The info graphic above represents the key battle in the first half. Tottenham 2-3-4-1-like basic shape against Chelsea 5-3-2/5-3-1-1 asymmetric one. Tottenham look to create and make use of the space behind Chelsea’s middle line. They use the combination between the 2-3 shape in the first two lines with the presence by both Delle Alli and Christian Eriksen behind Chelsea’s central midfielder trio. This was supported by both full backs on both side of the field.
On the other side, Antonio Conte, emphasis on the stability of defense as they choose to start from a middle block. In their progression, Chelsea use many long ball right from the back to Alvarao Morata, Tiémoué Bakayoko, or Marcos Alonso. Let’s take a look at how the battle had been going through the first half.
Tottenham’s stable build up couldn’t create valuable chances
Tottenham’s build up against Chelsea’s press
In the first phase of their press, Chelsea establish a 5-3-2 shape. Both forwards occupy the opponent’s 6 space as well as continuously try to develop the press into a higher one. If the wide-6 (Dier of Dembele) picks up the ball from the first line, then whoever Chelsea’s near central midfielder (CM) will step up to block any possible onward pass from the ball carrier. At times, the receiver (Dembele or Dier) drops deeper and stays in the same line with Tottenham’s first line, so when Chelsea’s near CM runs forward to put pressure they create a three-forward press which, indirectly, allows space for the unmarked Wanyama. To cover such a space, David Luiz steps up (see the arrow on Luiz) to go against Wanyama had the central 6 receives a pass to make another progression chain (see the dash line on Dier and Wanyama).
As the consequence of Luiz onward press, Chelsea’s 6 becomes less covered. With the likes of Eriksen and/or Alli occupy this vacated space, the danger is there actually. At times, the positioning of Alli and Eriksen in the space between Chelsea’s lines put them into a 2v2 situation. Since it will be better for the defending team to have numerical superiority, Rudiger or Azpilicueta will have to move forward to make it 3v2 in the favor for Chelsea.
In the situation above, Dier accesses Wanyama with a flat short pass. Wanyama then plays it forward to Alli. Sadly, the development of the positional structure is weak as Alli moves too wide, occupies the same wing space with Trippier, trapped by Chelsea’s defensive overload, and forced to play it back. An alternative for the more potent attacking situation is Wanyama directly passes to Trippier with Alli stays in the half space to receive a short lateral pass from Trippier. Had this done properly, it might have put Alli along with Eriksen and Kane into a 3v2 superiority against Rudiger and Christensen.
Anyway, whatever it is, that is the Tottenham basic principle in making use of Chelsea’s middle-press.
Let’s take a closer look at Alli (or Eriksen) wide movement as mentioned above. A food for thought. First thing first, let’s name Alli and Eriksen as inside forward. That wide movement from the inside forward, on the other side, also has its own potential effect (although Chelsea’s press can still deal with it). The movement by the inside forward to the wide draws the pressure from Chelsea’s CM. With the support by the positioning of the full back – on the flank – who engages with Chelsea’s wing back, it actually opens the half space between Chelsea’s ball side half back and CM (Azpilicueta and Kante, for instance). On the right hand side, with Dier, Tottenham’s chance to make use of it is low, Dier doesn’t have the profile for such an interplay. He’s not a vertical one nor a ‘build up player’. But, on the opposite side, there is Dembele whose verticality and power is better than Dier thus can be used to exploit such a space.
Dembele vertical run into space before Luiz and Moses manage to stop him.
It’s quite difficult to properly deployed – let alone against the like of Chelsea -, but when Tottenham manage to do so, they might have been in a 3v2 advantage.
As mentioned above, sometimes, Tottenham gain space between the lines because of the onward press by the opponent’s CM. In the other situation, not the onward press being the root cause, but the lack backward press by Chelsea’s forward to Tottenham’s 6 is. The effect of this weak backward press is the same: Tottenham’s second and third line of attack gain spatio-temporal advantage (Grehaigne 1999) which indirectly impacts to the stabilization of Chelsea’s 6.
