Chelsea switched to a 3-4-3 for this game, which made a positive impact on their capacity to deal with direct play and keep a rare clean sheet, while producing good results with the ball as well.
Tottenham had trouble pressing high from their 4-3-3, with key issues in closing down distances and controlling the wing-backs. Kane covered the middle with Alli and Sissoko marking Kanté and Kovačić, but Son and Lucas had the task of both closing down Chelsea’s wide central defenders and blocking passes out to the wing-backs at the same time — Spurs’ other alternative was to have their fullbacks close down long distances each time, and consequently open themselves up at the back.
Without being able to sustain constant pressure on the ball in the final third, Tottenham were forced to drop back into midfield and seek to defend from there. But Chelsea’s back three and central midfielders would be able to get on the ball facing play, and look to play forward — Chelsea’s wing-backs high up opened spaces to play back inside to midfielders facing play. From here, Chelsea would advance on the wings through short passes and combinations, or long diagonals to wide areas where they often had a spare man free on the outside — wing-backs high creating 5v4 against Tottenham’s backline. It was a long diagonal out to the left that led to Aurier’s mistake to give away a corner, from which Chelsea took an early lead through Willian’s individual quality.
Tottenham faced problems with the ball as well. Their long goal kicks to the left attempted to create narrow and dense zones of pressure, but Chelsea’s aggressive defending prevented any problems. The back-three aggressively attacked every ball played into the frontline and continued that aggression upon second balls played back into these areas or recovered in midfield.
Tottenham also had difficulties playing out from the back. They set up with Aurier moving up early to leave a back three, Son staying wide on the left, and Lucas moving inside from the right to play narrow. Chelsea pressed aggressively against the back three to force them into mistakes when playing with the ball, but there were also a number of unforced errors when not under pressure. Direct play to the frontline has been a problem for Chelsea to defend against, but Tottenham couldn’t find their frontline with their passes from the back to create such problems.
Later in the half, Tottenham began to play shorter passes and go through the midfielders or advance on the wings, where they had some success with their dynamic play on the right as they arrived into the final third (Lucas outside diagonal run drawing Kovačić outside and opening space inside for Sissoko). But there were also problems playing through Chelsea’s midfielders from their own half. When Spurs attempted to play through, Chelsea’s midfielders were very aggressive to pounce on any loose balls and counter quickly. At the very end of the half, Tottenham would pay for this by conceding a penalty and go into half-time two goals behind.
Chelsea had 108 more passes than Tottenham but only 15 more in their defensive third. It played a big role in their ability to constantly stay disciplined defensively and constantly generate attacks.— Jordan Cohen (@sports_by_stats) December 22, 2019
Via @StatsZone pic.twitter.com/Ah8QgHQgwv
Tottenham made a change to start the second half, with Eriksen replacing Dier to provide needed technical qualities to play through midfield with the ball, while they also moved Moura to cover Azpilicueta on the left and allow Son to move into the middle and match Chelsea one-to-one across the pitch.
This change made a difference, with Tottenham now able to keep the ball by pinning Chelsea’s wing-backs deep (Chelsea defending 5-2-3) and then making use of the spaces left on the sides through Sissoko (moving wide) and Alli (dropping back). Chelsea would still create a lot of danger when attacking with the ball and during counter attacks, but had far less possession than during the first half.
Moving Son to the middle made a major impact, providing him the freedom to make runs behind Chelsea’s backline and press the ball with intensity. However, his red card would make the biggest difference in the game, leaving Tottenham with ten men and two goals down despite their improvement in the second half.
Following the red card, Chelsea were again able to maintain possession under pressure with an extra man (even after Tottenham increased the numbers centrally with Lucas replaced by Ndombele), and defend their own half in numbers. They continued to create opportunities to extend their lead, without taking them, but the two goal lead would turn out to be enough to see the game out.
Chelsea’s change in formation created a number of problems for Tottenham, who were unable to solve them during the first half. Tottenham didn’t have the same success they have had pressing high in recent meetings, and Chelsea could create a lot of problems attacking the wings with numbers from possession in midfield. Tottenham’s changes made a positive difference for the second half, matching Chelsea’s formation, moving Son into the middle, and bringing Eriksen’s technical qualities on for possession from midfield. However, Son’s red card reduced them to ten men and made the situation much more difficult. Chelsea were always dangerous with the ball and created opportunities to extend their lead, while Tottenham also had dangerous situations later on in the half to come back into the game, but Chelsea’s two goal lead from the first half would be enough to decide the game.