Spurs 1 Chelsea 1: all over the inside channels, then AVB fails to react

A point gained or two points dropped? Spurs were in control of this game, but AVB uncharacteristically didn’t react to Jose Mourinho’s changes and it ended up finishing Spurs 1 Chelsea 1 in our Premier League clash.

Tottenham set up and tactics

Andre Villas-Boas lined us up in our usual 4-3-3 formation with Andros Townsend and Gylfi Sigurdsson occupying the wide forward roles and both trying to fill the inside channels in support of Roberto Soldado.

Behind them, Christian Eriksen was floating in from a starting position left of centre, attempting to play the ball through for runners to latch on to or burst past Soldado trying to get in himself.

Paulinho was filling the inside right channel, as he shuttled between Moussa Dembele operating in a deeper role and the forwards.

The choice of Dembele over a more defensive minded ball winner in Sandro didn’t prove a problem in the first half. It clogged a very narrow Chelsea side whilst also adding weight to our attack. In the second, after Jose Mourinho’s changes, Sandro would have been a better choice to deal with Juan Mata, a player that always does well against us.

Spurs control the first half

We started and played the first half with great energy and it was all augmented by the high defensive line that was deployed throughout the match.

We usually play high up the park, but in this game we seemed to be even tighter, as the back four were able to squeeze up on a very deep counter-attacking Chelsea side.

In the first 45, this allowed us to win the ball back quite easily and frequently inside their half.


Tottenham ball recoveries first half, Spurs 1 Chelsea 1.

Being able to spring forward from more advanced positions allowed us to create several good scoring chances. Surprisingly these were through the inside channels, an area where Chelsea have been so strong this season – as we looked at in the Tottenham tactics before the match.

It started with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener, which had a remarkably similar look to his strike at home to Norwich in our last Premier League match at the Lane.

As against the Canaries, the ball was quickly switched from right to left with a long diagonal pass as Walker found Naughton. With the left back in space, play was quickly moved forward to Sigurdsson, then square to Dembele.

With the ball being moved forward a level and then square, the Belgian shifted it up to Christian Eriksen to continue the pattern. As the Dane executed a delightful turn, Sigurdsson charged diagonally forward through the inside left channel, leaving Branislav Ivanovic chasing.

spurs-1-chelsea-1-sigurdsson-goal- 1

As the ball goes forward to Eriksen, Sigurdsson sets off.

Against Norwich, Soldado laid the ball off for Eriksen to play in Sigurdsson. This time, the Dane and Spaniard flipped roles to get the Icelander in on goal.

spurs-1-chelsea-1-sigurdsson-goal- 2

Gylfi beats Ivanovic to the channel and opens the scoring.

Sigurdsson made no mistake as he left Ivanovic in his wake, but we were creating from running the inside channels throughout the first half.

Andros Townsend got Soldado in-behind by splitting the inside right channel. The Spaniard’s cross was cleared by Ivanovic after he cleverly pulled Paulinho back to stop him getting there first.


Soldado got in-behind as he attempted to set up Paulinho.

Later on, Paulinho ran the inside right channel once more and a cute pass from Townsend found him in acres of space. He could only find the outside of the post in what was a key moment in the match.


Paulinho gets in-behind once more.

These movements to get runners in-behind are nothing new from watching us and all forms part of AVB’s philosophy of how the game should be played. Incisive vertical football from winning possession back quickly.

In contrast, Jose Mourinho was being very reactive. He had lined his side up to pay very deep and on the counter, something we’ve seen a lot from Chelsea under the Portuguese, especially when away from home.

The most interesting choice was to play Ramires further forward and to the right. As looked at in the Tottenham tactics before the match, the Brazilian likes to burst forward from deep through the inside right channel. But here, with Lampard and Mikel in the pivot, Ramires was having to play higher up and it negated his influence in the first period.

As a result of these tactics, Chelsea were all rather central. They didn’t have the attacking presence to get out when pressed without the likes of Andre Schurrle to run in-behind from wide.

Jose Mourinho reacts

At half time, Jose Mourinho responded by making an attacking change to bring Juan Mata on for Mikel, moving Ramires deeper.

The Spaniard ran the show in Spurs 2 Chelsea 4 at the Lane last season. Here he did the same, as he drifted between the lines, often coming deep and traveling forward with the ball.

Once in possession, he was trying to get runners in-behind our high line with weighted through balls.


Juan Mata passes played, Spurs 1 Chelsea 1.

Often these were snuffed out or found the player offside, but Chelsea had suddenly come in to the game as an attacking force and their intent was clear.


