Taking into consideration the unbelievable amount of turmoil the club has gone through in the past year, all beginning with the sanctions imposed on our former owner, we should have expected some transitional issues off the pitch. We may not have expected as much on the pitch to change as behind the scenes, but that just wouldn’t be Chelsea, would it?
Injuries and new signings can only excuse so much - there are basic tenets and standards that need to be upheld amongst the selected playing squad (ideally the entire squad, but we are far from that) that aren’t being met. Moreover, the opposition should be duly analysed to thwart their greatest threats, and the manager needs to be able to communicate that to the players, who then shoulder the responsibility of performing their tasks. Those issues simply were not properly addressed, even with a full week of preparation.
Graham Potter continues searching for his best eleven from a squad of exorbitant size, and that search has been absolutely detrimental to our results. Considering that we have multiple potential starters working their way back to fitness, that decision won’t become any easier. What will especially complicate the situation will ironically be losing a player, Thiago Silva, the only consistently reliable performer this season. In fact, his mere presence is so dominant that one truly questions whether either Tottenham goal would have been scored had he been on the pitch.
Tottenham have a clear model and, considering Antonio Conte has been a Chelsea coach within the last 5 years (despite that feeling much longer ago) and players from his title winning squad still remain at the club, that model should have been obvious and tactics should have been implemented to prevent their objectives. From the beginning it was easy to notice that, out of possession, they revert to a 5-4-1 with a fairly high pressing rate. They were gambling on a decently high line with a fair gap in between their lines, but that could be converged upon easily if the ball were played into Kai Havertz or João Félix in that area.
That setup also exposed potential overloads down both of our wings due to our formation if we turned the ball over, especially if there wasn’t a defensive work rate from both of our wingers. Conte used the 3-4-3 to brutal effect for Chelsea against teams that were then typically lined up in a 4-2-3-1 by exploiting an opposition’s outside back in one of two ways. On the ball-side, an overload via contribution from all wide players supported by that side’s wider centre-back and central midfielder would overwhelm opposition. But it can imbalance a defense on the far side, too, via the space that is afforded if the opposition’s winger doesn’t track the run of the wingback. We were ripe for the picking in Potter’s preferred and predictable 4-2-3-1, which lacks that extra coverage on the flanks without defensively strong performances from the wider attackers.
Offensively, they expect their chances to come from a quick counter, a high turnover/defensive error, and most especially from a set piece, where they lead the league with 12 goals this season. At the bare minimum, those things should have been emphasised in training, and preventative measures should have been taken to minimise those threats. Considering how the goals were conceded, it begs the question why such foolish decisions were made on the pitch during precisely those circumstances, leading to their goals.
The younger, newer signings have not developed any sense of synrgy with one another, and our passmap is the perfect depiction of that. Disjointed play has plagued the side with the slight exception of the Dortmund game, where it was both progressive and accurate. Against Tottenham, 65% of our passes were completed in our own half, and only 15% were completed in the attacking third. Our pass map shows that minimal attacking threat or even possession via the isolation of Kai Havertz in the striking position once again.
Bear in mind that 5 collective passes is threshold that must be achieved by the Between the Posts system in order to display passing data, so this does not mean that Havertz connected with zero passes, but it does mean that in 90 minutes of play he did not pass/receive the ball successfully to any single teammate even just 5 times. Worse yet, this map shows, quite literally, how horizontal our passing was, how minimally progressive we moved as a collective unit, and why our xG lately has been accumulated through individual brilliance rather than any sort of cohesive attack. According to FBRef, only 38 of our 545 completed passes were 10 metres or more, and those would include any connected to Arrizabalaga...
We have the second most passes per possession in the league, and obviously Manchester City is first in that regard, but we were trending away from that deliberately slow play just a few games ago to our seeming benefit. We’ve now hit a regression where not just goals or goals against, but virtually all offensively progressive plays have been hindered. Our wide play in general (including defensively) but specifically our wide play in the final third, especially considering our two fullbacks were Reece James and Ben Chilwell, was minimal. Again, Tottenham’s defensive setup allowed them to frustrate us, and their defensive territory map is exhausting of their half of the pitch, including those deep flanks.
Chelsea's shot map from 2023 in all competitions...— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) February 26, 2023
Worse yet, we have continued to get fortunate on our open play goals against (15) vs xG against (22.8), even with the bounty scored against us lately. We nearly have the same negative disparity in open play goals scored (16) vs xG (21.8), and even if you are xG incredulous, our play corroborates the numbers and is tangibly weak. We were unable to play the ball forward, especially against a set defense, because there is no coordination from the front to the back - wingers and fullbacks had minimal successful overlaps (a concern if James and Chilwell are on the pitch) and neither Ruben Loftus-Cheek nor Enzo Fernández had a touch in Tottenham’s penalty area. There is no connection or interplay between our lines.
