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Chelsea 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur, FA Cup: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea’s clinical finishing takes them to the final

Tottenham with the ball

With the ball, Tottenham were able to retain possession, break Chelsea’s pressure on the right, and were most dangerous when they were able to get the ball to Eriksen (with time and space) to play passes into the box or behind Chelsea’s backline.

Chelsea held their midfield block, giving Tottenham the numerical advantage to retain the ball in their own half, before trying to push up and press in wide areas. To make best use of their numbers, Tottenham would move Vertonghen forward, to join the central midfielders inside Chelsea’s half—leaving Dier and Alderweireld back to cover Batshuayi.

As Chelsea tried to push up on their left, Tottenham were often able to maintain the ball and play under pressure in a few different ways. When Trippier was forced to drop deep to receive the ball, Wanyama could be open centrally (Matic not pushing up quickly and early to prevent Eriksen consistently having a lot of space behind him). In other moments Trippier could receive the ball out of pressure as Alonso was deeper, again due to the positioning of Eriksen (wide) and Kane moving over to the same side to position himself by Ake.

The reason for not wanting Eriksen to have space to play passes behind and into the box was evident both in this game (both assists) and in the previous meeting (again, both assists), where his passing is deadly and met with well-timed runs in the box from Alli and Kane.

When Chelsea were able to push them back to the goalkeeper, Spurs did have some problems in trying to play short through pressure on their left. Kante’s speed and timing enabled him to quickly move forward and either pressure the first touch (maintaining the press) or win the ball—as he did in the following situation.

When they tried to play forward centrally, the passes to Kane and Alli were under immediate aggressive pressure. When Alli moved to receive the ball to feet (between lines) he would be pressured on his first touch (with body contact) and either be forced to play back first time, draw a foul or lose the ball. When they played to Kane, they could play to feet, head and chest, where he used his body strength to back into Luiz to shield the ball. As a reliable target to hit they could make runs off him (Alli behind and Eriksen looped runs to receive layoffs) while turning with the ball could draw fouls. Longer play to Kane from the back would often push Chelsea back, where they would maintain close distances between the midfield and backline as they dropped, leaving space in midfield for Tottenham’s midfielders to collect the second ball.

More commonly Spurs went to the wide areas with the ball, using the central midfielders to hold the ball before moving it to draw Pedro and Willian narrow—opening more space in wide areas. When the wing-backs received the ball (high and wide on Chelsea’s backline) through long passes, Eriksen would again position himself on the inside of them to receive a layoff. He was in space (as Chelsea’s backline dropped for the pass to the wing-back) and could have potentially played dangerous balls into the box, but the wing-backs decided against giving him the ball. Upon receiving the ball, Trippier would go up the line to play the ball in from the side of the box, or play it in first time. Son was unable to go past Moses in order to take the ball up the line, so he reverted to playing inside, through short passes (often surrounded by Chelsea players), diagonal runs behind on the inside, and taking the ball on the inside before playing an early ball behind the defence and into the box—Kane and Alli making diagonal runs between Chelsea’s defenders.

Chelsea with the ball

Early on in the game, Chelsea found some success in getting the ball to Willian or Pedro running against Spurs’ back three—where they could use their speed to carry the ball past the line. Finding them in these situations was an important outlet as it allowed Chelsea to break out from their own half, cause problems for Spurs and not get pinned back in their own half for prolonged periods.

With the ball in their own half, Chelsea attempted to play through pressure as much as it was possible. Playing out to Ake or Azpilicueta (when they were facing play) allowed them to play short passes up, where the wing-backs could play their usual first-time long diagonal passes behind. Long from Ake was a new option for Chelsea in this match, where they could make use of having a natural left-footed player to play forward comfortably from the touchline to Batshuayi backing in, with Pedro running off him. When the defenders couldn’t face play with the ball (both from building out or passes back to them) they would go back to Courtois and play long to Batshuayi—Tottenham were able to push Chelsea’s possession back and cause some problems through the intensity of their high pressing.

When Chelsea could find David Luiz with time to get his head up to play, they could find further long passes behind Tottenham’s defence both in organised play and on counters, where long diagonal passes behind for the wing-backs would create opportunities to cross the ball into the box early. Matic would try to play forward passes and played some passes behind the defence, while Kante could carry the ball forward quickly (especially after winning the ball) to launch attacks.

Second half

In the second half, Tottenham were able to maintain the ball high in Chelsea’s half and quickly stop counters. With the wingers having dropped deeper, the early outlet for Chelsea (when they won the ball deep) was long play to Batshuayi. This was often unsuccessful as he was often isolated and up against multiple Tottenham defenders. When Pedro and Willian were able to receive the ball, it was often in deeper starting positions—now unable to directly take-on Tottenham’s back three. They had to instead face pressure from Wanyama and Dembele, whose strength and aggression allowed them to quickly recover the ball.

Going in search of new solutions, Conte made a double change to bring on Hazard (to dribble with the ball centrally) and Costa (for long play and pressing), giving Chelsea two fresh players as potential outlets. However, Tottenham continued to prevent them from getting out through the same means.

Although Tottenham were able to maintain a high position and cut out most of Chelsea’s attempts to counter, they were unable to break Chelsea’s defence down for a third time. Establishing early positioning in their own box, Chelsea’s backline cleared crosses into the box when Tottenham attacked wide areas, while the aggression from the backline to press the first touch of passes centrally (between lines) prevented any chances being created through the middle in open play—through either Chelsea winning the ball, forcing Spurs to play back first-time or fouling them.

Late on Chelsea finally found an outlet to take the ball forward in Victor Moses, who used his ball-carrying abilities to win free kicks and relieve pressure. The introduction of Fabregas then added a new dimension in attack and possession: rather than trying to hold and dribble with the ball, he would quickly make first-time passes to link play. His quick passing and Moses, once again, carrying the ball would lead to Chelsea winning their first corner of the game, which lead to Hazard’s goal.

After going behind for a third time in the match, Tottenham switched to a 4231 with the introduction of N’Koudou. Chelsea instantly exploited this through drawing two of Tottenham’s backline wide, forcing the central midfielders to drop deep into the backline to cover for them, and leaving the outside of the box free for Matic.

Conclusion

Tottenham were able to create some problems for Chelsea thanks to their ability to keep the ball in Chelsea’s half, have good positions and numbers to quickly regain the ball if they lost it, and threaten from set pieces and balls into the box especially the central defenders joined the attack. Whenever Erkisen was free with time on the ball he could instantly create a chance, giving him four assists and one goal against Chelsea this season (i.e. a direct hand in every goal Spurs have scored against Chelsea).

Chelsea mitigated the damage by maintaining control between their lines through aggressive pressure and fouls on first passes and limiting the number of crosses Spurs were able to put in from the wings. Chelsea’s counters were dangerous when they managed to get the wingers high, while the quality of substitutions they were able to make in the second half made a difference.