Tottenham Hotspur are still looking for a (sponsor to) name their new stadium. Might we (not so) humbly suggest, New Three Point Lane?
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea waltzed in, on the back of 4 losses in 5, and put on an absolute clinic in controlling the game, keeping Spurs’ free-scoring attack in check, and taking advantage of the expectedly rare chances against a Mourinho-marshaled defense, especially in the first-half. Spurs finished with just 5 shots (3 in the first 80 minutes), and other than a couple shaky moments on the left side of Chelsea’s formation, it was smooth sailing for the return of the three-man backline.
Mourinho did his usual song and dance after the game to try to change the conversation, but there’s little denying the fact that he was surprised by Chelsea’s tactics, was unable to change it in the first-half despite his constant arm-waving, and his half-time masterplan amounted to little more than trying to match the Blues and hope for the best. He derided Lampard’s tactics as little more than copying Antonio Conte’s famous title-winning formation, but he was, of course, wrong.
“They were better than us in the first half. It is not difficult for me to admit it. They played in a system they are very comfortable with. A system they played for two years with Antonio Conte. Lots of their players are very comfortable with it. Alonso, Azpilicueta, Kante, Willan, players very comfortable in this system.”
-José Mourinho; source: Football.London
Even if Lampard did copy Conte — not that there’s anything wrong with that — José’s claim of “lots” of players being innately comfortable with it is wildly off base. Only Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kanté played the some roles (key roles, to be fair) as they used to under Conte. Willian, who was never a nailed-on starter in Conte’s system, played the Eden Hazard role while Azpilicueta, who was a center back under Conte, played the Victor Moses role. Rüdiger also played a different position, on the opposite end of the back three. More importantly, Abraham, Mount, Kovačić, Tomori, and Zouma were not part of Conte’s time here.
But let’s not worry too much about Mourinho’s silly narratives — and this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as that’s concerned — let’s worry about how Lampard approached this game in the most perfect way, and got performances to match from his players.
“I’m not trying to clone anyone’s system. In fact, I think Conte’s system was an incredible one that won the league with Chelsea. The way we play and the message I give is different. It is not as simple that if you play 4-3-3 that you are cloning someone else, otherwise you are all cloning each other.
“It was more, can this be a system that helps us defensively and offensively against Tottenham? The way they play. That was my choice to play it, not whether players understand it. Having said that the players took the plan on incredibly well.”
When Conte implemented his version of the 3-4-3, it was a system that relied on passing patterns and automatisms, while protecting the back line from individual mistakes, spreading the play wide through wing-backs, and freeing Eden Hazard. It put more players in their ideal positions than any other system he had tried. Some might say, that’s the goal of any tactical system, but we’ve seen plenty of managers come through the doors at Stamford Bridge who stuck to specific tactics regardless of available personnel.
One of Lampard’s key tenets has been adaptability. He’s been preaching that since day one, in addition to his other values such as high-pressing, aggressive, up-tempo, exciting football.
And on Sunday, we all went to church.
“I think, watching Tottenham, they’re playing really well. They’ve got a lot of players who can run behind and cause you problems – Son, Kane, Alli, Moura. Having an extra centre-back gives you an element of protection, particularly with the centre-backs we have. They never got in on that pass today.
“The most important factor in my thinking was what it could bring us offensively in terms of controlling possession. I felt that, where Tottenham do defend quite compact we needed to use the sides of the pitch. Wing-backs help that. We haven’t been clinical lately but it allowed us to get Mason Mount and Willian slightly inside behind Tammy.
“So we had an element of protection and it worked but also it allowed us to have loads of control of the ball. I was pleased with how it did go.”
When Conte switched to the 3-4-3, it was a fateful decision that changed the course of Chelsea history. Lampard had already tried the 3-4-3 before, where it worked once, and then it didn’t. But for him, it’s less about the formation and more about the approach anyway.
“We’ve waited a long time through a week’s training to be able to work on what we wanted to do today so that’s been great. That’s not just me. It’s not just about me, it’s about the staff and the input. We spoke a lot this week. We worked with the players on the pitch.
“So for me the reason to get so excited was not to look like we’ve actually accomplished anything because we haven’t, we play Southampton in a few days and we need to worry about where we’re at in May.
“But I think for the players to feel how they should feel after that performance and for the fans to see what they can do when you’re absolutely at it in all senses is a big deal. Now, can we be consistent? Can we keep reproducing?”
-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
If we can build on it as with Conte however, this win could prove just as important in the long run.