Classic Catenaccio from Conte saw a final score of Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in our Premier League clash at Wembley Stadium.
The book on how to play Mauricio Pochettino has always been to sit deep and jam the centre of the pitch. Antonio Conte went to the extreme with his triple lock of three defensive midfielders in front of three centre backs, but it paid off. Tottenham dominated large parts of the match, but couldn’t unbolt it from open play. The score ended Spurs 1-2 Chelsea with an agonising goal from Marcos Alonso in the final minutes.
Speculation was rife when the team sheets were handed in as to how Chelsea would line-up. As soon as the match kicked off, the conjecture was immediately put to bed. Antonio Conte was using a classic Italian Catenaccio setup. Three defensive midfielders in Tiemoue Bakayoko, N’Golo Kante and David Luiz shielded three centre backs.
The Catenaccio or ‘door-bolt’ to keep Tottenham out of the middle had been firmly put in place. We’d looked at the space that the Blues gave up between the lines in our previous encounters in the Spurs vs Chelsea preview. Conte clearly wanted to prevent this happening again.
The space for Spurs was therefore in the wide areas. Deploying wingbacks himself, Mauricio Pochettino seemed to have the perfect foil in place. However, both Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies had a limited effect on the game. Chelsea was prepared to give them room to keep the pair in-front of their defence, safe in the knowledge they didn’t have the foot speed to get behind them.
Chelsea counters and crosses
Setup in a solid base formation, Chelsea could spring counter attacks from it that resulted in a surprisingly large number of crosses. The Blues had already swung three in before Alvaro Morata could’ve put them in to the lead inside four minutes. The new arrival from Real Madrid sent his header the wrong side of the post with the goal gaping.
However, on twenty-three minutes, crossing, combined with Tottenham indiscipline, would pay off. Chelsea was on the counter attack through Willian, who was fouled out near the touchline by Victor Wanyama. Willian swung in the free kick and during gathering the half cleared ball, David Luiz theatrically flopped after contact with Dele Alli.
Marcos Alonso loves the whipped free kick over the wall from the inside right channel. He executed it perfectly to leave Hugo Lloris flapping at air as he found the top corner. Spurs 0-1 Chelsea.
Spurs between the lines
David Luiz was at the centre of Chelsea’s triple defensive midfield shield and he was the game’s central figure. Luiz started out highly disciplined in his role, but was incapable of maintaining his focus. As Luiz started to get drawn towards the ball, space opened up between the lines and Tottenham began to take control.
Opening space between the lines provided Tottenham with the opportunity to attack down the sides of Chelsea’s three centre backs; an area of weakness we’d looked at in the Spurs vs Chelsea match preview.
We began to fashion opportunities getting down the side of the back three, particularly for Harry Kane. The striker, searching for his 100th goal for Spurs almost got it. Kane spun left centre back Antonio Rudiger, darted down the channel and forced a reaction save from Courtois.
Kane came even closer ten minutes later. Dele Alli had got himself in to the space between the lines and skilfully slipped the ball past Cesar Azpilicueta.
Alli laid the ball in to Harry Kane attacking down the outside of the right centre back this time. Kane cut inside and rifled his shot past the recovering defenders, but couldn’t beat the inside of the post.
Conte tightens the door bolt
Spurs were firmly in the ascendancy after initially struggling. Half time came at the wrong time with the team gathering momentum and much of it being caused through the indiscipline of David Luiz.
At the interval Conte tightened up his team. Chelsea sat increasingly deeper, often content to be in their own half, and stationed Luiz in front of the back three.
This initially stifled spurs once again. No more space between the lines existed and without speed in the wide areas, we struggled to get down the outsides.
Pochettino goes tinker-tastic
At the back end of last season we saw Mauricio Pochettino become very much the tinker man in close games. Pochettino would tweak and alter the formation and personnel in quick succession as he searched for that vital break through.
The manager once again went through rapid and radical adjustments as he sought the combination to open the lock. Speed seemed to be the underlying factor in his tactical tinkering. Son Heung-Min and Moussa Sissoko were introduced as he sought to get pace in wide areas of the field.