Chelsea’s offside passes, Spurs 1 Chelsea 1.

Their equaliser may have come from John Terry getting away from his marker as Mata guided in a free-kick. However, the initial foul had come from the Spaniard’s first time pass to spring Ramires through our high line.

After that, Torres almost weaved his way through, but was denied excellently by Hugo Lloris racing from his line.

Mourinho then brought on Andre Schurrle to get another player in to the game who could run on to Mata’s passes. Our French stopper also hared out to brilliantly deny the German after he was sent clear.

Whereas our pressing game was effective at creating turnovers in the first half, after the interval it was less so and we were pushed back.


Tottenham ball recoveries second half, Spurs 1 Chelsea 1.

AVB sticks to his guns

Mata was proving a handful and finding plenty of space. Without a proper defensive midfielder on the park, it would have made sense for Sandro to come on and limit Mata’s space. Rather than react to Mourinho’s moves, Andre Villas-Boas switched like-for-like as he stuck to his philosophy.

Andros Townsend was replaced by Nacer Chadli – a tall wide man for a tall wide man. Lewis Holtby came on for Christian Eriksen – a number ten for a number ten. Roberto Soldado was then replaced by Jermain Defoe – one striker that plays on the shoulder looking to get in the box for another.

It was admirable that AVB stuck to his way of playing and looked to freshen things up a bit. However, these moves were a bit strange seeing as he usually uses his substitutes bench quite well, making game-changing moves.

As a result, we were unable to slow Chelsea down until Fernando Torres’ red card. The Spaniard was finally sent off about 30 minutes after he should have been, but by that time AVB had no more changes to play with.

Gylfi Sigurdsson did flash a looping shot just past the post, but this effort, like many of ours in the second half, was from outside the box.


5 of 6 second half chances were from outside the box.

Spurs 1 Chelsea 1 conclusions

The first half saw some of our best attacking football against a top quality opposition this season. Andre’s verdict was pretty spot on: “It’s not a bad result, just a pity our second half wasn’t as good as the first.”

Prior to this game, Chelsea had looked very strong in the centre, forcing opponents wide and conceding very few shots and goals in the process. Here, we absolutely obliterated them through the inside channels in the first 45, playing some scintillating stuff.

Jose Mourinho was extremely defensive in his initial set up, but reacted well at half time to change the flow of the game. Each of his subsequent changes then had a purpose and further influenced the match as Chelsea came more and more in to it.

AVB usually reacts to this, so it was surprising that he continued to introduce fresh legs with like-for-like replacements, rather than making a move to mitigate Mata’s presence. Chelsea were eventually stopped by Torres’ sending off, but by then AVB had no more changes to play with.

Our Portuguese head coach likes to continue to push forward until the final whistle. If, like last weekend against Cardiff, we had scored in the dying moments, then this game would have had a very different spin on it. AVB would have then been praised for sticking to his principles despite the second half blip. As it stood, it was a case of fine margins.

Final score: Spurs 1 Chelsea 1.

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12 Responses to Spurs 1 Chelsea 1: all over the inside channels, then AVB fails to react

  1. abe 1st October 2013 at 11:52 am #

    I initially also though put on Sandro and Lamela. But who would Sandro come on for? If for Eriksen that would mean we would be more defensive – although I guess we could have tried to push Paulinho or Dembele forward – but that has not worked before. He could have come on for Paulinho, who maybe was a bit more tired. The guys who were struggling were our front 4, and with Eriksen and Townsend on yellow cards, this made things a bit more challenging. So putting in Holtby made sense if we still wanted to win the game. The reality whether we like it or not is that Chelsea have fantastic players, and if they all play to their best with the right tactics- then we will find it tough to outplay them.

    • Chris 1st October 2013 at 12:29 pm #

      Our best bet would probably have been to sit deep and play on the counter in the second half. At which point Defoe for Soldado would perhaps make sense, as then his pace comes into play. But you do lose Soldado’s hold-up ability. He’s not a big target man, but his brilliant (or maybe just standard for La Liga) touch means he can receive and hold onto the ball wonderfully (IMO).

      Probably everyone who reads this blog would have put Sandro on, but I think he was on the pitch last time when Mata ran the show, so we can’t be sure it would have made the difference. Mata’s just a brilliant player, and he’s brilliant in the way that Spurs always struggle against. We do better against pure pace and strength – it’s clearly in our DNA and good luck to AVB getting rid of it.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2013 at 3:02 pm #

        Good comment Chris. Mata did run the show last time, part of the reason why AVB seems to be singing his praises recently, perhaps trying to butter him up to sign in January if he continues on the bench. In last season’s game, Sandro was in midfield with Tom Huddlestone due to Dembele being injured, so dropping a bit here and playing these two may have kept some control in the midfield.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      I would have liked to have seen Sandro come on for Paulinho and played with Dembele slightly further forward. The two were immense when paired together last season and would have perhaps given us more control in the midfield.

