Tactically dominant, Tottenham committed three horrendous errors as our FA Cup Semi-Final finished Chelsea 4-2 Spurs at Wembley Stadium.
Spurs were in the ascendancy throughout, dominating large parts of this FA Cup Semi-Final by breaking Chelsea’s defensive lines. However, Antonio Conte’s team preyed on defensive lapses and ruthlessly converted them. The game finished a rather lop-sided Chelsea 4-2 Spurs, as the team that played in moments beat one that was trying to orchestrate the match.
Press vs press
The match opened with a frantic first twenty minutes. Both teams were trying to press to stop each other playing out and dictating the tempo.
Chelsea had their front three of Pedro, Michy Batshuayi and Willian squeeze up man-to-man on Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic would move in-behind to try and stop the ball going through Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama in midfield.
Chelsea’s early pressing in the match created problems. The ball often needed to go long from Toby Alderweireld to beat it.
On the other side of the ball, Spurs were equally aggressive. Closing down from the front, Harry Kane and Dele Alli were busy trying to restrict time and space on the ball. The man in the middle of their back three, David Luiz, also had to ping passes over distance to escape the rapidly closing net.
Each team trying to squeeze the life out of the other created early chances and the first goal.
Chelsea counter attacks
Chelsea had already broken out on a counter attack through Willian that had caused panic before they took the lead. With just three minutes on the clock, Spurs tried to press, but got caught by a long ball out and neat flick around the corner.
Marcos Alonso had the ball at the back and Spurs committed three errors in a row.
Firstly, Kieran Trippier went to close down Alonso and then stopped in no man’s land. As a result, Alonso had time and space to send the ball forward, clearing the gaggle of Spurs players closing in.
As the ball went forward, Eric Dier committed the second error by letting Pedro get goal side. Michy Batshuayi’s inventive flick then sent the Spaniard on his way.
Toby Alderweireld is the most reliable and calm defender on a football field. His reluctance to hit the panic button has seen him rob and deny many of a goal scoring opportunity. Whether it was too early in the match and the nerves hadn’t settled or something else, Alderweireld inexplicably went to ground. Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen were both covering to make sure Pedro was running down a blind alley away from goal.
Alderweireld’s unnecessary lunge gave Pedro the opportunity to go to ground and win a free kick in a highly dangerous area.
If only to compound the errors in the build-up, there were more in the taking of the free kick. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris took an ill-fated step behind his wall and couldn’t get back. Adding more misery was the ball flicking off the arm of Nemanja Matic, as Chelsea overloaded the end of our wall.
Chelsea had prospered from their first big moment in the match, capitalising on a Tottenham mistake.
Spurs set piece special
Pressing Chelsea got us in to trouble to put us behind. However, the tables were turned fifteen minutes later. Spurs had already won two corners when number three turned out to be the charm.
Trying to press and hem Chelsea in saw us win the ball back in midfield. A foul on Harry Kane won a free kick and then a corner in quick succession.
After leading the Premier League in set piece goals last season, we’ve struggled this term. However, in recent matches, we’ve seen a resurgence, which must be linked to more work on the training ground.
Nathan Ake cleared Christian Eriksen’s ball in, but good recycling play from Son Heung-Min and Kieran Trippier worked it back out to the Dane. Eriksen’s next ball was pinpoint; Kane’s flicked-on header, inspired. Stooping low to the floor, Kane’s ability to nod the ball with an upward brush of his head was quite outstanding, 1-1.
Spurs force Chelsea back
Each team had punched and counter-punched in the first twenty minutes, but then Spurs started to wear Chelsea down and force them back.
Three consistent patterns were beginning to happen. Firstly, Spurs were able to break the Chelsea press with regularity. Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld were able to maintain and play the ball around the Chelsea pressers. Once in space, the back three could move the ball up to Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama. It may not seem like much, but it stretched and started to wear Chelsea’s front the three down.
Secondly, Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele were getting more on the ball, which gave N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic a problem. The Chelsea defensive midfield duo was now getting caught between going to close them down and shielding their back three. Caught often in no man’s land, space was being created both in front of them and behind.
Thirdly, as a result of this action, pockets were being created for Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen to move in to. We looked at the space Chelsea were giving up behind their defensive midfield and how it let opponents directly attack their slow centre backs in the Spurs vs Chelsea match preview. This space was beginning to be created again and Eriksen began to orchestrate attacks.
Spurs started to dominate the half, but again fell foul to another error and punishing sucker punch.
Wingback Son Heung-Min
Eyebrows were raised when the team sheets were handed in. Antonio Conte leaving Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench was one shock. The other surprise centred on Son Heung-Min and his inclusion as a wingback.
During Chelsea 2-1 Spurs at Stamford Bridge, Mauricio Pochettino had been tactically cute. Our manager used Son to stay high and try to cheat in the space that Victor Moses often leaves behind him. Moses defensive deficiencies are a Chelsea weak spot and Pochettino wanted to expose it.
