A frustrated Harry Kane during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League match at Wembley Stadium.

Spurs 1-2 Chelsea: unable to open the triple lock

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.

Conte’s Catenaccio

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.

THree defensive midfielders shield three centre backs during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League.

Three defensive midfielders shield 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.

Trippier often had space out wide during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League.

Trippier often had space out wide.

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.

Eriksen finds space between the lines during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League.

Eriksen finds space between the lines.

Christian Eriksen was first in to this space, but equally Harry Kane. The striker stinging the palms of Thibault Courtois with a fizzing drive from outside the box.

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.

Dele gets between the lines to release Kane for a shot that hits the post during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League.

Dele gets between the lines to release Kane for a shot.

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.

Conte's 3 defensive midfielders as Luiz screens the defence during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League.

Conte’s 3 defensive midfielders as Luiz screens the defence.

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.

Marcos Alonso can run at the limping Mousa Dembele to score the winner during Spurs 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League.

Marcos Alonso can run at the limping Mousa 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.

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19 Responses to Spurs 1-2 Chelsea: unable to open the triple lock

  1. Andy B 21st August 2017 at 6:21 pm #

    Great write up of the game.

    The game was not only lost with two errors by Lloris – throwing the ball out too early, instead of keeping it to wind down the game and letting the shot in, underneath his legs.

    I thought that Spurs were also carrying three players.

    Wanyama and Trippier were clearly not match fit. I was surprised that Wanyama started the game and thought that he should have been eased in by giving him say the last 30 minutes, if the game was going well. Then Pochettino took off Dier, when clearly it should have been Wanyama coming off. Dier didn’t play great, but he was in better shape and not giving the ball away, like Wanyama.

    Trippier wasn’t up to much running and crossing, so it highlighted that area of weakness in the squad depth. Pochettino clearly didn’t think that KWP was up to the level of playing against Chelsea, otherwise he would surely have picked him over an unfit Trippier. This indicates the likelihood that Spurs will buy another right back in the next week, or so.

    The third player who Spurs was carrying was Dele Alli. He just isn’t up to match speed at the moment and offered very little as an attacking threat. I know that he scored a great goal last week, but like the beginning of last season, he is off to a very slow start in his all round play.

    Pochettino should have taken off Dele and Wanyama, in my opinion.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2017 at 6:41 pm #

      It was surprising Wanyama didn’t come off. He looked tired and off the pace with so many loose touches.

      Good point about Dele. He has been lost from games, which goes back to preseason. The lack of space between the lines definitely didn’t help him here, but this form goes beyond that. I’m hoping, similarly to last season, that it’s a slow start before he explodes in to life!

  2. Peter 21st August 2017 at 7:51 pm #

    I think Dier was substituted instead of Wanayama because he was on a yellow card (that could have been red if I have to be objective…). It was fairly predictible that Chelski would play this catennacio although it was even worse than I thought before the match… Like everybody saw the problem was width. I hope KWP or KT can fill Walkers boots. We need more skill and above all speed on that right hand side. A lot of teams will apply those West Ham and Chelski-tactics against us, time for Poch to show he can work out specific tactics for specific opponents. On our day we can play great football with his philosophy, but to take the next step it will not be sufficient…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd August 2017 at 11:03 am #

      Yes six defenders listed on their team sheet did indicate that something was up. Chelsea are a counter attacking team, but this was a bit excessive, even for them. This match appeared a bit too early for the likes of Wanyama and Trippier who have been out with injuries and therefore don’t have the conditioning of a full preaseason. I think, in part, we did pay for that. We did play well through large parts of the match to be fair, its just in big moments we lost our way and those are the ones that have to be controlled to challenge for the title.

  3. ashley collie 22nd August 2017 at 5:26 am #

    IMHO, Mark’s one of the best analysts of Spurs strategy, C*nte bolted the door big time (triple lock), and reminded me why I dislike old style Italian football, like Ranieri did in his improbable Foxes year. PS All Cheatski players were often 15 yards behind the center line. PSS Even with all that, we could’ve had them with some more clinical finishing. COYMFS!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd August 2017 at 11:08 am #

      Cheers Ashley. Yes it was a bit of a throwback formation to 1980s Italian style football with a little more of the theatrics and little less of the rough stuff.

