued, or if it was due to the introduction of the Icelander instead of Aaron Lennon who didn’t look anywhere near match fit. Whatever the reason was, it cost them.
Spurs midfield imbalance and early fouls
A feature of the opening exchanges was the number of fouls Spurs gave away in central areas inside our own half.
A clumsy block by Tom Huddlestone on Eden Hazard gave away the free kick which lead to Chelsea gaining the corner from which they took the lead.
The reason Spurs fouled so often was due to Chelsea’s pressing, combined with the slowness of our two deeper midfielders on the ball. Without Moussa Dembele, Scott Parker had to be the driving force from deeper, but he was unable to move the ball forward and often got caught in possession. Tom Huddlestone is able to spray passes around, but if pressured early he can also be dispossessed. After giving the ball away, fouls were committed in panic challenges trying to win it back.
Chelsea through the inside right channel
I looked at Chelsea’s play through the inside right channel in the Tottenham tactics for Chelsea vs Spurs and the Blues often tried to play through here. With Oscar on the right, combined with Cesar Azpilicueta and Fernando Torres pulling out to this side, Chelsea were able to create overloads.
From the left, Chelsea were playing longer through balls, but these were often being cut out. From the right, the passes were much shorter, including Torres’ one for their second goal.
The ball started with Azpilicueta in the right back slot. He moved it to David Luiz who had shifted over in his role to link the play between the defence and the advanced midfielders. Luiz played it to Ramires who was moving forward to create a triangle and he shifted it first time to Oscar as the three Brazilians combined. Oscar then played it to Fernando Torres who had come out to the wing, as Chelsea always had an additional player in the area.
As Oscar continued his run, Torres tried to thread it through to him, but the pass was slightly overplayed. With Ramires continuing one of his frequent surging runs through the inside right channel, the ball instead ended up at his feet. The Brazilian was then able to toe-poke it across Hugo Lloris and in to the far corner.
A well-worked goal and it epitomised much of what Chelsea were trying to do down the right.
AVB’s subs change the game, again
I’ve written before on the game-changing substitutions of Andre Villas-Boas. Bringing on Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey here, combined with Chelsea ceasing to press high up, changed the flow of the match.
Up until the Icelander’s introduction on 62 minutes, Chelsea had unsettled us with their relentless pressing from the front. Aaron Lennon had looked far from match fit and with Gareth Bale moving to his right side, Gylfi Sigurdsson came on and played in from the left. Then, in order to get another goalscorer and support for Emmanuel Adebayor in to the game, rather than bring on Jermain Defoe, Clint Dempsey was introduced as a number ten.
The result was almost immediate as both centre backs were now occupied. Spurs had only taken 7 shots prior to the first change and the majority were from distance. After the change to introduce Sigurdsson, then Dempsey, we took a further 7 shots that were much closer in to the target.
This, combined with Chelsea moving additional players out to the right to deal with the threat of Gareth Bale opened up space down the left. This is where the equaliser came from.
Spurs score through the weaker right back zone
I’d looked in the Tottenham tactics for Chelsea vs Spurs at Chelsea’s right back zone, as this is where they’ve conceded the most chances this season. Cesar Azpilicueta likes to get forward and join the attack and whilst this benefits the Blues going forward, it can leave them open at the back.
This is where the second equaliser came from. Azpilicueta was sucked out to defend Benoit Assou-Ekotto and the Cameroon international’s ball around the corner found Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese front man flicked the ball back in to the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson who David Luiz had failed to track. Adebayor had pulled off a similar pass to get Kyle Walker in with a chance in the first-half that he scuffed wide; Sigurdsson made no mistake with this one.
The pass typified an excellent display from Emmanuel Adebayor. I’ve written several articles about how he needs to be in the box to score and also create for others. Here he not only covered a tremendous amount of ground, but also got in to the penalty area to receive a number of passes, as he was a real handful for Chelsea to mark.
After having run the pitch to curl in a sublime equaliser, it would have been fitting if he could have finished off Jan Vertonghen’s long angled pass as he stretched on the volley.
Chelsea 2 Spurs 2 conclusions
The were a number of factors in this match, but they key was Chelsea backing off from their heavy pressing and Andre Villas-Boas’ use of his substitutes bench. Rather than take the credit, the coach was quick to praise his players, saying they ‘showed great determination.’
This was a big point won, Chelsea are an extremely tough team to beat, especially at home. Prior to this match, they’d won their last 6 Premier League matches at The Bridge, conceding just three goals. Only QPR and Southampton have left there with anything in the Premier League in 2013, so to take a point is a good result.
A loss here would have made a top four finish extremely unlikely, but a point keeps us right on the tails of Arsenal, but in the position of being the hunter.
Whilst a win would have taken us above the Gooners, we haven’t been good at staying out in front of them in the table, often playing not to lose rather than to win. In this position we might be on the outside looking in, but it means we will have to stay aggressive which is when we are at our best.
Final score: Chelsea 2 Spurs 2.