The Debrief: Something old, something new, dominant win for the Blues

Thomas Tuchel was forced to try something different tactically against Tottenham, but as the statistics show it was a very familiar performance from Chelsea as we confidently brushed our opponents aside in the first leg of our Carabao Cup semi-final.

With the number of absentees in Tuchel’s squad due to injury and Covid seeming to grow by the day at this busy time of the year, especially in defence, our head coach opted to switch to a back four and what was in some ways a traditional 4-4-2 formation.

The result was an excellent display of attacking football reminiscent of our flying start to the season, as we dominated from the first to last whistle and can count ourselves unlucky to only end the game with a 2-0 lead to take into next week’s second leg, following Kai Havertz’s early opener and a Ben Davies own goal as the Spurs defence wobbled under the pressure.

Attacking intent

Tottenham may have gone into this game unbeaten in domestic competition since the arrival of Antonio Conte as their manager in November, but there was only one team in it at Stamford Bridge, as we took the game by the scruff of its neck.

There was plenty that was familiar of Chelsea under Tuchel, as we repeatedly won the ball back high up the pitch and used those situations to fashion quick goalscoring opportunities. That was shown perfectly less than five minutes into the game when we opened the scoring, as Marcos Alonso stole the ball away from Emerson Royal on the left wing and fed Havertz in the box for his goal.

The fact that we were the ones making things happen shows up in the statistics, too. We had 20 shots compared to Tottenham’s five and they were evenly shared among the team as we pushed for more goals, Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount, Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner having a game-high of three each. No Spurs player managed more than one, and their whole team only had two on target between them.

Another familiar theme for Chelsea was our willingness to be patient when we gained possession deeper in our own half, passing the ball around and waiting for our opportunity, having 64 per cent of the possession and an average of 90 per cent pass completion among the whole team. Our four defenders topped the charts for number of passes by any player, with Alonso comfortably in first place with 102.

However, that patience didn’t stop the Blues from having a go when the opportunity opened up, wherever they were, as 42 per cent of our 20 shots came from outside of the penalty area. Perhaps they had been inspired by Mateo Kovacic’s wonder-goal against Liverpool last time out.

Creating the overload

It is perhaps no surprise given how much trouble we usually give opponents in wide areas with our wing-backs that Tottenham struggled on the flanks when faced with a full-back and a winger to contend with.

However, it was the way we used that increased width to our advantage, and in different ways on the two flanks, that really opened up the game in attacking areas.

Alonso continued to make the left flank his own, with very little seeming to change in his game with the switch from wing-back to full-back, especially when in possession. With Mason Mount ahead of him, that was already causing Spurs plenty of difficulties, but when you factor in first Havertz – and then Timo Werner after his introduction for his injured compatriot at half-time – drifting out to the left to pick up the ball, it is no surprise that is where much of our threat and the first goal came from.

That had two results. Firstly it left Spurs outnumbered as Alonso kept wing-back Emerson Royal busy, Mount took advantage of the space behind him and Havertz or Werner dragged the left-sided centre-back Japhet Tanganga wide to isolate him. No wonder then that Tanganga had a horrid game, being caught the wrong side of Havertz for our first goal and then heading into his team-mate Davies for our second.

That overload on the left saw 44 per cent of Chelsea’s attacks take place down that side, but also forced Tottenham to shift across in an effort to defend against them. This allowed more space for Romelu Lukaku in the middle, but especially Ziyech on the opposite wing, who made good use of it cutting inside onto to his left foot to create opportunities for himself and others.

As an example of how often those two found themselves with space, the only person with more than Lukaku’s three dribbles was Ziyech with four. Ziyech’s four key passes were also only matched by Alonso.

Midfield marathon

On paper, the downside to our switch of system to a 4-4-2 for this game should have been the loss of the extra man in midfield, but this was somewhat mitigated by the usual desire of Mount to get back and help out off the ball.

However, more than anything it was the performances of Saul Niguez and Jorginho in the middle of the park which prevented us from being outnumbered in central positions.

For Jorginho, it was an opportunity to stretch his legs as he was required to cover far more ground in a midfield two, compared to his usual role as the pivot in a three.

However, it was the significant performance of Saul which really stood out following his early difficulties adapting to life in England following his summer loan move from Atletico Madrid. Indeed, it was clear he grew in confidence as the game went on and by the second half he seemed to be determined to cover every blade of grass.

The Spaniard made several vital interventions to snuff out any Tottenham threat before it began. His seven tackles were the most of any player, two ahead of his midfield partner Jorginho in second place, while the three interceptions each by Saul, Jorginho and Antonio Rudiger were also the highest on the pitch.

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