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Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Breaking down the derby win

First half

Chelsea had a lot of possession during the first half, and were able to regularly get behind Spurs’ frontline, open up spaces between lines, and create opportunities from the right — for crosses, passes into the middle and finding runs behind Spurs’ backline.

Spurs set up in a 4-2-2-2, with tight marking and following players into lines behind or ahead of them. Bergwijn and Ndombele were in the second row of two, and had the responsibility to man mark Jorginho and Kovačić to stop Chelsea building using their technical qualities. Ahead of them, Son and Vinicius held a position just ahead of Chelsea’s two central midfielders, where they looked to block passes through the middle (with the two behind man marking) and closed down Chelsea’s wide central defenders when the distances were close.

Chelsea were quite comfortable in dealing with this and moving past it, with Jorginho and Kovačić able to receive and break Spurs’ pressure moments throughout the game (where they had numbers tight to Chelsea’s players around the ball and were pushing up to win the ball) to maintain comfortable distances and time on the ball in possession. Meanwhile, Azpilicueta was able to consistently get behind Son to receive the ball in space and play forward passes.

Behind Spurs’ front four, the two sitting midfielders and back four would look to stay tight to Chelsea’s offensive options, which would see them getting moved around a lot and opening big gaps in midfield. Spurs’ fullbacks looked to cover Chelsea’s wing-backs, the central defenders looked to follow Chelsea’s front two when they dropped for the ball, one of the sitting midfielders would look to cover Mount wherever he moved for the ball, while the sitting midfielder often took to pick up one of Chelsea’s front two when defending deeper to allow for a spare man at the back.

With Azpilicueta getting onto the ball in space (behind Son) on the right, Spurs were often left with a lot of space to cover in midfield. One of the sitting midfielders would be forced to thus drop into the backline, leaving the front four ahead of the ball, one sitting midfielder looking to mark Mount, a spare central defender, and the rest of the backline close to their man. Hudson-Odoi moving to the wing with James would cause Davies a lot of problems, as he would find himself doubled up. Werner offered dangerous runs behind from the far side for Azpilicueta to find (which would see him winning the penalty and Chelsea taking the lead) and Mount could really show his quality to find spaces, turn on the ball and combine with teammates to break the oppositions lines and create opportunities — similar to Roberto Firmino in this role.

Chelsea continued to take the ball forward with their possession and control the positions where the game was played, pushing Spurs back and maintaining defensive control to recover the ball quickly when lost — a spare man at the back to deal with counters and close distances. Although Chelsea would arrive to the box often, Spurs made fast and aggressive recoveries inside their box to slow down or block a number of those situations.

Second half

Spurs switched to a 4-2-3-1 at half. This allowed Son to stay on Azpilicueta and gain space to progress, and it allowed Spurs to press much more aggressively on Chelsea’s back three.

However, the change would also allow Jorginho and Kovačić to come more into the game more, to receive the ball under pressure and break through with their quality combinations— Jorginho finding Kovačić with space ahead to break through with the ball. Now it would be a case of what Kovačić could do with his passes into the frontline (Spurs’ sitting midfielders looking for interceptions) and what his decision-making was when he broke through into the final third to create chances. When Kanté came on to replace Kovačić later in the half, he had a difficult time with the ball in such conditions, but it was in a moment where his defensive qualities were of greater importance.

Spurs were playing on the front foot after this substitution, with a much more aggressive approach, but a lot of their moments of pressure were cut off by Chelsea winning free kicks and thus preventing Spurs from sustaining their intensity and winning the ball high up. Sustaining such pressure and intensity is impossible to do for too long, so as the half progressed distances increased and space to break through the pressure presented to Chelsea, and Spurs would again be pushed back into their own half.

Despite creating a number of opportunities in both halves, Chelsea wouldn’t go on to extend their lead and kept Spurs in the game as a result. This would see Chelsea spending the final stage of the game having to defend deep on a number of occasions. Lamela’s qualities from the bench really caused Chelsea a lot of problems — finding dangerous spaces, quick dribbling, combinations, passes and getting shots on goal. However, Chelsea were able to hold on to the lead to see the game out.

Spurs vs. Chelsea xG timing chart
Understat

Conclusion

Chelsea broke through Spurs’ frontline consistently during the first half, with Azpilicueta finding spaces behind on the right to play into, and would go on to create opportunities in the final third. Despite Spurs’ bad first half, they remained strong at the back to go into the break only one goal behind, and would come out with a much more aggressive approach and a slight change in formation in the second half to play on the front foot. Chelsea now had to play through intense pressure, try to use the technical qualities of the central midfielders, and draw fouls to break the pressure when needed. Chelsea couldn’t go on to extend the lead with the opportunities created during the second half, and in doing so, left the door open for Spurs to attack in the final stages, but Chelsea’s deep defending was able to see the game out for all three points.