Chelsea – Tottenham Hotspur: A Drab Match With Tactical Deficiencies (0-0)

A game between two of the top three teams in the league usually offers fun offensive displays and strong tactical game plans. Tottenham Hotspur’s compact defensive block was superior, but they offered nothing on the transition, against a Chelsea side that lacked creativity and imagination.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

As if 2020 could not get more bizarre, José Mourinho is now back in the title talk. Twenty points from their first nine games saw Spurs sit on the top of the table going into this game.

Frank Lampard and Mourinho have progressed in very different ways since they last met. Chelsea have been gifted perhaps the most stacked attack in European football; accommodating all the talent into one functional system has proven to be tricky. Although they had hit the net twenty-two times this season, they rank eighth in expected goals, in open play, whilst overperforming by 7.6 goals. 

However, their defensive improvement have been the major factor in Lampard’s tenure. Edouard Mendy has provided an important presence between the posts, whilst Thiago Silva is the Chelsea conductor and organizer from deep. They have kept their opponent’s shot count low, whilst conceding very little quality in those chances, a huge difference when compared to last campaign.

Meanwhile, Mourinho has wound the clocks back to his rebellious, entertaining, and tactically astute self. A 2-0 win at home to Manchester City showcased just how scary his team are on the transition, resistant on the opposition counterpress, After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. direct and pacey wingers, as well as hosting the Premier League’s best striker between the lines.

Tottenham are well rehearsed and heavily organized on the counterattack, so much that affording possession suits their attributes. Whether they can provide the consistent performances remains to be seen, but Chelsea and Spurs both went into this match in top form and with scores to settle.

Lampard stuck to his preferred 4-3-3 formation in recent times but made three changes to his personnel. Reece James replaced César Azpilicueta, whilst N’Golo Kanté came in as the single pivot ahead of Jorginho. Hakim Ziyech was the third change, starting ahead of Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right. Mourinho’s only change was enforced, the injured Toby Alderweireld replaced by young defender Joe Rodon, who made his first Premier League start. 

Tottenham’s block solidifies the channels

Both team’s set-up in their usual tactical structures, which led to the game state that many would expect. Immediately, the lack of rotations in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formations could be noted. Although Hakim Ziyech drifts into central zones and Timo Werner offers incredible directness in his off the ball movement, Chelsea produce very little interchange to pull opposition blocks apart.

Meanwhile, Tottenham were in their usual 4-2-3-1 medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. which would transition into a 5-3-2 / 5-4-1 low block thanks to the tracking of their central midfielders. Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele closed the passing lane to Kanté, thanks to Kane’s cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. and Ndombele’s close occupation of his French counterpart.

Chelsea’s 2-3-5 / 3-2-5 buildup failed to play through Tottenham’s compact low block.

Just like against Manchester City, Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg closely man-marked potential receivers, whether this would be one of the central midfielder or wingers down their respective channels. This led to either man dropping into the defensive line throughout phases, as well as Tottenham’s players dropping deep, which led to immense control of the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. as a result. 

Due to their opponent’s compactness and control of central space, Chelsea had a lot of possession outside of Tottenham’s defensive block, with a major lack of movement to pull players out of position. As the first half continued, Mason Mount would drop a lot more when the buildup started, resembling a third center-back at times, but Tottenham then still had the three-versus-two overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. down the left flank.

The first half led to a lot of slow Chelsea passing, with very little substance in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. Lampard’s team also made very little of the chances they had, to develop any kind of decent opportunities towards goal; Hakim Ziyech could receive the ball in pockets of space, when he moved behind an advanced Mateo Kovačić, but had no close connections and could only hit quick crosses into the area. 

Tottenham’s defensive block also did not take Kanté into account, who could receive the ball in space once evading Ndombele, but in the sequences this situation happened, Chelsea could not provide the movement off the ball to develop high quality chances.