It’s a hard task for the forward though. For the forward line to continuously make constant backward press to help the middle-line to establish strong vertical and horisontal compactness (cover the central area as well as both flank/half space) is not an easy task.
Until the progression from the first line to their 10 space, Tottenham are ok. Particularly how they managed to stabilize the first two lines of possession structure. But, when it comes to the chance creation and execution phase, the problem occurs and makes it hard for them to create valuable chances.
One of biggest issue that negatively impact the circulation-progression is the Victor Wanyama factor. As Luke Balls-Burgess said in his piece, Wanyama is not a build up player. He is breaker. The one with power and strength for defensive actions. A great defensive player. This match against Chelsea proves it. If I don’t loss count, there were more than 5 times Wanyama lost the possession when he shouldn’t allow it. The last goal by Marcos Alonso shows it. Wanyama lost the ball and cost the point.
In another on-ball situations, we can also see the same effect of how Tottenham loss possession as Wanyama was beaten by Chelsea’s press. In the other situation, his decision making just stops his team to get valuable attacking situation, as he decides to pass it to the less-valuable space.
But, it’s not Wanyama alone who has to responsible for this. It’s also the system. And from the more collective point of view, Tottenham’s attacking structure has also made it hard for them to penetrate through Chelsea’s back line. The hosts trying to create access into the box through the wide area or the space between the half back and wing back, but since the full back often occupies the advanced area too often, it also allows Chelsea’s wing back to stay deep and close to the half back. Because of this, when needed, Chelsea’s wing back has had the easy defensive access towards the central area. At times, it becomes even worse for the hosts when Chelsea CM trio manage to maintain the vertical compactness thus have easy access to the back line.
Tottenham’s players also play to the wide too often. For example, when Bakayoko, Morata, and Willian put a press to – respectively – Dier (the ball carrier), Alderweireld, and Vertonghen, the space between Bakayoko and Luiz (the central DM) is wide opened. Wanyama moves into the vacated space. But, instead of making a pass to Wanyama, Dier opts to pass it wide to Eriksen who drops to the wide area. For sure, Chelsea ball oriented shift will be happy to deal with such wide attack.
The wide dynamic itself is also often found to be not optimum because both players who occupy the flank (Eriksen-Trippier or Alli-Davies) don’t have enough fast-tight combination followed by vertical run into the depth, for instance. There is also disconnected attack between the said wide-men and Harry Kane and/or near CM.
In short, Tottenham managed to secure the ball possession but hardly create comfortable access into the box.
The other method used by Tottenham is play it long to Harry Kane or Delle Alli, trying to gain access as they target Azpilicueta. But, again 😊, they also find it difficult to create clean access as the progression often continues through the wing which simply isolate their attack or Chelsea easily manage to block clean access into the danger area.
Chelsea’s attack: Alvaro Morata and Bakayoko
Last season, from the matches I’ve watched, when the clean progression options shut down by the opponent’s pressing, Curtois or the back line will hoof it clear to find Marcos Alonso on the wing where the Spaniard will flick it on to Eden Hazard or Nemanja Matic. In this derby edition, we can still see the same strategy, but with different approach. The presence of Morata and Bakayoko gives another dimension in Chelsea’s long balls.
Chelsea’s back line will also play it long right to Morata or Bakayoko. They try to explore the aerial ability of Morata and Bakayoko. One of simple thing they do is, in the aerial duel, if possible, Morata and Bakayoko will overload their direct opponent. For example, Morata is the one to stays on the ground to bother the opponent’s balance in the air when he is in an aerial duel with Bakayoko.
Morata-Bakayoko overload their direct opponent
Overall, Chelsea don’t emphasis structured ball possession with impressive play out of back within their offensive regime. Also, it’s actually not as easy task to break down Tottenham’s press. As always, Tottenham will be pressing with high block with man-oriented fashion. Against such an intense press, Chelsea opt to play it long right to the last line or they will play it horizontally to the wide to find the access to Morata or Willian.
