Chelsea’s fiery 2-2 draw with Tottenham was a tactical joust just as much as it was a physical one.
Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte were both sent off after the full-time whistle as tensions boiled over following a contest that really had it all.
Four goals, big challenges, controversial decisions and two tactical geniuses going pound-for-pound on the pitch – and even in the technical area at one point.
Chelsea went ahead after 19 minutes thanks to a spectacular volley from Kalidou Koulibaly and dominated Spurs throughout the first half.
The visitors got back into the game after 68 minutes through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a goal which many believe shouldn’t have stood due to a foul in the build-up, but one that also highlighted Tottenham’s improved performance.
Reece James fired Chelsea back in front late on, but another controversial Spurs goal was bundled in at the death as Harry Kane levelled the contest in injury time, ensuring Conte’s men left Stamford Bridge with a point, despite looking second best on the day.
The result was a disappointing one for Tuchel and Chelsea, despite the game being an all-action affair and an absolute joy to watch for neutrals.
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In reality, though, Chelsea ought to have taken more than a point away from the game. If not for refereeing decisions, then for their own performance, which was superb throughout.
A coming together between Tuchel and Conte in just the second Premier League gameweek of the season was always going to be tasty on a tactical level. As such, the folks over at Tifo IRL have produced a breakdown of the game on YouTube, and unravelled the different layers of what went on.
The findings are fascinating. Be sure to watch the video below and check out the analysis.
Some really insightful stuff from JJ Bull and Tifo. From that, we can take away four main tactical talking points. Let’s break them down below.
1. Tuchel’s sneaky back four
Chelsea’s starting XI confused people ahead of the game, with many unsure of whether or not Tuchel had ditched his trusty back five.
What he did was brilliant, as he used Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s versatility to play both a back five and a back four. When in possession, Chelsea would shuffle into a four, with Loftus-Cheek helping to create a box of four central midfielders, and James and Marc Cucurella operating as full backs.
This slight tweak when in possession gave Spurs all sorts of problems, with the Blues able to create overloads in midfield and out in wide areas.
2. Exploiting Tottenham’s zonal marking
A very good spot from Chelsea’s analysts, which allowed Koulibaly to score a brilliant volley on his home debut.
Tifo note that Chelsea had clearly identified that Spurs predominantly set up to defend corners using zonal marking, and overload the front post to defend an in-swinging corner.
With that in mind, Chelsea loaded up the back post and kept movement fluid, confusing Tottenham players over who they should be blocking as they were so focused on their zones. Cucurella’s ball then had a free path to an unmarked Koulibaly. Easy as that.
3. Conte narrows Spurs’ attack
In an attempt to get a grasp of the game, Conte changed Tottenham’s approach on the hour, introducing Richarlison for Ryan Sessegnon and making use of a back four in possession.
Using Richarlison allowed Tottenham to get incredibly narrow and make more frequent runs in behind Chelsea, flustering their back five and creating chaos. This in turn created more chances, pinned Chelsea in, and allowed for Hojbjerg to equalise at 1-1.
4. Unleashing Reece James
With the game level, Tuchel reverted to his more trusted approaches in the closing stages, and an experienced arm in Cesar Azpilicueta to do so.
Bringing on the Spaniard at centre-back allowed James to become a fully fledged right wing-back and gave him the freedom to bomb up and down the right flank as he pleased.
It stretched the play with Spurs being sat in a makeshift back four, and allowed Chelsea to suck them in on the left-hand side, before switching back to James who suddenly had acres of space. And with his incredible technical ability, he fired Chelsea in front once again, before the controversial equaliser.