Coming into the game on a deserved 2-0 aggregate lead whilst Antonio Conte was lamenting his side’s incomparable quality, both confidence and expectations were high in the Chelsea camp.
After lineups were announced, the notable changes to the Tottenham side were a bit of a head-scratcher. They would prove decisive in the outcome, particularly in goal.
Spurs’ actual lineup doesn’t reflect their general positioning, both due to their reactive play to our grotesque amounts of possession on their home ground, and as a result of Giovani Lo Celso wanting to take up a central position in the midfield, almost as No.10. Also, Lucas Moura often dropped and showed for the ball while Harry Kane flexed our defensive line as best as he could, making it somewhat of a 5-4-1 out of possession and a 3-4-2-1 hybrid in possession.
And, once again, Thomas Tuchel would leave all of us guessing as to our formation, with even the official Chelsea 5th Stand app getting it wrong.
The most effective description would be something like a 4-2-2-2, just as we had a week ago in the first leg. The formation did change to a back-three with the eventual introduction of Thiago Silva, but the starting lineup was much more of a traditional back four than we have ever seen under Tuchel.
This was the first time Malang Sarr has played left back for us — though he had done so for Porto and Nice — and has now played in four different back-line positions in his eight appearances: in the centre and the left of a back-three as well as in the left-central and the outside left of a back-four.
While he has been inconsistent, his performances of late have been improving and he was one of our better players in this one, giving Giovani Lo Celso and even Harry Kane the business. With all his positives on the day, he does need to work on his deliveries into the box should he continue as left back, as many went wayward or out of play.
The Mateo Kovačić and Jorginho central midfield pairing was instrumental in our good spells, and both found ways to break the lines around and ahead of them. Spurs were working on a half-press and giving time to our back line on the ball while trying to focus on picking up the midfield pair, but were entirely ineffective at that objective.
Our wide midfielders did not have a great day out, even though Mason Mount ended with the assist. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mount both only took one shot, the former hitting the target and the latter not. Mount was also a little less specific in his positioning, frequently drifting centrally. His poor outing might be due to a less defined role in this 4-2-2-2 setup.
Tuchel was demonstratively frustrated with Mount on the touchline on a number of occasions. His passes in particular were off the mark, with the lowest pass accuracy of any of our starters, an unimpressive 75%. After a standout year, Mount’s seeming fatigue is likely due to playing over 75 games for club and country in the 2021 calendar year.
The front two of Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku did well and are growing into a partnership that could become exciting. They were looking for one another and playing off of each other’s movement. Both were doing a great job of staying onside while regularly breaking through Spurs’ back line, most notably in the 9th and 11th minutes, with Conte even calling his back line out in the second instance, after Rüdiger found Lukaku twice in quick succession.
Lukaku would turn provider minutes after Chelsea regained possession through a well orchestrated high press.
After recycling the ball to midfield, Jorginho notices a glaring gap on the same side from which we had just recycled, and turns the pass right back into the run of Lukaku, who deftly and perfectly flicks the ball into Werner’s path. While Timo’s cutback to Hudson-Odoi would be unfortunately deflected for a corner, the first of a series in the coming minutes, we would be able to use one of those to add some cushion to our aggregate.
The set-piece goal came through Rüdiger — with thanks also to Pierluigi Gollini’s indecision in goal. And even if he did not have his greatest game against Tottenham, he is earning every additional pound in wages and loyalty bonuses we could possibly offer him in compensation for his influence on both the scoreboard and squad.
Rüdiger has said that he wants to keep the goals coming, but more importantly, he is a leader who does his talking on and off the pitch, leading by example and by taking charge and making himself heard. The man does not accept losing or slacking from his teammates, which is instrumental in driving a team forward when injuries or misfortune strike. Plus, he loves scoring against Tottenham.
Antonio Rudiger's game by numbers vs. Tottenham:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 12, 2022
96.3% pass accuracy (best)
87 touches (most)
2 aerial duels won (=most)
1 blocked shot
1 chance created
A rock at the back. pic.twitter.com/098oVsdOkX
Perhaps the biggest talking point from the game was VAR, and its strangely successful application by ... [checks notes] ... Mike Dean!? Of all people?! Indeed Dean did correctly determine that Andre “Eagle Eyes” Marriner had incorrectly awarded two penalties to Tottenham, and also correctly ruled out Harry Kane’s offside goal.
The second of the false penalty shouts was in fact a fantastic display of agility and decision-making from Kepa, who tackled Lucas Moura quite brilliantly. Marriner’s decision to call the penalty was because he was horribly mispositioned, miles behind the play.
The third VAR decision however is a (still) big concern from our current starting goalkeeper. Kepa’s slow pass to a marked player turns the ball over in absolutely terrible position. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg pounces on Jorginho and Lucas Moura picks up loose ball. While Rüdiger drops in to cover the open goal, Kepa, now stuck in no-man’s land, eventually tries to close down the ball. Fortuitously Kane ends up just offside and the goal is rightly ruled out.
There is little doubt that Kepa’s decision-making was bad on both the pass and the subsequent problems that presented. The fact that he raises his hand for offside straight away means nothing — name any goalkeeper who does not immediately pander for an offside call after every even remotely questionable situation.
Tuchel wasn’t happy about our display, but Spurs were wretched again on the night and, as such the rival they are, here are a few things that will make us all smile. Yet, with such a (just about) high noon showdown on Saturday, let’s hope our shooting boots are tied tight and not just it’s not just Rüdiger who is up for the fight.