And, here the biggest issue for Chelsea occurs. I tend to agree with Sebastian Chapuis. In his twitt, Seb complained how weak Morata in the situations where he received the pass with back to the opponent’s goal without huge impact to Chelsea’s penetration into the final third or box.
The other aspect to take a closer look at Morata’s performance is the backward press. With Juventus, Morata was one of the best defensive forward. He dropped deep far into early third to create strong overload in any touchline traps, for instance. He also had very good backward-press that enabled him to get involved in a central trap. And, his half turn was decent. Against Tottenham, Morata simply yet to show these aspects.
Another change in Chelsea’s attack, compared to the last season’s 3-4-3, is the involvement of the CM (Bakayoko) in the execution phase. Without Hazard and Pedro and they are playing with 2 strikers, Conte tries another option. This time, he opts to play float crosses with Bakayoko to be pushed into the box to partner with Morata.
Victor and Alvaro in one sequence
The second half
One of the tactical adjustment taken by Tottenham is how they try to create space beside Chelsea’s half back by using Harry Kane or the runs into space by both inside forwards. Sometimes the full backs stay deeper and in the same line with the 8 duo who also slightly narrower towards the center and higher, and Wanyama deeper as lone 6.
The second half
Tottenham overload the deep area as it purposely done to create space for the inside forward or Kane to get into the box through the wide area or space between CB and half back. There are some methods in doing this. The first one is using long direct pass scheme from the CB to the last line to the area beside the half back. As you can see from the picture above, Toby Alderweireld with ball on his feet and all the central midfielder trio stay deep and keep the distance between the lines, On the wing Trippier drops deep and draws the pressure from Alonso. In the ball side half space, there is Bakayoko man marks Dier. In this method, either Eriksen or Kane will make the run into the area pointed out by the arrow on Eriksen to receive the long pass from the first line (Alderweireld).
In their possession on the more advanced area, the initial shape is the same. The ball side full back (Trippier) stays wide to engage with Chelsea’s wing back, the wide #6 (Dier) keeps the distance to the full back to establish diamond formation along with the ball side inside forward (Eriksen) and #9 (Kane). A short and quick combination between the wide 6 and inside forward purposely done to generate the 3rd run by Kane, who occupies the half space.
The another method is double occupation on the wing, by the ball carrying full back and ball side inside forward. As this double occupation drags Chelsea’s players (wing back and ball side CM) wide, Tottenham’s full back gains the diagonal passing lane towards the center where Kane and the other inside forward has been ready for short-fast combination.
As time went by and the need of equalizing, Spurs make another change. Son Heung min comes in and Tottenham play with three attacking midfielders. This again changes the dynamic within Tottenham’s wide attack. Son and inside forward – supported by the near full back – off the ball manage to create space as it couple of times manipulates Chelsea’s man-oriented approach.
How do Chelsea deal with this?
The defensive assignment is still the same. When a forward press the ball carrying CB, the other one orients to Tottenham’s central 6. In the second line, the trio keep the vertical compactness and orient to Chelsea second line. Both wing back to go against the hosts’ full backs. The CB trio to go against Tottenham’s attacking trio, means whoever the attacking trio drop off to pick up ball, Chelsea’s CB will have to follow him, especially in the area behind the middle-line.
In the low block, when Tottenham overload the ball side wing and half space using their attacking trio, Chelsea’s ball side wing back often be dragged away as he has to mark the opponent’s wide man. So, when Tottenham’s ball side full back runs towards the final third through the wing, it will be the ball side CM to cover that ground. As the alternative for securing the wide area, Willian and Morata alternately take the responsibility.
In attack, there’s also the similar approach: direct balls right from the back line to the last line or diagonal long ball from the wing back or middle line to the blind side run in the far side.
Thank you. You can see me on Twitter @ryantank100