Chelsea shut down Tottenham transitions

Though Lampard’s team offered little in shot creation, Mourinho’s did not offer much either. Tottenham’s defensive block was superior, but it was not designed to win the ball in areas where they could truly open up Chelsea by playing direct vertical passes. Their fullbacks were quick to recover into the defensive line, as well as having the best possible protection in front of their back four: N’Golo Kanté, who was excellent at shutting down space for Kane and Ndombele between the lines.

Although Tottenham’s game plan was to counterattack, they found themselves constructing much more from deep than they would have liked. Spurs’ passing structure aimed to incite opposition pressure, before threading the ball into the space behind. From goal kicks, their defensive line remained deep, whilst Ndombele dropped from the ten space to play just off the double pivot. 

Tottenham’s buildup shape in the construction phase was matched by Chelsea.

Chelsea wouldn’t take the bait, instead dropping deep out of their high position into a 4-1-4-1 / 4-1-2-3 medium block. This plugged the gaps and passing routes into Tottenham’s most creative players, whilst Ndombele’s positioning in the buildup phase enabled Chelsea’s midfield to match their opponents. 

When the ball would reach the middle third, Tottenham resembled as 4-2-4 / 4-2-1-3 shape, with box circulation between the center-backs and double pivot, as well as their narrow wingers working in proximity of Kane and Ndombele. However, in the few moments we saw Tottenham building, they couldn’t break the lines or create the space they do when counterattacking. Just five shots apiece in the first half, only three attempts being taken inside the box. 

Chelsea crosses but little solutions

The second half saw Chelsea pick more holes against the Tottenham block, but little solution in situations where they had the ball in the final third. They found more success down the right channel, thanks to Ziyech attracting markers, most notably Sergio Reguilón, and creating space for Reece James to cross when hugging the touchline.

47th minute: A wall pass exchange between Mateo Kovačić, forward to Hakim Ziyech and into Reece James in space offered a resolution to breakthrough Tottenham’s compact block.

This would happen twice in the opening stages of the second period, James delivered two excellent crosses in the process, towards Tammy Abraham. The striker’s explosive movement evaded Joe Rodon and got him between the center-backs, but on both occasions, Abraham could not connect, the closest he would come from registering a good shot at Hugo Lloris. 

Blueprints may have been laid bare to break through the Mourinho block, with wall passes and diagonal movement, but this is something Chelsea failed to capitalize on. Timo Werner couldn’t find the separation from Sissoko, to be left isolated with Serge Aurier, whilst their central midfielders couldn’t offer the interchanges to break Tottenham’s wide triangles. 

Whilst Chelsea offered little solution or central control, Tottenham rarely broke into the opposition half or built anything substantial from deep. Although Spurs conducted one or two effective counterpressing phases, mostly from Kane, to quickly squeeze space down the channel, this didn’t create turnovers and spark transitions. Tottenham were sluggish on the ball and Chelsea were able to recover into their defensive shape quickly.

Lampard’s substitutions also offered no answers, ineffective without the change in shape needed. Werner and Abraham were replaced by Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud, like-for-like rotations with similar attributes in possession. Kai Havertz also entered the field, replacing Ziyech on the right, but without the license to roam and connect between both channels, Tottenham were able to hold their defensive shape easily.

The second half concluded with Chelsea maintaining 59% of the ball possession, just one shot on target from range, whilst the rest came of little quality. This would still look better in comparison to their opponents, who had failed to register a shot after the 29th minute.


Based on the game’s events, this did not look like the two closest teams to Liverpool at this moment in time. Chelsea still look blunt when against an organized defensive block, despite possessing a number of elite creators in the team. Maybe criticizing a team with plenty of new signings is harsh, but when you consider the financial power and squad depth that Chelsea already had, then maybe it’s fair to demand better performances from Frank Lampard’s team.

After the rebellious and charismatic return of José Mourinho’s old self in recent displays, this was a return to a Mourinho team so many had accustomed too in recent years. Spurs were well-organized out of possession but failed to spark in possession and would become predictably passive when Chelsea recovered in their defensive shape. Perhaps this is a burnout from the crazy scheduling dumped on teams in the past few months, nonetheless a trip to Austria before the North London derby creates a very important week for Tottenham.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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