  2. Paulo 1st October 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Great analysis as always.
    With the benefit of hindsight it might have been better to bring on Sandro, but on the other hand for the substitution to have been effective it would have needed to have been made in the first 5 minutes of the second half, then the question is; who to bring off? All the possible candidates were playing well at the time and sometimes pulling off a more attack minded player sends a negative message and invites more pressure.. I’m prepared to give AVB the benefit of the doubt here and trust his judgement. Overall a good point which keeps us near the top and another match where there were more positives than negative. Good luck in the next game.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      I agree they did score early, but AVB is usually good with his subs, so seeing Mata come on should have raised alarm bells that we’ll now need a defensive player in the midfield as neither Dembele nor Paulinho are this type of player. Both of them can work against Cardiff, Norwich or weaker teams that you can bully, but Chelsea and a player like Mata – who AVB knows well having signed him – is completely different.

  3. Joe Camilleri 1st October 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Dawson was at fault with Chelsea’s goal. AVB prefers to play Dawson instead of Chiriches. Dawson is slow while Chiriches is fast. That’s what you need against fast players. Chiriches is a much better player. He is a Romania international. Before he came to Spurs, various clubs such as Roma and Milan wanted him.

  4. Joe Camilleri 1st October 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    AVB made a gross error in tactics. This was obvious to everyone – when the coach saw that Spurs were struggling in midfield, AVB should have corrected that defect. At least he should have brought in Holtby(who he introduced when too late), not Chadli.
    However, my main disappointment with AVB is that he is too cautious in introducing his summer signings. I mean he bought such class players as Lamela, Chiriches, Chadli , Holtby – only to leave them on the bench, substitutes to inferior quality players. Chiriches better than Dawson; Chadli better than Siggy; Lamela better than Townsend; Holtby better than Dembele. For me, he should have played them all against Chelsea – and not ending up using them in the EL!!??!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st October 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      I sort of agree he is cautious, but we’ve seen this before with signings such as LLoris. Now Hugo is first choice and i’d imagine that soon the others will be too.

      With regards to Lamela, he is still very young, didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived and like the others we have signed, is taking on the challenge of a new league in a new country. All of them need to settle. AVB does work with them everyday in training so i figure his judgement of when they are ready is a decent one.

    • Paulo 1st October 2013 at 5:54 pm #

      We’d all like to see Lamela start a league match after all he’s our record signing but Townsend is bang on form at the moment and deserves his chance. As for Siggy – 3 goals in 3 games is a great return and he’s really upped his game this season. Whilst we’re playing well and winning games i’d maintain the team as it is. We are going to see the new players soon as the fixture list is congested and the inevitable injuries occur.

  5. Boon 1st October 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    It appears that AVB actually anticipated Chelsea to attack behind their high-line in the second half. At half time the pitch was being watered, presumably so that through balls behind can more easily skid away from the surging recipient and for the keeper to collect more easily as well. Looks like his strategy is predetermined here.

    Also, right before Terry’s goal, Sandro was being called up by AVB from the bench. I think he decided to field others instead in the end because having conceded, he wanted to continue attacking to win the game. Agreed that Sandro could have helped even things out in midfield, but the intended substitution was just a minute off. Chelsea scored at the 64 minutes, where this season AVB’s substitutions tend to come around the 65-75 minute mark. Fine margin indeed.

  6. Naushad 1st October 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Great work.

    I can see why AVB did what he did. Hindsight makes prophets out of all of us. But I do welcome the possible return of Ade. If we can get him to be the hard working Ade (who wanted a contract) he would have been a great option when defending a slender lead.

    Consider if a fit Ade had been available, he would have been able to challenge Terry and Cahill in the air.

    We could have say subbed:

    Ade for Soldado
    Lamela for Andros
    Sandro for Siggy

    Leading to a midfield and attack looking like this




    I am not saying play route one but certainly Sandro’s ability to read the game could have helped nullify the threat of Oscar and Mata esp given the box to box ability of Paulinho and Dembele.

    And of course if we don’t lose Terry for that free kick then we would all laud AVB for sticking to his guns and blast Jose for his failed gambit