      Chelsea have been a counter attack team for a long while under several of Conte’s predecessors, but this was drastic bus parking even by those standards!

  4. Zaph Mann 22nd August 2017 at 5:44 am #

    I have felt like Eric Dier is often too slow to react and is the root cause of perhaps a third of chances against us – he has tremendous abilities but a definate weakness also. Wanyama – as discussed here last year – had the same liability but generally quickened his game and inmorved his passing; in todays game (his first back) he looked a liability at times.

    Given this the game – and often the team itsself cries out for an incisive passer – Winks – he should have started, I can only assume he was injured. Sissoko was a poor decision – Jannsen would have been a better bet – I think Pochetino missed an opportunity and was out-coached – he’ll learn I hope, yes we dominated but Chelsea could have easily scored 4 again.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd August 2017 at 11:14 am #

      I think Eric Dier is much better as a defensive midfielder and this is why we’ve signed Davinson Sanchez. All this playing in different positions is not doing Dier’s development any good – he’s been right back, centre back and defensive midfield – so allowing him to focus on one position should see him improve as a player.

      Wanyama turned the ball over through poor touches quite often. We know that he is better than that and I’d put it down to rustiness and being out injured at a crucial time when fitness is gained in preseason. In hindsight it wasn’t the game to bring him back and he should’ve been given more time to train and be ready for Burnley, but those are the gambles and decisions managers get paid to make.

  5. Brian Cross 22nd August 2017 at 5:52 am #

    As per nornal,Mark,a very good analysis.What i cannot gert over,is all the pundits.
    Tellling us Chelsea are back..Back to be bloody boring,Why we are all aware,that
    the basic of a successful team,is based on defence..Imagine watching that from week to week.
    It reminds me of the Arse from tha earky nineties.Success yes,but at the expense
    of attacking attractive football.I suppose it depends if you do mind be bored to death
    .And yes Chelsea were very reminisent,of an Itanlian sides from the 60;s.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd August 2017 at 11:21 am #

      Thanks Brian. Yes it was almost if Conte was looking to pull an ultra-Mourinho move. It was very defensive, but I think its something we need to solve how to beat and potentially play a form of ourselves. Adopting our own form of counter attack is a tactic that will catch opponents by surprise, draw bus parkers like Chelsea out and serve us well for away games to high profile teams in the Champions League. I wrote a piece on Pochettino’s use of a 4-3-3 with Dembele, Wanyama and Dier as a midfield trio at the end of last season, so it does indicate that he’s been thinking about it.

      • ashley collie 23rd August 2017 at 2:11 am #

        Mark, I looked closely, often Eric was further afield than Jan/Toby, and joining Victor/Mousa in the midfield, so there were glimpses of that. Now, explain about how to sucker teams out of their own form of catenaccio? Could we lay off the high press a bit or what do you suggest?

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd August 2017 at 10:28 am #

          Good question. Width is key, someone that can beat a man and put in a good cross. We have two good targets in the middle in Kane and Dele who are decent size and good in the air, so it’s not like this is a problem for us. The other factor is playing counter attack ourselves. We seem to only have one high-paced gear to overpower teams and that doesn’t always work as we’ve seen mainly in Europe. However, the biggest key is to get the first goal. Going behind always makes facing this setup even more difficult as it works more effectively when the opponent has to chase the game. It’s the quicksand of football.

