For both teams on Thursday the game is of huge magnitude, third against fourth, Chelsea beating Man City, Spurs on a fantastic run, it promises to be a game of superb quality. From a Chelsea perspective this season has been shaped by good attacking football but more disruptively, their defense.
As such they will have to be aware of Spurs’ attacking threat which is huge, fortunately for Chelsea, one of those key threats is certain to be out in Aaron Lennon. However the man on the other side of the midfield, a certain Welshman, is set to return after an injury which prevented him playing against Sunderland. I’m going to have a look at the way in which his loss against Sunderland affected the way that Spurs played and in particular a focus on their left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto and how he had to adapt.
The graphic above, from WhoScored.com, is a comparison of Spurs’ last two games, in the pitch on top; Spurs are in blue as they are the home side, on the one below they are in red as they were the away team against Stoke. Ekotto (number 32) on both occasions is high up the pitch, slightly higher up the pitch against Sunderland but not significantly, however this isn’t the major difference between the two. It’s noticeable in the graphic against Stoke that Spurs play towards the left when Bale (number 3) is playing, in fact 7 of the 11 players on the pitch play near Bale, even the right winger Aaron Lennon (number 7) plays in an advanced position on the left.
In fact when Spurs attacked, 53% of the attacks went through the left hand side. Against Sunderland this is a totally different case, especially as Ekotto is the only player who is really an attacking threat down the left, maybe Modric but he is still relatively central, it is quite blatantly clear that the team are more focused towards Bale’s threat when he is in the side.
The graphic below, from Guardian Chalkboards, shows the way in which Ekotto has to adapt his game when Bale isn’t in the team. Although he only played for 45 minutes against Stoke it is clear that he doesn’t hog the touchline as much while Bale is in the side. Against Stoke he came inside while Bale makes the runs on the outside, without Bale though it is a different story, there is no one to make the runs outside and as such it is he who has to control the touchline and make runs, losing a lot of the attacking potency that Spurs do have while Bale is in the side.
In terms of Bale himself, the stats show that he is pivotal to Spurs’ side, assisting 4 goals and scoring 5 himself, creating 42 chances this season, on average creating a chance every 30 minutes. Spurs, although they are fantastic attacking side, still seem to have a problem with goalscorers and without Bale against Sunderland they only managed to scrape a 1-0 victory, with him in the side they have managed to score more freely, with him being the pivotal key to Spurs’ attack.
Whoever is at right back for Chelsea on Thursday has to ensure that he is on top of his game, whether it be Ivanovic or Bosingwa, they will have a lot to deal with if Bale is in the side for Thursday as he seems to be, as the graphics previously show, the go-to man for a Spurs side who could cause lots of problems.