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Tottenham 1-0 Chelsea, League Cup: Tactical Analysis

Tactical breakdown of Chelsea’s narrow defeat at Wembley in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal

First half

A much better start for Chelsea than in the previous game against Spurs. Rather than continually attempt to play the ball up the same side and thus fail to break the aggressive and physical pressure, this time Chelsea managed to regularly defeat the high press by using switches.

Early on in the half, Chelsea attempted to advance up the wings as they had in the last game and lost the ball. This changed once Chelsea took advantage of a mismatch in midfield — Barkley having the physical advantage against Winks (unlike Kovačić vs. Dier previously) and able to hold onto the ball when Winks moved up to press him high, then turn inside and find Azpilicueta on the far side and in space to move forward with the ball and push Spurs back. This space for switches to the fullbacks was there in the previous game as well, but was not used frequently enough to Chelsea’s advantage.

By breaking the high pressure, Chelsea could build attacks from midfield and enter the final third regularly, push Spurs back to defend deep, and cut out the threat of short counters that would often result from losing the ball under pressure in one’s own half. In deep defending, Sissoko and Winks (the latter covering for Eriksen when the ball was on the left, central when the ball was in the middle or the right) supported the fullbacks to defend the wings, and both Eriksen and Alli (latter forced to defend deeper for longer periods, rather than being able to control Jorginho) covered the middle — Alli providing his physical attributes to support the team. Chelsea would again brake pressure when applied in midfield, with combinations on the right before then using switches to advance into the final third.

Chelsea could continue switching the ball further upfield, too, to keep shifting Spurs’ midfielders and force their back four to defend their box. Barkley and Kanté both had a few opportunities for long shots from switching back inside after establishing the position high on the wings, as well as inside the box from crosses (Kanté) and set pieces (Barkley at the near post from corners). Further opportunities for Hazard to shift and shoot with the ball or combine (dropping back later on in the half to collect the ball), and Hudson-Odoi to cross or shoot from the switches to him, provided good options, but few clear cut chances. Runners behind on the left were another option when Alonso was on the ball from deep in midfield (Willian, Barkley and Hazard), but too many of these situations were wasted throughout the match.

With the ball, Spurs would build with Sissoko dropping to right back, Winks to left back, while the actual fullbacks moved up into the midfield, with Alli behind the front two and Eriksen behind Alli in a free position to look for space and help build play. Chelsea weren’t too aggressive from the front with their pressure, and instead tried to trap Spurs in the corners and prevent them from playing back across. Passes played inside would be met with aggressive pressure from Chelsea’s midfielders and offered opportunities to intercept the ball, with Spurs finding very little success this way.

Where Spurs were more successful with the ball was in playing long and early for the front two to compete for the ball, both from deep building and during counters. Upon moving the ball forward to the fullbacks, Spurs would quickly change the speed of their play by playing forward and into the strikers, for example, but the chance for their goal was created by moving the ball to the right then playing it back to Alderweireld, in space, to look forward and play long to runners. The first time Alderweireld tried this long pass behind, Son was offside, but then, shortly thereafter, the same situation happened with Kane running behind.

Second half

A poor attempted switch at the start of the second half by Barkley, while Spurs were pressing high, provided an early chance for Spurs to score but Rüdiger was able to win the ball from Alli. Then, another quick chance from a counter saw Kane have a shot on target from outside the box. However, despite this start, Chelsea would go on to control the majority of the second half.

Eriksen and Alli switched positions during the second half to take the defensive responsibility away from Eriksen (especially with Winks, who was covering him, already on a yellow card), and increased the physical attributes in the middle by doing so. The switch initially provided a good shift in momentum for Spurs, but only for a brief period as Chelsea quickly re-took control by breaking Spurs’ attempts to press high and increasing their own aggressive pressing to stop Spurs’ attacks and counters.

However, as in a number of games this season, Chelsea were unable to capitalise on the opportunities created, with Spurs’ backline and goalkeeper clearing and stopping crosses well enough inside the box.


Chelsea improved their performance from the previous meeting, a 3-1 defeat away to Spurs, as they were now able to break the pressure with switches and combinations on the wings (albeit against a less physical Spurs team than they faced in the defeat) and regularly move into the final third with the ball. Chelsea had some opportunities to create and score in the first half, before taking control of the majority of the second half. But, crucially, they yet again failed to find the find the back of the net.

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