          • ashley collie 23rd August 2017 at 3:50 pm #

            But Mark, as in your graphics, and triple bolt scenario, they had 5 across the back with their wingbacks tucked in and three DMs to shield them, and they were 15 yards back of the center line. All well and fine to say we need speed but what use is that when they’re already tucked in like that. You can’t get around them. We tried a lot of crosses but they were clearing them. Barca in past would try to break defenses down (they didn’t have any outstanding speed either) but playing through or over them (dink passes which Alli pulled off last season). Yes, I can see on the counterattack and we had a couple that almost came off. And yes, that first goal is vital. Overall, Poch isn’t perfect, he’s still learning on the job, but he’s mostly right and if we’d been more clinical (Harry could’ve had 3 goals himself), we’d have won it. So our strategy was solid. And, as the chant goes, “we hate Chelsea and we hate Chelsea” — PS we had 160 Yids at our LA Spurs patch on Sunday! COYMFS!

            • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd August 2017 at 6:59 pm #

              160! Awesome support!
              Apologies Ashley, I probably should’ve made myself clearer. Speed helps in situations such as we can see in the second image above of how narrow Chelsea were, giving Trippier room on the flank. It means we can attack the Chelsea wingbacks quicker to isolate them in 1v1 situations. We can then have them going backwards trying to defend or even get to the byline unchallenged before they can get across to cover. Its basically about putting the defender on the back foot and retreating, which is harder for him to defend than when he has stood a player up, halting his forward progress. Once on the move, we can then play crosses or even harder to defend are cutbacks or pullbacks. If these players can go past their opponent then we are in business, as help defenders have to come over and this means they drop their coverage, freeing up someone else. This then has a knock on effect, which is harder for the defensive team to rotate over. I should’ve said we need speed and skill to beat an opponent in a 1v1 situation from our full backs as this is what is required. Both Davies and Trippier are solid players and good crossers of the ball, but neither has the exceptional speed or the potential to go past someone that we had with Walker and Rose.

  6. Erik Zen 23rd August 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    It’s funny we were the best defense in the league last season and yet if reports are to be believed we are buying a whole new back line in the form of Sanchez (done), Aurier (almost) and Foyth (potentially). In the Chelsea game I was taunted by wistful memories of Walker and Rose bombing up and down the wings. Aurier is a speedy right back, but Sanchez can apparently also play on the right and he seems like a pacy maniac. Even if Rose doesn’t leave now he still might not play after his outburst. I suppose a strong, fast, ball playing back line is the key to Poch’s system functioning.

    I thought we did well against Chelsea and the media narrative (Wembley curse / Harry in August / Spurs’ lack of creativity exposed, etc.) is so boring – somehow constantly changing and yet repetitive at the same time. We are still doing much better so far than Liverpool, City and even Chelsea, on balance.

    Great repot Mark!

    • Erik Zen 23rd August 2017 at 1:00 pm #

      Oh and didn’t even mention the Arse… of course…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd August 2017 at 6:44 pm #

      Poch is definitely looking to add speed, even if it does mean some additions to an already strong back line. Sanchez is also a very underrated passer of the ball forwards so I think with him and Toby we’ll have more weapons to hurt teams by moving the ball quicker out from the back, especially over distance. It’s going to be a very interesting last week of the transfer window!

    • YouShubes 23rd August 2017 at 11:05 pm #

      Cannot coach speed unless you hire a sprint coach I guess…I am thinking with Sanchez wrapped up soon (work permit pending) possibly Aurier and Balde Poch is looking to add speed to our team. And given the size of these lads units with speed.

      Against the likes of Jesus and Mane, Sanchez will help us play a high line. It will free up dier to focus on playing as a DM… Can still see southgate looking to use him at CB though

      The return of the Dier Dembele pivot will be useful as i think it lead us to bring on the Big Vic and little Winks pivot to close out a game I hope we are winning against what will be a tough burnley side who will be up for playing at Wembley

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th August 2017 at 12:40 pm #

        Sanchez appeears to be a perfect high line defender and has made an art of racing back to pull off a recovery tackle. I think his forward passing out from the back will also give us a new dimension as well. Hopefully it will give Dier the time to focus his full attention on being a defensive midfielder. Being moved back and forth between midfield and centre back is difficult. Focussing on being a defensive midfielder should see the great promise he has shown at the position fulfilled.