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Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 (5-4 p/k) Chelsea, League Cup: Tactical Analysis

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Breaking down Chelsea’s failure to beat Spurs in the Carabao Cup fourth round

First half

Chelsea had lot of the ball during the first half, but without being able to do much with it for the most part. Their possession came along their backline and deep central midfielders, but they kept the ball ahead of Spurs’ front two. Dropping back often to the sides or between the central defenders was little use, except in the moments where Spurs attempted to press high up in the final third — at which point the fullbacks could find spaces as Spurs’ wide central midfielders pushed up high and wide to pressure the defender or midfielder split wide in the fullback position. But even after breaking through the first line of pressure, Chelsea wouldn’t make a penetrative pass to create an opportunity in the final third, instead holding the ball with safe possession until Spurs dropped back.

Spurs were patient in their defensive approach, looking to play for moments and stay in the game, especially with the possibility of bringing on more attacking talent in the second half. They kept good defensive control for the most part, even when a line was broken, but had very little to offer with deep counters or possession of their own. Their shape was always compact and the backline kept the right distances to both keep the lines tight and to drop back in the moments where depth behind could’ve been exposed — when a Chelsea player was free on the ball and facing play.

Errors and loose balls would be decisive in the first half, with Hudson-Odoi having a chance from a defensive mistake, before Reguilón’s slide allowed Azpilicueta to find Werner on the edge of the box to give Chelsea the lead with a wonderful finish. At the other end, Gedson Fernandes got onto loose balls a couple times, with Mendy saving 1-v-1 then getting blocked on two occasions by excellent defensive play from Zouma.

Spurs would push up higher from midfield after going behind and recovered the ball to play from a higher starting point, but other than the opportunity for Lamela neither team really threatened the opposition goal for the remainder of the half.

Second half

In the second half there was more broken play, from Spurs pressing higher up and Chelsea going longer in the initial stages, while spaces opened up later in the half for Chelsea to counter quickly.

With Spurs pressing high and aggressively, Chelsea began to play long both directly from goal kicks or while under pressure. This gave Spurs’ midfielders and backline the platform to win the ball and launch quick attacks on the wings. Their wing-backs found spaces advancing high up during these broken moments (Chelsea’s wingers still high up) and Reguilón received the ball free at the back post from one of these situations early on in the second half (Mendy save).

Kane replacing Tanganga would see Spurs switch to a 4-2-3-1 for the final twenty minutes of the half, while Chelsea brought on Kanté for Kovačić at the same time. Spurs’ change opened them up at the back more, with one less in the backline and midfield to defend direct attacks (Ndombele higher up leaving two deep central midfielders and one less in the backline), but gave them the extra man to attack the box, with both fullbacks advancing in and around the box from all attacks.

Kanté’s energy to move into spaces and carry the ball would allow Chelsea to break through Spurs’ high pressure for the remainder of the half, and Chelsea would start to create opportunities in the final third from their deep build up for the first time in the game.

However, Chelsea missed excellent opportunities from counters to kill the game, even with Spurs temporally down to ten men. Not taking advantage of these moments would come back to hurt Chelsea, where Lamela found space at the far post to receive the ball and equalise, before the game went to penalties and Spurs came out on top.

Conclusion

Chelsea had lot of the ball in the first half, but without threatening. The main opportunities came from loose balls and errors, which Chelsea were able to take advantage of to go into halftime with the lead. Spurs pressed higher up and began to create chances by recovering the ball from Chelsea’s long play, before switching formation and opening up to look for an equaliser. Chelsea had chances to kill the game from counters after that change, but without being able to kill the game with the second goal they left the door open for Spurs to score an equaliser and win the game on penalties.