No former manager has ever won a Premier League game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (ed.note: now 14 losses and 7 draws: Hoddle 0-2-2; Ranieri 0-1-2; Mourinho 0-2-3; Grant 0-0-2; Ancelotti 0-0-2; AVB 0-1-0; Benítez 0-1-2; Conte 0-0-1).
And Tottenham have won just once at the Bridge in any competition since 1990 (37 games, and counting) — incidentally coming against their current manager, who had guided them to 9 unbeaten in the league since taking over, but had been befuddled by us in the League Cup, and miserable when asked about competing against his former team.
And yet there was some concern coming into this game because of our failure to win a game in the league since Boxing Day (3 draws, 1 defeat). So Spurs were exactly whom we needed to play.
Tuchel, lately more cunning and flexible in his formations much like he had been prior to his arrival at Chelsea, went with some amalgamation of what he described as a 4-1-4-1, though that doesn’t entirely match overall player positions or heat maps, which show two holding midfielders as usual — call it a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-2-2-2.
Whatever the exact notation might have been, a clear objective was to overrun the right side. This asymmetrical formation is not something new to Tuchel, having used it in his days at PSG and even back at Mainz.
Conte himself rolled out a 4-4-2, which he had used as a tactical adjustment during the League Cup semifinal, when it worked a bit better. Eric Dier returned to the center of their defense alongside Davinson Sánchez, while Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga were the fullbacks. Ahead of them, Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty were deployed on the left and right respectively.
Tuchel’s overloading maneuver was a stroke of genius, exploiting Spurs’ defensive frailties by spreading the back four and opening up channels inside — and it something for which Conte seemingly had no answers.
The interplay between Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech was as direct of a football as we have played recently. Mount, who was quite lively all game and now leads Chelsea in Premier League goals and assists, and Ziyech, who opened our scoring and showed both offensive and defensive endeavor, both flourished while playing in what would be considered their preferred positions.
Meanwhile, Callum Hudson-Odoi had Japhet Tanganga in his pocket — who was lucky to escape a second yellow as he kept grabbing onto Hudson-Odoi rolling past repeatedly. Though he was considerably more isolated and often the target of either back post crosses or much slower build-up play, his numbers on the day are commendable. His aggression while on the ball and his willingness to stay high and wide helped keep Spurs’ back four honest. However, his go-to move of pausing on the ball in hopes of catching a defender flat-footed with a burst of pace was contradictory to our style of play and was, at times, noticeably slower than our right-sided attacks.
Callum Hudson-Odoi’s game by numbers vs Tottenham:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 23, 2022
92% pass accuracy
8 duels won
4 fouls won
2 chances created
Played really well today. pic.twitter.com/5utfJ9oQcb
Although the first half produced a lot of promising movement, our attackers needed some time to grow into the game, with a couple of misplaced passes or mistimed runs foiling what might have been promising looks on goal.
Spurs played with a hopeful press while tracking our runners and were looking to spring breaks through or to Harry Kane, with Steven Bergwijn playing in a more supportive role as a second striker.
Chelsea came flying out the gates for the second-half, bagging two goals from different entirely different aspects of gameplay and effectively putting the game to bed after just ten minutes had ticked by.
After an attack up the right side fizzles out thanks to Mount slipping, Rüdiger collects one his 26 Spurs clearances on the day, and swings the ball left to Sarr. Spurs shift their defense left-to-right as well and try to press as Sarr feeds Hudson-Odoi — but he turns Tanganga for the umpteenth time.
With room to run and Spurs stretched, Hudson-Odoi cuts inside once in the final third, and finds Ziyech square across in an ideal position, just outside the area in the right channel. After taking a touch Ziyech hits top bins with a goal of the season contender — 0.02 xG! — to eclipse even Mateo Kovačić’s recent effort.
Ziyech could have doubled his tally on the night just two minutes later, and Mount came three minutes after that, both after some beautiful interplay on the flanks and utilizing the width to our advantage left-to-right. Mount just buzzed the bar with a left-footed effort, while Ziyech forced Hugo Lloris into one of his five saves with a spinning drive.
But Lloris could do nothing on our second goal — another set piece goal scored by a defender to continue a recurring theme. While most of those goals resulted from clever movement and blocking off markers, this goal came down to a precisely whipped-in ball and the grit and determination of an absolute competitor to win it.
Mount’s perfect delivery into a very dangerous area should be covered by the three Tottenham defenders surrounding Thiago Silva. And yet, not to let Antonio Rüdiger best him in goals scored against Spurs this season, Silva beats all of them to the ball and guides into the side netting.
Silva once again put in an all around other-worldly display, including playing Harry Kane for the fool in his first half penalty shout and making smart, incisive plays to cut off many Spurs attempts to counter — an interception in the 65th minute stands out particularly.
Thiago Silva’s game by numbers vs Tottenham:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 23, 2022
100% aerial duels won
96% pass accuracy
6/9 duels won
4 ball recoveries
4 attempted long balls
3 successful long balls
A phenom at both ends. pic.twitter.com/waCUC3tqHe
Tuchel stated after the game that he wasn’t going to be rushed into any substitutions, and that the team needed a steadfast mentality to continue knocking on Spurs’ door — and the direct football was even getting some service into Lukaku, who had a few chances from crosses and a few opportunities after sharp turns to get on the scoresheet. If the play of those around him continues as in this one, he will be scoring soon as well.
We eventually did use all three substitutes, one at at time, spaced out over the final 17 minutes, each time adding a bit more defensive rigidity to help see the game out. Substitution can sometimes create some confusion as well, and Kane did have a chance to claw one back late on during a disorganized zonal mark from a corner, which left him wide open on the top of the six-yard box for a header. Kepa was up to the task and finished the day with his third and most difficult save and a clean sheet.
The winter break has arrived. Having seen what just a couple days off can do for this fatigued squad, we can only hope a full week’s rest will be just what we need to hit the ground running in February.