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Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea overcome Tottenham’s early lead and maintain their wining streak

High pressing of Chelsea’s buildup

In the first half, Chelsea had problems advancing up the field against Tottenham’s high pressing. When Chelsea would build short, they were able to move past the first line of pressure, but unable to break the continued group pressure. Kane and Alli would position themselves in order to be able to shift to the side the ball was passed, and they would continue their pressing through to Courtois.

Most frequently they were pressing on the left: Dembele moved wide to cover Moses; Wanyama was able to offer cover against the front 3, to pressure Pedro when Wimmer couldn’t follow him, and to press Kante; Eriksen would move inside to mark Matic; Vertonghen followed Costa; and Alli would move back after the forward pass (from Azpilicueta to Kante) to pressure Kante.

Passes up to the last line were an issue, where Chelsea couldn’t find early passes to Costa (to feet). Further attempts to play the ball to Costa were lofted passes, where Vertonghen and Dier were able to win the first ball in the air. Additionally, Spurs picked up the second ball on various occasions during the early stages.

Unable to find a way to hold the ball in higher areas, Chelsea were forced to hold the ball deeper and use Courtois often. Since the switch in formation, Courtois has been excellent with his distribution—and this game was a perfect example. His diagonals out to the wing-backs were perfectly played, while his passing wasn’t disturbed when he was pressured on the ball. His diagonals to Moses allowed the wing-back to quickly control the ball and drive forward with it (past the pressure from behind by Son) before Dembele would move over to cover—where Moses was able to either play the ball forward or win a free kick. The diagonals to Alonso were for him to head the ball, where Chelsea have a good setup to create problems (as shown in the Southampton game). Like in that game, Walker was the player to move forward compete with Alonso for the first ball (opening the space behind for Hazard to move into).

Attacking the space behind Walker was not only utilised in these situations; Hazard running behind him was an outlet when playing long passes up the line from Alonso, while both Hazard and Costa could move into the space when Chelsea regained the ball.

Tottenham’s possession in midfield

As a result of their high pressing, Tottenham were able to start their attacks from midfield. They had numbers outside Chelsea’s shape to maintain stability in their possession, Son high on the left, Walker able to quickly move forward on the right, and Eriksen leaving the right to join Kane and Alli centrally.

They used their possession to draw Chelsea’s central midfielders out to open space for Alli, Kane and Eriksen centrally. When Dembele was on the ball and Kante moved up to pressure him, Alli would find the space behind him (moving wider to open the passing line) while also having a side body position where he could both see the game centrally and quickly move forward upon receiving the ball. Eriksen would also make the same movements to receive from Wanyama, but they were unable to find him.

The buildup to their goal was a good example. Dembele held the ball against Kante’s pressing (while Alli took up his position), showed to make the pass to Wanyama (which Matic moved forward to anticipate), before turning and making the pass to Alli.

Further ways they used the ball was: long diagonals out to Walker; Kane with back to goal and backing into defenders on the last line (where he won a free kick); early second post crosses/passes—from deep—by the fullbacks, where Kane would be the target from Walkers cross, and Alli was the target from Wimmer. They also used the wide areas when they won the ball, where Walker and Son were the wide options—along with some wide runs behind from Alli and Kane.

When they lost the ball they used Dembele and Wanyama to shift wide to pressure the ball (as well as forward pressing) where they were able to win the ball to sustain attacks—Dembele, especially, prevented Moses from having the usual freedom and space to quickly move into early on in the match.

Chelsea improvements

Chelsea’s crucial improvement was where they began preventing passes behind the central midfielders. For the first goal Kante adjusted his pressing to block the pass out to Alli (when pressing higher) which, during the delay of Dembele on the ball, allowed Costa to close the distance to the ball—before taking the ball from Dembele. The second goal was similar, where Pedro would press Dembele from behind, before winning the ball.

In addition to this change defensively, there were: moments of deeper positioning (allowing the central midfielders on the ball freely) before pressing the receiver of the forward pass; Tottenham’s central midfielders having to dribble with the ball to go past Chelsea’s midfielders, and recoveries or fouls when they did get past the midfield line or their man; and causing Tottenham’s short building problems with high pressing.

With the ball there were also improvements. When they won the ball in midfield, Costa and Hazard continued to attack the space behind Walker—with better results in the final third. Further attacks up the left came through collecting the second ball after the long ball to Alonso, where they were able to quickly switch the ball to Moses (Alonso’s miss was one of these moments).

To try to control these wide attacks, Tottenham continued their wide focus defensively. The wide shifting of the central midfielders, and the team to cover around the ball, was useful in some situations (pressing Chelsea high), but created problems in other situations. Matic made use of Dembele’s attitude to move wide for the first goal, where he showed for the pass out wide before playing the ball to Pedro.

In deeper areas Spurs continued their focus around the ball. Here the covering of around Moses allows for the overload at the far post. Moses could only win a corner in this instance, but the potential for defensive problems was apparent.

Before this next image (Costa’s pass for the second goal) Costa created similar chances to this, but wasn’t able to find a player—a poor cross or lack of support. During the goal, the over-cover around the ball allowed Moses to have a free shot inside the box.

Conclusion

Tottenham were the first team to cause Chelsea real problems since the switch of formation. Their high pressing, possession in midfield and preventing of Chelsea’s usual possession game was impressive in the early stages, but they weren’t able to sustain it throughout the match.