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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.