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Tottenham 1-4 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

North London is Blue

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea FC - Premier League
“Tonight, we paint the city blue” - probably Pochettino
Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

It took a bit of time to get going, as has been the case a few times this season, but the job got done. It got done largely due to the incompetent aggression from Destiny Udogie and Cristian Romero, who could easily have been sent off twice for his petulance and is quickly becoming one of Chelsea fans’ least favourite humans after the hair-pulling incident last year. Kicking out at Levi Colwill and intentionally going over the top of the ball onto a compatriot’s ankle will do that, so let’s hope he is well aware that he cost his team this match and thusly their position at the top of the table while he withers and wastes away watching from the stands during his three match suspension.

Starting XIs

Spurs attacking intent was on display from the whistle, and honestly had the aforementioned pair not been sent off for being so aggressive, the outcome may have been entirely different. While Spurs were very lucky on their first goal, the deflection off of Colwill taking it inconveniently past Robert Sánchez, they were unlucky on what would have been their second, as Son Heung-Min was marginally offsides in the build up. That wake-up call combined with a nasty two-footed challenge from Destiny Udogie on Raheem Sterling in the 18th minute would get Chelsea somewhat into gear, and Spurs would only finish the half with one more shot attempt after that challenge.

In fact, our first two times of getting the ball in the back of the net, a gallivanting run from Sterling and a fine finish from Moises Caicedo, would be ruled out by VAR for a handball on Sterling and an offside Nicolas Jackson marginally obstructing the view of Guglielmo Vicario after the Caicedo strike. With those three goals (including Son’s) ruled out in the opening half of an hour, perhaps the writing was on the wall as to how wild this would become. That chaotic first half that went on for 56 minutes and 26 seconds and yet the ball was only in play for 23 minutes and 21 seconds. In fact, the game would last 111 and 15 seconds, but the ball was in play for only 47 minutes and 57 seconds. According to Opta, that is the lowest amount of game time for the last few seasons - and time wasting was not part of either side’s agenda. VAR may have been mildly effective (aside from the kick out from Romero, the decisions were decently adjudicated), but it was highly temporally inefficient.

And before even the red cards could even change the outcome of the game, it is likely that the injuries Spurs suffered changed just as much. Micky van de Ven and James Maddison forced off through injury and being replaced by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Emerson Royal were significant downgrades, and both their back line’s speed and offensive creativity were significantly reduced as a result. Their pass map is jokingly hilarious because of those injuries and red cards, while ours shows the concentration of possession in the midfield (albeit mostly outside of the attacking third, which again is a surprise considering the opposition was a man down for just about an hour and two men down for well over a half of an hour) and the isolation that Jackson had up top, constantly trying to play off the shoulder of the central defenders and often intentionally drifting into an offside position.

Pass Maps (lol Spurs)

The average height of the defensive actions for Spurs was 43.8 metres up the pitch. Considering they were playing with 9 men for so long, that is downright ridiculous. For frame of reference, the average distance from our own goal where Chelsea made a defensive action was 48.2 metres up the pitch. Their high defensive line led to a few things - Guglielmo Vicario playing like a sweeper keeper reminiscent of Manuel Neuer in his hayday, and Chelsea showing how horrendously they are able to time a run from the front line, finishing with 7 offsides. Although many people were complaining about Nicolas Jackson not being able to read the line, he was only called for offside once. In fact, no Chelsea player was flagged more than once, and it seems like having Jackson and others behind their back line was often intentional while the second run was the intended target to break through. You can see just how many players are standing in an offside position while the run from deep by Cucurella is actually the route chosen to get past their defense. With 9 men on the pitch, they are playing a high line 7-1 formation, and honestly using the halfway line as their marker for offside calls. That bold action was naive in a league of this quality, regardless of our issues in finishing.

No less than 4 Chelsea players idle in an offside position

The clear way through, rather than a run beating their back line for pace, was from a run coming from these deeper positions, and the first two of Jackson’s goals were evidence of that. Sterling broke through after dipping centrally and deeper for the first. Jackson had an easy tap in.

Sterling created this with his deeper run

The second was created in largely the same way, and the key to breaking down their defense came, not surprisingly, through the side that Romero and Udogie had been sent off. Their defensive left was exposed and exploited. The buildup was all the better because Sánchez had just previously stopped a shot from Son that should never had taken place considering our numerical advantage, and it came as an even faster retort, which was clearly another disadvantage to the Spurs back line having player committed forward.

Easy as 1-2-3

Nicolas Jackson had his first career senior hat trick after accumulating a 2.27 xG himself, but certainly could have had a few more if his confidence and finishing were just a bit better. He has been under scrutiny after his 4.47 Premier League xG has only yielded 2 goals, and if we are quite honest, he should have at least another few tallies to his mark. This ought to help those goals start coming more consistently, and give him more chances to mimic and/or mock the goal-scoring celebrations of others, specifically on Sunday against Manchester City.

Also, a fun fact to finish off...


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