An excellent first half was followed by a capitulation in the second, as it finished Chelsea 4 Spurs 0 in our Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge.
Guts and being up for the fight were questions raised afterwards, but there were two keys to this game.
The opening half saw us squeeze Chelsea and push them back in order to establish a foothold. The good work was undone by a ridiculous amount of defensive errors in the second, as we just imploded in spectacular fashion.
The first half was characterised by several factors, but the overriding presence causing them was us squeezing Chelsea to stop them playing out from defence.
The Blues are a counter attacking side, but as we saw in the Tottenham tactics, teams such as Everton have had joy when pushing them back. Spurs made it difficult for them to move the ball forwards from defence by closing down early.
As a result of squeezing Chelsea, this meant that we played a very compact formation from back to front.
This of course meant that we played with a high line and that had it’s own repercussions. However, the compactness of our formation also meant that Chelsea were forced in to playing a number of long balls. These were to either clear downfield or to spring one of their forwards in-behind, as they often went over the top of our pressure.
Chelsea bypass the pressure
Chelsea looking to spring a runner through our pressure was a common theme in the first half and it started from the opening minutes.
Samuel Eto’o almost beat the offside trap in the first minute, but it wasn’t just him, as both Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard were also caught in the opening 45.
Chelsea weren’t just caught offside, they did breach the trap on several occasions, as Eden Hazard was put through by Eto’o, but missed after rounding Hugo Lloris.
Andre Schurrle also whiffed on a long ball over the top in to his path. Hazard was sprung through again early in the second half and would have gone on to shoot had Kyle Walker not chased him down.
Lack of proper number 10s
The first half pressure and Chelsea often bypassing the midfield zone was also brought about by both sides playing without a proper number ten.
Jose Mourinho went with a 4-3-3 formation, but had no clear number ten as he combined Matic, Ramires and Lampard. Ramires frequently filled the role, but he is not comfortable playing with his back to goal and is more renowned for his forward bursts from deeper.
On our side, Tim Sherwood went with Aaron Lennon, but he also prefers to run on to the ball rather than playing with his back to goal, so that he can dribble at defenders.
The manager’s use of Lennon in this role was an interesting part of the game. He wanted to get a player who could close down quickly in the defensive phase in here, whilst also being able to rapidly join any counter attack.
Sherwood obviously didn’t want him to play like a proper number ten, preferring to use him as a central winger. Lennon drifted out to either side to join in the play and would try to dribble at Chelsea’s full backs whenever possible or create overloads in the wide positions.
With both sides going without a proper number ten, this meant that the midfield zone was often very congested.
Chelsea turned the ball over as they tried to play it through here or from having to hit longer balls over the top of this zone. This saw us win it back aerially or from an offside decision.
We also had the same problem. Chelsea were only pressing the first pass in to the congested midfield zone. This meant that we had a lot of possession – even bossing this until the sending off – but it was all across the back four and not hurting Chelsea or drawing them out.
As a result, we were playing balls forward that were being gobbled up by Matic and Ramires. The lack of space in midfield saw Michael Dawson hitting an increasing number of his trademark cross-field switches in play to try and circumnavigate the congestion.
With all of this going on and no true number ten to link the play, Emmanuel Adebayor was often dropping in deep in to midfield to get in the game, as he was being left isolated up top. This of course took away from our attack.
This was the pattern of the first half and after a shaky start, we really looked to have established a foothold. We were controlling possession, although a lot of it was in areas that weren’t hurting Chelsea, but they too also hadn’t had a shot on target.
Second half capitulation
The set up and tactics in the first half saw us in a decent position and prompted Jose Mourinho to make a half time switch.
With so much congestion in midfield he removed Frank Lampard, who was unable to get forward from his deeper role to support the attack. He replaced him with Oscar, a player who is very capable defensively, but plays naturally much higher up the field.
This opened up the game slightly, but Chelsea were still creating from going over our high line. In the early moments, Matic went long and both Eto’o and Schurrle failed to connect properly with the ball.
It was hard to see if this change was going to make a massive difference and provide a more open game as we hit self-destruct button in a major way.
Vertonghen’s slip that started the implosion was unfortunate, but his errant back pass was ill-advised. Vertonghen looked to have panicked on losing his footing, but he certainly didn’t look before trying to hook the ball back towards goal.
The passage of play to see Chelsea double their lead was in keeping with the first half. A long ball over the top from John Terry took out our high line and found Eden Hazard in space.
He centred the ball for Eto’o, who waited for any contact from behind in order to go down very cheaply, winning a penalty and Kaboul was given a red card.
Eto’o had made a huge deal about being ‘brought down’ by Hugo Lloris at the start of the match when caught offside. It was difficult to tell if he was even touched by our keeper in that moment, but he wanted to make sure it stuck in everyone’s minds. He went down injured; then went to the referee and finally to have words with Lloris. Maybe that influenced the referee’s decision to give a penalty on the second incident? Overall, across both incidents, it was great ‘game management’ by Eto’o.
With Kaboul being dismissed, Sandro became a makeshift centre back, but a hamstring injury to Michael Dawson just compounded things further.
Chelsea started to get in by playing through balls to a runner behind our now out of shape and high-ish line. The runner could then play a short cut back from inside the penalty area.
Oscar fired over after Demba Ba was set free to square. The players then flipped roles, as Oscar was sprung and his cut back was looking for Ba. Sandro slipped as he tried to control the ball, leaving Ba to capitalised and make it 3-0.
The fourth was a catalogue of errors. Lloris’ miscued clearance and Walker’s ill-advised back header created a gift of a goal for Ba.
Chelsea 4 Spurs 0 overall
Tim Sherwood had his tactics pretty much spot on for this one and the blame can’t really be left at his door this time for the implosion. It was down to simple player errors that were compounded further by both our centre backs having to leave the field.
We started shakily, but the first half saw us grow in to the game and establish a real foothold. We weren’t hurting Chelsea, but they too weren’t giving us much trouble after the early exchanges.
Whether Mourinho opening up the midfield slightly in the second half would have changed the game didn’t materialise as the first error came after 10 minutes. What followed was another spectacular capitulation, but it was also compounded by Sherwood’s comments afterwards.
Calling out his players by saying they lacked guts is one thing and it would have been fine if he had stopped here. However, saying “There’s a few I’d count on; there’s a few I wouldn’t” is the surest way to lose the dressing room and made a miserable afternoon worse.
Final score: Chelsea 4 Spurs 0.