We had the opportunities before Jose Mourinho repositioned Nemanja Matic, but didn’t take them, as our Premier League clash finished Spurs 0-0 Chelsea.
On a blustery day, we huffed and puffed, but failed to blow the Blues away with the final score Spurs 0-0 Chelsea at White Hart Lane.
The opening of the game was very much dictated by Chelsea’s tactical setup. The Blues were content to drop off and engage the ball as it entered the middle third. They were trying to force us to pass the ball in to the middle of the pitch by having Oscar and Eden Hazard split between our centre backs. This was done to stop Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, along with Eric Dier dropping in, from playing the ball around.
Once Hazard and Oscar had filtered out the passing between our back three and Hugo Lloris, Chelsea attempted to regain the ball around the halfway line. They had some success doing it, which sparked counter attacks, but it forced us to look to pass long from the back. We had some success with this tactic. A long pass downfield from the back was cushioned down by Son Heung-Min for Harry Kane to have a fierce shot that ended up being blocked.
Chelsea played much of the first half, and indeed the match, in this way so that they could initiate counter attacks without a recognised centre forward.
Spurs chance creation
As the match wore on, we did start to navigate Chelsea’s setup and created a number of chances from two distinct attacking avenues.
The first type of chances came from getting beyond Nemanja Matic to run at Chelsea’s exposed centre backs. This was a fallibility we looked at in the Spurs vs Chelsea preview. The Serbian was playing very aggressively to push up and aid with the ball recovery in central midfield once Oscar and Hazard had done their siphoning job. This left him, and thus the back four, vulnerable to runners going at them with the ball once Matic had been navigated past.
Christian Eriksen broke in to this space beyond Matic to run at the exposed centre backs. Eriksen slid the ball across for Harry Kane who unleashed a venomous drive. It bounced up right in front of Asmir Begovic and was clawed away by the Chelsea keeper’s quick reflexes.
Later and Mousa Dembele had a smart low-driven effort pushed around the post by Begovic at full stretch. Dembele got beyond Matic, left Fabregas for dead and was in on the centre backs.
Next it was back to the Eriksen and Kane combination as the high position of Matic was exposed again. Kane snuck in-between the Chelsea lines and was beyond Matic once more. He had time and space to run straight at Chelsea’s exposed centre backs, but saw his shot deflected up over the bar.
The second type of chance generation came from crosses. We’d looked in the Spurs vs Chelsea preview at how Branislav Ivanovic has been exposed by opponents this season, but interestingly we had success from attacking left back Cesar Azpilicueta.
The Spaniard is an extremely reliable defender but he was struggling with the inside drifting Son Heung-Min and Kyle Walker’s overlaps. With Chelsea’s setup of Hazard as a false nine with Willian, Pedro and Oscar off him, they often rotated players up top. It left Azpilicueta without a consistent midfielder in front of him to help. This meant that he was sometimes left 2v1 against Son and Walker who could expose the overload.
The best chance from a cross arrived from attacking Azpilicueta’s zone. With Son moving inside, Harry Kane drifted out wide to keep the numerical advantage and was travelling at pace when he ran on to the ball. His momentum took him away from the left back and he pinged in a peach of a cross straight to Son Heung-Min at the back post. The South Korean had snuck in behind Branislav Ivanovic and with all the pace on the ball it looked as if he only needed to keep the header down. He did, but it went straight at Asmir Begovic, when either side would’ve seen him score.
For all our possession, Eden Hazard was the biggest threat going the other way. With Diego Costa on the bench, the Belgian was moved in to a false nine role by Jose Mourinho as he looked to counter attack with his plethora of small, nippy playmakers.
Hazard was looking to set the initial trap with Oscar when we had the ball, but once possession was regained he was between the lines and causing a nuisance. This played to their strengths as Chelsea do like to play through the inside channels to create their chances. Although this method was how they created the first real scare, as Hazard and Pedro linked to force a clearance in front of Hugo Lloris by Toby Alderweireld, Chelsea created their best opportunities from crosses. Hazard planted a ball in from Oscar over the bar. In the second half, he forced a brilliant reaction save as Hugo Lloris flicked his controlled volley from Branislav Ivanovic’s cross around the post.
Second half Matic manoeuvre
After a first half that had simmered with some decent chances, the second half was a real stalemate with very few good opportunities.
At half time Jose Mourinho must’ve instructed Matic to play much deeper and to not get drawn in up the pitch, as in the second half he was much closer to his centre backs. As a result, Chelsea were much more difficult to play through. The only real chance for us came from a highly inventive pass by Erik Lamela, as he played a one-two with Son Heung-Min.
Son jinked and passed the ball in to Lamela who flicked it up and over a swarm of Chelsea players, only for the South Korean to shoot straight at Begovic. To be fair, the half-volley was difficult for Son to control or get much power on, but either side of Begovic and he would’ve opened the scoring.
Mauricio Pochettino did make some changes to try and loosen Chelsea up. Erik Lamela came on for the injured Ryan Mason and although the Argentinean was sprightly, we lost some impetus passing through midfield.
With Chelsea playing narrow and closing out the middle, what was needed was some natural width. Mauricio Pochettino didn’t really have much in the way of this on the bench and Clinton N’Jie was about the best choice. However, in playing him up top and shifting Harry Kane just off him, we were just going in to the heart of the Chelsea defence with a player that isn’t as comfortable as Kane playing with his back to goal.
Spurs 0-0 Chelsea overall
There wasn’t the same zip and buzz to our play. Our pressing game was causing them problems, but after the trip to Azerbaijan, our two most energetic and influential players, Mousa Dembele and Kyle Walker, were ones that didn’t travel. Jan Vertonghen said after the match that we “lacked a bit of freshness by the end” and he “felt it a little bit” when questioned about the trip to Baku. It explained much of the drop off in the second half.
A point isn’t usually a bad result against Chelsea, but when we go in to a game with them as favourites and have a large degree of control over the match, it’s disappointing that we didn’t turn one point in to three. The relocation of Nemanja Matic in the second half to play deeper was key to slowing our chance creation and we didn’t take advantage of his higher positioning before the move.
Final score: Spurs 0-0 Chelsea.