Again, the individualities of each player in a squad so large that is rotating 5 or 6 players each game is already the antithesis of consistency. Mount has played in three positions in his last three games, Félix and Sterling have been moved around, and other wingers have come in and out of the fold with no seeming rhyme or rhythm to the choices or the play that results. Mystifyingly rotating players’ specific positions surely complicates a process of cohesion, and we have yet to yield more than one goal from the last 60 shots through 6 matches, and against Tottenham produced an xG of a mere .38, had only one shot in the box, 2 shots on goal, and an xG map that looks like this:
So we clearly weren’t going to score, but made the exact mistakes that might facilitate their first win against us in their new stadium. We haven’t been strong to start the second half this season, and that problem predates Potter. Bear in mind that the goals conceded against Dortmund and Salzburg in the Champions League were also within the first twenty minutes of the second half.
The chaotic play that results in their first goal is largely Enzo Fernández’s fault. He had time to shield the ball and allow Kepa Arrizabalaga (who did not cover himself in glory) to recover the initial attempt on target, but he also very foolishly keeps the ball in play knowing that Spurs were committing to the press. Although it isn’t cleared directly centrally, it is put into a dangerous area for no reason and arguably could have taken another touch as he wasn’t under direct and immediate pressure himself. Sterling didn’t track the run of Emerson Royal and João Félix should have contested the ball better, and Kepa could have done better with the strike despite being unsighted. Those are all individual errors that again, some sort of cohesion in the squad might have helped resolve.
Our preparation for corners should have been better, and our defending of them has been outright atrocious this season, as we conceded our 7th this season on Sunday. It must be noted that Tottenham have been lethal from near-post corners this season. If I know this, Chelsea’s tacticians and coaching staff ought to as well. What we unfortunately have to credit Tottenham for is that their typical way of scoring these near-post corners was not employed in their goal against us.
Besides against us, they have scored on near-post corner routines against West Ham, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Wolves by crowding the 6-yard box with players and blocking defenders or even the goalie from proper positioning, which creates space for both the near-post flick and the player(s) onrushing the back post. Against us, not a single Tottenham player was positioned in the 6-yard box at the start of the corner, which is unique in comparison.
That said, the receded and congested positioning around the penalty spot, as well as the fact that Harry Kane was at the back post, should have immediately raised red flags that we were doing something wrong. I’ve read complaints that it is foolish to have Sterling on Kane because of the height disadvantage, but because Kane’s not threatening through his height that deep at the far post, a player with a quick reaction should theoretically been able to cover him - Chilwell was also in support behind should Sterling get beaten. Sterling’s mistake is in his poor marking.
But this was going to be an outswinging ball into that penalty area crowded with Tottenham players, and those zonal marking in front of Kepa would do him no favours, as that mass of players are static in defense just like Sterling. Upon its delivery, and via the booster seat he used in the form of Mason Mount, Eric Dier is otherwise and inexcusably uncontested for the initial cross and does all he needs to by flicking it on.
Even had Dier not connected with the ball, there were 3 Tottenham players behind him that likely would have otherwise, and Harry Kane was always lurking free at the back post to stuff in a rebound. Fault can fall on Sterling because he loses the most threatening and conspicuously placed player on a crucial action in the match, and he should have been reminded of that responsibility before even stepping on the pitch. Was he warned, did he not listen, did the marking scheme falter without Thiago Silva, is he just a horribly poor marker in general? Knowing these things would make laying the blame easier, if not just to simply say, “It’s Graham Potter.”
I cannot say nothing about the effect of Stuart Attwell’s performance on the combative play of the game. He should not officiate another Chelsea game, and that is not just because the four he has overseen this season have now ended without a Chelsea win or that he seems to be a bit card happy while officiating our matches, but because his general inability to control the game led to the rampant tackles and fouls. He had lost control before the half hour mark and was quite literally endangering player safety all by himself just by neglecting so many clear fouls, which has been a strategy utilised against us lately to interrupt any rhythm we might have (unsuccessfully) been attempting to accumulate.
6 - Chelsea have scored six goals across their last 12 games in the Premier League; no side has scored fewer in the competition since the start of November. Chore. pic.twitter.com/fKrdXiwyeR— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2023
Since December 1990 and prior to Sunday’s game, Chelsea had played Tottenham 81 times and only lost twelve times, and essentially only while Tottenham were being managed by either Harry Redknapp or Mauricio Pochettino. Chelsea community’s collective confidence is low, as it should be, but let’s all hope that frustration can be a driving force to finish the season strongly.