With Ben Davies reportedly carrying a knock so that he was only fit enough for the bench, I can only imagine that was Pochettino’s thinking here. The manager had other options, but was steadfast on taking the game to Chelsea and using Son as an attacking force. The South Korean has been in red-hot form recently and this was a way of including him in the team.
As can often be the case, Son is a peripheral figure in the big matches. He was here, operating often in the Chelsea half until called upon to do some rare defensive work.
Son wasn’t helped to be fair. Our defence was caught extremely flat and narrow. He started off too tight to his centre back and then finished with an ill-advised lunge.
Victor Moses has a history of flopping. Swansea fans will all to remember his heinous dive to win a penalty when he was at Stoke City on loan. Blackburn Rovers supporters will recall a similar incident during his time playing for Wigan Athletic.
Whether Moses dived, flopped or was just plain smart, Son needlessly gave him the opportunity to manufacture the situation.
Chelsea converted the penalty to punish a second error, capitalising on another moment of madness.
Eriksen between the lines
Spurs had got through some exceptional work to force Chelsea back and create a problem for N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic. The pair was being pulled all over the place, creating holes for Christian Eriksen.
The Dane had positioned himself in the inside right channel to pull away from Kante and Matic and give Nathan Ake a conundrum of whether to get drawn out or not.
Eriksen’s astute positioning returned the game to parity once again. As the ball moved wide to Kieran Trippier, the Dane was lurking in this pocket of space beyond Matic and Kante.
A neat pass by Trippier found him. Whilst this was going on, Dele Alli was also running through the space created between the lines to attack the back three. As we looked at in the Spurs vs Chelsea match preview, the Blues back line is vulnerable when exposed to pace.
Dele Alli’s out-to-in runs have been a feature under Mauricio Pochettino. As Dele pointed where he wanted the ball, Christian Eriksen put it on a sixpence. A more brilliant assist and finish you will not see.
Twice coming from behind to make up for needless errors, Spurs were now fully in control of the match. Antonio Conte was rattled and knew he had to make changes. On came the big guns. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were first in to the fray. Cesc Fabregas soon followed as Conte sought to regain some kind of control in midfield.
Spurs continued to pound away. Dembele and Wanyama constantly regaining and recycling play for Eriksen to probe a retreating defence. Howevre, in going for the knockout punch, another combination of errors compounded to give Chelsea the lead once more.
Spurs were committing to attack, but a Chelsea break and counter saw Dele Alli needlessly trip Victor Moses to stop it. Dele again had cover and there was no reason to halt Chelsea’s break at that point.
Conceding a free kick on halfway didn’t seem like much. However, it allowed Chelsea to move up the field. The Blues had been hemmed in and were struggling to get out of their half of the pitch. This was an easy way out.
From the restart, Chelsea went and won a corner, their first of the match. More unnecessary pressure had been invited.
Regular readers will know my bugbears of the Spurs three man zonal system at corners. The scheme has got us in to issues before and it did once more here with another error being committed.
A huge pack of players surrounded the penalty spot, creating confusion with the mix of man and zonal marking. Eden Hazard was allowed to drift off the back, unmarked.
Chelsea’s most dangerous player had time to collect the loose ball and return it with interest. Eric Dier was too afraid of deflecting it in to his net and could only watch as it raced in to the corner.
For a third time Spurs had made unnecessary errors, both in the build up to and defending of the corner.
Matic ends it
Spurs had tried to dominate the match; Chelsea wanted to command the big moments.
Three goals had arrived from ruthlessly taking advantage of Tottenham errors that had presented golden chances. A fourth was added to put the game out of reach with a pearling strike from an unexpected scorer. Nemanja Matic picked out the top corner after excellent passing from Fabregas and Hazard.
Antonio Conte had introduced the pair for their passing and control of the ball. He sought to regain some influence on the match, as his team could not maintain possession in the face of Tottenham’s closing down.
The duo combined to work the ball neatly out of the corner to the waiting Matic to hammer his shot goal wards. Hugo Lloris had no chance and at Chelsea 4-2 Spurs the game was up.
After waiting for and dominating the big moments, Chelsea had finally manufactured a goal that didn’t rely on a Tottenham error.
Chelsea 4-2 Spurs overall
Tottenham bossed much of the match through establishing and breaking the Chelsea lines.
N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic were given problems by Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama. The Chelsea pair was drawn up and it created space behind for Christian Eriksen to work in.
Eriksen had two assists on two beautifully crafted goals. However, great play is not enough when it is undone by unnecessary errors. Chelsea took advantage of these moments to continually go ahead in the match. Constantly fighting back from a goal behind, we couldn’t continue to draw level and eventually it became too much.
For once, Wembley wasn’t the problem. Spurs were their own worst enemy here. The team has made great strides in the last three seasons and will continue to do so. This was another learning experience that will serve us better down the line. It will sting, but the team will emerge stronger.
Final score: Chelsea 4-2 Spurs.
MOTM: Mousa Dembele.