The Debrief: Wingers star in Spurs win as we open up midfield

It was a welcome return to winning ways in the Premier League on Sunday and the stats show how we opened up the space to beat Tottenham Hotspur yet again.

Just as welcome as the three points was the excellent all-around performance by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the way we controlled the match from start to finish.

We barely gave our London rivals a sniff of the ball as we dominated on our way to a fourth win over Spurs in 2021/22, and third in less than a month, Hakim Ziyech’s sumptuous curled effort into the top corner and Thiago Silva’s header giving us a 2-0 win to go with the two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final triumph earlier in January.

Decisive from the wings

By going for Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech as our two wingers, Thomas Tuchel opted for players adept in one-on-one situations and capable of beating their man to create space in the opposition’s half, and it worked a treat.

The way those two were opening up Spurs was underlined when they combined for Ziyech to open the scoring with his first Premier League goal at the Bridge, with the Moroccan in fine form after also getting the first goal in our previous match at Brighton.

It was a strong run from Hudson-Odoi down the left that put Tottenham on the back foot before he spread the ball across the edge of the box to Ziyech, where our No22 produced an exquisite finish into the top corner.

Ziyech enjoyed a fine game and it was telling that 50 per cent of all our attacks came down that right side, as he gave Spurs all kinds of problems, but he also worked hard to help the team and win the ball back.

In fact, the 28-year-old topped the stats in a wide range of categories, having more shots (five), shots on target (four), making more tackles (six) and more crosses (10) than any other player on the pitch, while the only person who could match his 97 touches on the ball was the full-back behind him on that side, Cesar Azpilicueta.

Hudson-Odoi put up some eye-catching statistics too, as nobody dribbled past an opponent more than the six times he did - twice as much as the next best in a Chelsea shirt, Ziyech - or was fouled more times than the young winger (four).

That led to our second goal, as Hudson-Odoi again got the better of his marker Japhet Tanganga, whose three fouls committed was the joint highest, before being brought down by Ben Davies for the free-kick which led to Thiago Silva heading in.

Creating space in the middle

For the third time this month, Tuchel came out on top tactically against Antonio Conte’s Tottenham. The German went for a back four again, as did the visitors on this occasion, but a subtle change ahead of the defence allowed us to overrun Spurs in the middle despite both teams playing a three-man midfield.

It was a crucial area in the game, with 48 per cent of the match being played in the central third of the pitch, but the decision to push Mateo Kovacic further forward alongside Mason Mount in a 4-1-4-1 formation opened up acres of space for Jorginho to dictate the tempo and possession from his deeper position, resulting in him managing to go the whole game without being dispossessed by an opponent, the only Chelsea player outside our back four to do so.

That also allowed the Italian international to operate almost like a sweeper in midfield, letting Kovacic and Mount press the ball before stepping in quickly to thwart any counter-attack attempts, which explains why only Ziyech made more than Jorginho’s five tackles and nobody produced more than his four interceptions.

The success of that system also owed much to Mount’s work rate, as he slotted in centrally off the ball, before pushing out to the right in possession. That created the overlap which made space for Ziyech to cut inside on his left foot, without losing our width or leaving ourselves open to the counter-attack with full-back Azpilicueta committed upfield. Mount was a threat himself too, making the most key passes (four) and the highest number of crosses to find a team-mate (five).

Keeping it clean

That midfield cover left our defenders able to concentrate mostly on mopping up hopeful long-balls from Tottenham as they attempted to bypass the midfield battle they were losing, explaining why neither of our centre-backs was required to make a single tackle in 90 minutes, while no-one on the pitch won more aerial duels than Thiago Silva (five) or made more clearances than Antonio Rudiger (four).

With the exception of Harry Kane’s disallowed goal, for a shove on Thiago Silva, our clean sheet never really looked in doubt. That meant we have beaten Tottenham four times this season, all without conceding a single goal, with the aggregate scoreline reading 8-0 to Chelsea. It is the first time any top-flight team has beaten the same opponents four times in one season without conceding in 42 years, and we are the only ones to ever do so when only playing those opponents four times.

As well as fulfilling their primary role of keeping the ball out of our net, our centre-backs also showed again that they are no slouches when it comes to putting it in our opponents’. Only Ziyech had more attempts at goal than Thiago Silva and the Brazilian’s header made a little piece of Chelsea history, as we had anticipated before kick-off, when he became only the sixth defender to score home and away for us against the same opponent in a Premier League season, and the first to do so against Tottenham.

More from chelsea