Tactical Review: How Tottenham Hotspur tried to halt Chelsea – and failed

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Updated: November 29, 2016

Chelsea remained atop the Premier League table by the end of this gameweek as well, with the chasing pack of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal hot on their heels.

Chelsea had two back-to-back blockbuster fixtures, against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, that would prove to be a test for not only Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system, but also Chelsea’s title credentials. One game in, Chelsea seemed to have passed the first test with flying colors, despite being stretched by Mauricio Pochettino’s men.

The first half featured two stunning strikes as Christian Eriksen gave the Spurs an early lead before Pedro Rodriguez equalized for Chelsea. The second half saw a revamped Chelsea taking the game to the visitors and Victor Moses capping a fine turnaround this season with the winner that saw the Spurs’ winless streak at Stamford Bridge stretch.

Some important takeaways from the game:

How did Spurs set up?

When the team sheets came out, Chelsea were lined up in their predicted 3-4-3 with the predicted personnel, but the visitors’ system was debatable. What could very well have been a regular four-at-the-back formation with Kevin Wimmer playing as the left-back, it created a few doubts that it could be a pawn-for-pawn match for Chelsea’s 3-4-3 with Heung-Min Son playing as the left wing-back and Wimmer tucking into the back three.

As the game began, Spurs were all over the pitch due to their insanely high pressing (could a non-Klopp team be said to ‘gegenpress’?). However as the game fell into a rhythm, it became apparent that Pochettino’s side had indeed set up with a back-four, but with Son playing an interesting role.

To call him a left-winger would be slightly untrue, as he was always occupying the space between Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta, something that will certainly be targeted by Pep Guardiola as Chelsea travel to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Moses is naturally a winger and his flair dominates his defensive solidarity even as a left wing-back. By occupying the space behind him, Son was giving him the dilemma of choosing to bomb forward or sit with Azpilicueta. This was a major reason Moses, and Chelsea’s right side, was quiet during most of the first half.

Was it a game of two halves?

Conventionally, a game of two halves is one where a side dominates the first half and the other side dominates the second. But what we saw during the weekend was a side that ran themselves ragged in the first half in the hope of getting an advantage to sit on in the second, but when that didn’t happen, they simply gave way.

Spurs started the game at such a frenzied pace that it was impossible for any side to sustain that level of pressing and off-the-ball movement for the whole ninety. Pochettino set them up that way in the hope of taking Chelsea by surprise, which they did, and score enough to seal the tie.

For numbers, check these out. Spurs attempted 19 tackles in the first half, and could only muster about half that in the second.

 

Tackles made in the first half

Tackles Spurs made in the first half

 

Tackles made in the second half

Tackles Spurs made in the second half

For all its merits and demerits, the 3-4-3 is fairly solid defensively, using David Luiz as a spare, shuttling defender-midfielder-mascot-maverick hybrid. Luiz’s play with no just the two fellow centre backs but also the two centre midfielders helps Conte to shut the dam when there’s too much flow coming in. And that is precisely what Chelsea did as they were soaking up the Spurs pressure.

Spurs’ chance creation too fell after the interval as a result of exhaustion coupled with Conte now instructing Chelsea to press higher up.

Spurs chances in first half

Spurs chances in first half

 

Spurs chances in second half

Spurs chances in second half

But speaking of chance creation, the only chance Chelsea created in the first half was the one that led to Pedro’s goal, but the goal was more down to the diminutive Spaniard’s brilliance than that of Nemanja Matic whose pass found him.

However, for the second goal, Diego Costa spoon-fed Moses with a glorious opportunity in front of goal, before doing the same for Marcos Alonso, however the left wing-back couldn’t make the most of it.

Chelsea's first half chances

Chelsea’s first half chances

 

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Chelsea’s second half chances

Bottom-line: How successful was Pochettino’s approach at halting Conte’s juggernaut?

Not very. Giving your all in the first half by means of crazily intense levels of pressing that was unsustainable is never advisable against a side that had notched its first two wins of the season scoring late goals. Guardiola will note however how Son was utilized, and we might see Kevin de Bruyne fielded in such a role, as he will use his managerial know-how to try and be the first man to beat Antonio Conte’s Chelsea’s 3-4-3 in the Premier League.

Note: Inforgraphics used from FourFourTwo

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