There was a significant build-up to this derby game and a high scoring match was not expected, especially because of Chelsea’s expertise at locking the game at 1-0 or 2-0. But this game was an unusual spectacle to behold and tactics were thrown at you from the minute the team sheets were announced.
A game where a comedy of errors led to all the goals, the tactics which both managers employed were strong, even Tim Sherwood’s.
The players let him [Sherwood] down big time as he went on to say emotionally, “They lacked character and guts. There are some players in the squad that I can’t rely on.”
Spurs had made five changes to their line-up and chose to start the big man Kaboul at central defence partnering Dawson. More notable changes were at full back positions with Vertonghen starting at Left Back while Naughton started Right Back instead of Walker, who was pushed further up the field at Right Midfield. Aaron Lennon was chosen to play behind Adebayor and Soldado didn’t find a place in this starting line-up. Andros Townsend’s pace was sacrificed for the playmaking ability of Iceland midfielder Gylfi Siggurdson.
Tim Sherwood went for Solidity and directness in his line-up. A physically strong starting line-up meant that Spurs intended to focus on defending and stopping the Blues anyhow. Vertonghen playing Left Back is not a new fact as he is usually called upon to play that role, but today it was more significant as he could particularly stop Chelsea’s flamboyant right wingers and Branislav Ivanovic from moving further up field, considering the fact he matches the physical strength of the Blues right back.
On the left side, Sherwood’s employment of Naughton and Walker in the whole Right stretch was in a bid to switch between attacks and defence as and when Chelsea looks to counter. Two Full Backs playing in the Right Back and Right Midfield position meant that on paper, Spurs had double protection against the hazardous Hazard down the right flank.
Through the centre, Sandro started in place of Paulinho while Bentaleb partnered him. This starting eleven meant that none of the Spurs’ 100 million Euros summer-signings started. They went for the tradition, they went for the solidity and with intent to win or draw but not lose.
Thanks to Tim Sherwood’s plethora of tactical changes that drew everyone’s attention (much to José Mourinho’s pleasure), no one actually looked twice at Chelsea line-up bereft of Oscar and inclusion of Lampard.
Anyone who viewed the line-up tactically could easily see solidity everywhere. Lampard, Ramires and Matic starting the game meant that three conventional central players played the game.
Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard started, which meant two in-drifting wingers started. Fernando Torres’s last minute injury meant that Samuel Eto’o started for the first time since the media leaked Jose Mourinho’s comments about his age.
The focus of Chelsea line-up was Torres’s injury, on how he would have offered the extra physicality and his game style which is built around getting behind the defenders. His injury in warm up meant that Chelsea’s plans were disrupted. None the less, on paper, Eden Hazard played the number 10 role with Ramires on right and Schurrle on left, while on the Pitch it was a 4-3-3 formation.
It was more solid for Chelsea as Mourinho typically looked forward to a match of two halves, which seems to be his main strategy this season- to have a solid and quiet first half and a rampant second half. Matic, Lampard and Ramires formed a three man midfield that seemed impeccable to penetrate.
First Half – Stalemate
The first half was a 0-0 stalemate, with Chelsea not registering a shot on target. Many thought this as a psychological victory for Tottenham, who looked to have the upper hand over the home side with more possession and more shots.
With Hazard’s tendency to play from the wide areas with Ramires drifting back to the holding midfield to join Matic and Lampard, most of the creative midfield area was underutilised for the Blues.
A couple of early hiccups were all that Spurs faced in the first half as their tactics of pressing high up the field seemed to bother Chelsea. Lennon’s pace up the field was maybe the only reason he was used at number 10 as Spurs looked to stretch Chelsea vertically as both teams lacked natural width.
Jose Mourinho must have set a 0-0 first half as a minimum target, but he would take it with a pinch of salt considering the fact that Eto’o was wrongly ruled offside in the first minute and Eden Hazard missed the target with the goal at his mercy.
The first half saw Spurs knock the ball around and Blues looking to contain them and counter. The useful tactic used here by Spurs was professional fouling that thwarted Chelsea. Nabil Bentaleb and Sandro were the main players here, especially the latter, constantly fouling and ruffling Chelsea speedsters whenever the Blues looked to counter.
For the Blues, it was Matic who single handedly shielded the back four and thwarted Spurs attackers. He matched Spurs physically as well as attempting to keep some possession with Chelsea.
He allowed Lampard and Ramires a lot of freedom to move forward but Chelsea’s lack of possession meant they were pegged back. Ramires and Lampard underperformed overall in the passing department considering the fact that young Nabil Bentaleb could control and dominate passing in the midfield for Spurs. Chelsea’s front three were largely uninvolved, and whenever involved, they were either fouled or dispossessed.
For a neutral, the first half would have been an uninteresting one, especially if we consider the lack of speed in passing by the Spurs midfielders as well as Chelsea’s defensive approach and unwillingness to create chances when in possession while only looking to counter. Referee’s inconsistency also added to the misery of the first half as Bentaleb got booked but Sandro and Matic didn’t, for similar fouls.
But when footballing brains analyse the first half, it was a cautious half. Maybe, Spurs looked a little tougher to break down because of the physicality and the clever fouling whenever needed, but it was only a matter of time when these players would get booked and Blues will counter attack without worries. So in hindsight, Chelsea came with a mind-set, so did Spurs and the first half saw both game-plans being executed worthy of 45 minutes. It remained to be seen whether these game-plans could last the full 90 or not and whether both the teams had the players to carry out the plan or not.
Spurs best performer in the first half: Sandro
Chelsea best performer in the first half: Nemanja Matic
Matic controlled Chelsea but most of his long passes failed as Chelsea counters were stopped. He did a good job in shielding the back four.
Matic vs Sandro (tactical and professional fouling in the first half): Apparently Sandro was lucky not to get booked, but he dominated by breaking Chelsea’s counters with his fouling. All his fouls were in Chelsea’s half, when Chelsea looked to counter.
For Spurs, Bentaleb kept the ball rolling, the main reason why they had so much possession.
Second Half: Throw caution to the winds (Literally)
The second half saw Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho make a tactical substitution by bringing in Oscar for Frank Lampard. This seemed to be decisive as Oscar dominated the ball in the centre and got Chelsea some vital possession. Chelsea’s revitalised game-style with their young playmaker pegged back Spurs.
As has been the case, Spurs passing has been slow and ordinary throughout the season as their main passing has always been in their own defensive areas, relying too much on back passing and slow passers.
Disappointing mistakes from their defenders cost Spurs the game. There aren’t many tactical decisions in the second half as all four goals were due to ridiculous errors from Vertonghen, Kaboul, Sandro and Walker.
The main talking point was about Chelsea attackers getting behind Tottenham’s high defensive line successfully this time around. Hazard, Oscar, Eto’o, Demba Ba… all beat Spurs’ offside trap many times. This was mostly because of the introduction of Oscar who was much more agile in the midfield with the ability to pass the ball faster than the ageing veteran Lampard.
After the red card and Hazard’s spot kick, the game was over for Spurs. Naturally, Chelsea midfielders dominated despite Sherwood bringing on Paulinho Spurs formation becoming somewhat of a 4-4-1.
Lampard first half: Could not control the game and was forced to only defend. Lost out to Bentaleb in the passing department.
Oscar, second half: Maintained possession and improved creativity.
Bentaleb in the second half could not maintain possession like he did in the first half also considering the fact that they were a man down.
In my view, the man of the match was Samuel Eto’o for his clinical finish seizing the ball after Vertonghen’s error and Kaboul’s dreaming. He also won the penalty and Kaboul was red carded.