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Spurs vs. Chelsea: A Tactical Dissection

Antonio Conte got his tactics spot on in the first London Derby of the new season.

The odds were stacked against Chelsea: Spurs was opening up its home campaign to the 70,000+ in attendance at their temporary home of Wembley after a sumptuous 2-0 win at Newcastle. Meanwhile, Chelsea lost embarrassingly to Burnley at home and was without Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill, who both were sent off last week and serving suspensions.

The team was without Eden Hazard, who is still injured, and Tiémoué Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata were forced to start despite not being optimally fit as explained by Antonio Conte earlier in the week. Conte got his tactics right, and with a little bit of luck and individual brilliance from Marcus Alonso, pulled off a huge result on Sunday.

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Chelsea added a wrinkle to their traditional 3-4-3 by playing a bit more defensively, adding a fifth midfielder. David Luiz pushed up into the midfield and Andreas Christensen was thrown in at center back because of a suspended Cahill. Morata and Willian played alongside as strikers looking to capitalize on quick counters.

Chelsea’s midfield was comprised of five defensively minded players, and it showed considering how difficult they were to break down. Slotting Luiz in the midfield allowed them to clog up the middle of the park and make it difficult for Spurs to find opportunities in front of goal. Chelsea was content to give Spurs a majority of possession (68%) and they absorbed pressure for a majority of the match.

Spurs looked the more lively side, but were unable to get clear-cut chances on goal. Kane looked most dangerous as he clanked one off the post and forced Courtois into a save from a tight angle. As the game wore on, Chelsea effectively forced Kane, Dele, and Eriksen to take wider roles and they had trouble taking possession in front of the face of goal. Spurs’s best chances were on counters, and could not get clean looks on goal.

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Combined heat maps of Kane, Dele, and Eriksen

Notice on the heat maps that the front three of Spurs were hardly getting the ball in advanced positions where they could muster a good chance on goal. Eriksen delivered two dangerous free kicks (one resulting in an own-goal), but other than that, they hardly saw the ball in front of goal. Kane had eight shots which is his highest total ever without scoring. Still no goals in August for the English international.

Chelsea was also excellent on defending crosses and corners. They gave up 14 corners and not a single one resulted in a dangerous opportunity. Spurs was successful in January against Chelsea by crossing from right to left and finding Dele matched against an undersized Azpilicueta, which was certainly a point that Conte addressed and fixed.

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This is often the picture you’d see before a Spurs cross. Doesn’t look like a good scoring chance, right? Nine Chelsea defenders are on the edge of the box while Willian pressures the delivery. Only three Spurs players are making runs into the box. Not good odds. Spurs were still looking dangerous on the right as Trippier took advanced positions while Alonso sat back, but no good deliveries were driven in. Spurs were crossing just for the sake of it- without a purpose.

Chelsea was also content to allow Spurs to take chances outside the box. Ben Davies had the best chance on goal outside the area, but it was still an easy save for Courtois. Nothing short of a screamer would beat Courtois from 25 yards out.

The most telling sign of their defensive rigidity were their blocks. Chelsea had 24 blocks- an outrageously high total. They also had 31 tackles and all pitched in to win aerials. Morata actually led the way winning four aerials. Conte has to love seeing his new signing giving effort defensively. They pressured Spurs every time they were in advanced positions and there were hardly any threatening chances. Courtois had six saves, but none too difficult.

As for Chelsea going forward, they got a little lucky. Marcus Alonso scored an absolute beauty of a free kick, but his second was quite a howler from Hugo Lloris. Spurs gave up possession with few numbers tracking back, and Alonso took advantage and smashed it home. Two shots on goal for Chelsea- two goals.

With huge concerns coming into the game, Chelsea tactically outclassed their opponents and earned a much needed victory early in the season. Worry signs for Spurs loom as they continue to show poor form at Wembley. This was Pochettino’s first loss in a London Derby and a gut-wrencher at that. Chelsea got lucky, but were the more prepared side, and certainly deserved the three points.

Edited by Kat Johansen, Vincent Choy.

Spurs has played 11 matches at New Wembley. How many have they won?
Created 8/21/17
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