Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to 7 points with a crucial victory over Spurs at Stamford Bridge.
The pre-match team sheets came with a few interesting selections, and Tim Sherwood talked of springing a few surprises of his own for Chelsea.
Chelsea’s line-up had the cliche characteristics of a Mourinho side, prioritising a strong and reliable defence, with a robust and powerful midfield. David Luiz was left out and Nemanja Matic continued his seamless progression into the Blues holding midfield role. Andre Schurrle started on the left of the front three following his hat-trick against Fulham, while Eden Hazard started on the right. This meant that Willian and Oscar dropped to the bench, and Eto’o started in place of Fernando Torres who was injured in the warm up.
Now onto Tim Sherwood’s surprises, and first of all he switched up his formation.
Since taking over from Andre Villas Boas he has notably switched the teams system from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, a move which has mostly paid off – it has allowed Emmanuel Adebayor a new lease of life and provided a strike partner for Soldado, while it has also allowed young Nabil Bentaleb to show what he can do in midfield.
Doubts were raised when Spurs were over-ran in midfield at the Emirates against Arsenal’s 3/5 man midfield, and perhaps Sherwood was wary of something similar happening at Stamford Bridge. He went with a 4-2-3-1 instead and it appeared to be a very protective strategy.
First of all with Kyle Walker starting at right midfield in front of Kyle Naughton, and the assumption was that this was to stop the threat of Hazard by doubling up with two defenders on one side (and allow Walker some attacking freedom). Ironically, Hazard started on the opposite flank.
The second surprise was Aaron Lennon starting in the central attacking midfield role, behind Adebayor. This was presumably to provide a third body in midfield when Spurs didn’t have the ball. However I wasn’t sure what the real purpose of this was – he wasn’t trying to stop Nemanja Matic getting on the ball, and sometimes he drifted towards Lampard or Ramires.
He was clearly put in that position for a specific reason, and was seen discussing his responsibilities in great detail with Stefan Freund before the game – so with that in mind I feel it must have been for other reasons, as his defensive role in the game was not very well defined. If anyone has heard more on that tactical decision feel free to comment below.
Chelsea Midfield Play
With Chelsea obviously weak in the centre-forward area, they are being held completely steady by the midfield and their unparalleled attacking and defensive contributions. Defensively, Matic has been a dominant force in the holding role on his own. This has allowed Mourinho to play two ahead of him in a ‘1-2 triangle’ instead of the ‘2-1’ he was having to use with David Luiz.
Matic made 6 successful tackles, the most on the pitch, and made 71 successful passes, 30 more than any one else in the midfield and attack. His attributes all point towards him being a massive driving force for the Blues in the coming seasons. Most importantly his reliability and defensive robustness has been crucial, however his speed, power and ability to play (he also has a thunder foot) has made him key to Chelsea’s lightning quick transitions.
Ramires and Lampard played ahead of him, and had the freedom to press and play with slightly more risk, in the knowledge that Matic was there to clean up (last season they may have found themselves playing as the holding two). Schurrle and Hazard interchanged, both played very centrally and switched flanks whenever they felt like it, becoming very difficult to track and making good runs in behind the Spurs defence.
Aside from Kaboul’s red card, it was Chelsea’s robot-like performance which mounted pressure and eventually collapsed Spurs. They consistently got balls between the lines, and the ball from wide had failed on a few occasions, before proving fruitful for the penalty and for Demba Ba late on.
Despite Spurs actually dominating possession for some large spells before the sending off, Chelsea eventually overturned the average and finished with 53.6% possession. They made 382 accurate passes to Spurs 312 and they had 81% and 79% accuracy respectively.
Spurs should not be surprised that they lost this game with the performance of their centre-back pairing Dawson and Kaboul. The two could barely complete a pass, with Dawson only managing 33 passes at 70% accuracy, and Kaboul doing even worse with 20 passes at 50%. Contrast this to Terry and Cahill who completed 39 and 47 passes, at 83% and 90% accuracy respectively, and you can see where Spurs defensive security needs work.
There were not many significant differences between the teams in terms of dribbling and crossing, but Chelsea certainly tackled more (23-16) while Spurs made more interceptions (14-6).
Mourinho continues to insist that Manchester City are still favourites to win the league, despite being 9 points adrift of Chelsea now with 3 games in hand. He strongly maintained that it is City in the better position because ‘they are in control of their own destiny, and Chelsea are not – if City win all of their remaining games, there is nothing we can do’.
The Blues look very strong going into their final ten games, and will be eagerly waiting for a slip up from Manchester City in the meantime.