However, in his fine-tuning, Pochettino opened up the game. Removing a centre back took away one of the vital cogs that were keeping Chelsea hemmed in. Three centre backs on the field allowed us to push up to the halfway line and free Dembele and Wanyama in front to build attacks. The removal of one centre back created space for Chelsea to counter attack in to.
Willian, with his speed and excellent close control, became the game’s most dangerous player. With room to run, he allowed Chelsea to move up the field and fizzed a wicked shot the rebounded back off the post.
Spurs set pieces
Mauricio Pochettino had rolled the dice with is changes. He had to do something with the game in the state that it was and opening it up by removing a centre back was risky. However, his bets were all placed to introduce speed in the wide areas to get around Chelsea’s central lock.
Pochettino’s gamble paid off. The direct running and pace of Son Heung-Min would be vital in grabbing an equaliser from a set piece, something Spurs had been winning a large number of. Corners and free kicks were both in great supply with the game being played in a tight-knit area of Chelsea’s half.
Son’s run in-behind down the side of Chelsea’s defence initially stretched them. We rarely had a wiling runner beyond the defence down the outside, but Jan Vertonghen found Son with a neatly raised pass up the line.
Son won a throw and from it Tiemoue Bakayoko fouled Dele Alli. Christian Eriksen had previously swung in several wickedly flighted free kicks that had caused Chelsea trouble. One in the first half somehow got through everyone with Chelsea defenders afraid to touch it and Tottenham attackers unlucky not to latch on to it.
Eriksen once more swung in viciously curling ball and this time Michy Batshuayi thought he had to do something to help his defenders. Batshuayi glanced it in at the near post and Spurs were level. Wembley went ballistic sensing a winner.
Spurs concede after scoring
Conceding after scoring a vital goal continues to be a problem this season. Last year it reared its ugly head, but also in preseason too. Remember dragging Roma back to 2-2 in the dying seconds before succumbing to a last minute winner?
Seemingly in the driving seat, we once more shot ourselves in the foot. Marcos Alonso’s winning goal came from a counter attack, but errors were everywhere.
Christian Eriksen took the initial corner, but sent it straight in to the grateful arms of Thibault Courtois. Chelsea could then counter with our heavy artillery caught forward.
Harry Kane tried and failed to pull down N’Golo Kante. Fortunately, Mousa Dembele was covering and could snuff out the danger. However, as the ball rolled through to Hugo Lloris, Dembele remained on the turf.
Spurs are coached to get the ball back in to play quickly. However, with the defence continuing to try and get back in to position and Dembele ailing, Hugo Lloris still went after the quick counter as he spotted Victor Wanyama forward. It could’ve worked out, but Wanyama had run out of steam and had committed several errors from poor touches. As Wanyama received the ball, David Luiz pounced to force the turnover and Chelsea could counter attack once again.
Much closer to goal and with so many players out of position, Chelsea could attack the limping Mousa Dembele playing emergency centre back. Marcos Alonso exchanged passes with Pedro to get around Kieran Trippier and run at the banged up Dembele.
To compound the catalogue of errors, Hugo Lloris was then beaten at his near post by a shot that went straight through him. A disappointing way to lose, especially as Chelsea had created a moment of frantic activity and panic that we had sought to fashion all game to unsettle their staunch defensive setup.
There was little time to recover and time ran out with the score Spurs 1-2 Chelsea as defeat was snatched from a position of superiority.
Spurs 1-2 Chelsea overall
A good performance overall to overcome a tricky start, but in chasing the game we let our own self-control slip and were punished. That cannot happen against the best teams in the Premier League.
Wembley wasn’t the factor. The larger pitch did give Chelsea space to counter attack in to, but our own lack of pace in wide areas was the bigger issue. Antonio Conte’s use of a triple lock in front of his defence made these zones key. However, the speed of Trippier and Davies wasn’t up to what was required to exploit it.
Final score: Spurs 1-2 Chelsea.