Chelsea Tottenham Hotspur Carabao Cup 2-0

Chelsea – Tottenham Hotspur: Thomas Tuchel’s Tactical Tricks Beckon More Cup Glory (2-0)

From the struggle of the Christmas schedule sprung creativity in a Carabao Cup clash featuring two of the best managers in the business. Hybrid roles, new formations, and flexible chains all came to life in a derby whose final score gave insight into the gap in quality between these rivals.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Yearning the limelight from the infamous East End of London, a pair of parties from the North and West of the capital have colluded efforts to create a theatrical plot of rivalry, lust, love, and betrayal.

Drama was alien not all that long ago to Chelsea, whose progress under Thomas Tuchel was on the verge of its next forward leap. All of a sudden, disaster has struck their camp. The festive period has been a stumbling block, culling the squad and cutting the side adrift of the summit. But Romelu Lukaku’s words have taken center stage, incensing former lovers, and estranging those anew in an inglorious love triangle. Heartbreak, insult, injury: a figure in the away dugout might call it justice.

Once upon a time, Spurs manager Antonio Conte found a spiritual home in West London. His ruse of a back three briefly took the chasing pack by storm, winning a Premier League title at the first shot. But, from the bristly exile of Diego Costa to petulant power plays, he wrestled for control in a battle where he would end up second best. Yet, a warrior to the bitter end, retribution was now on his mind.

Tuchel has often expressed a reluctance to stray from a back five. However, absentees have afforded him a pretext to tinker. So, the manager went for a 4-4-2 system. Jorginho and Saúl Ñíguez operated as a double pivot while Malang Sarr made his first start for the club since the 2-0 win in the last round on the road at Brentford. But all eyes were on the identity of the striker, who turned out to be Lukaku.

Conte depended on a familiar plan, running out a 3-4-3 formation. Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min are obvious mainstays, while Lucas Moura has worked his way into favor, giving way to a three-way strike force. The manager made his only change to the starting eleven that sealed a goal victory over Watford on New Year’s Day. Sergio Reguilón dropped to the bench, making way for Matt Doherty.

A perfect start

Tuchel’s penchant for tactical nuances made his change a little more complex than first met the eye. The trick revolved around a dualistic role for Hakim Ziyech within a hybrid system that the manager used at Borussia Dortmund. Off the ball, he often dropped back to create a back five, offering extra width in the rearguard to counter the wing-backs on the flanks. Thus, they fell back into a 5-3-2 block where Mason Mount and Saúl were a pair of eights while Kai Havertz joined Lukaku upfront and the back four shifted outward to the left. It only took four minutes for their press to pry apart the guests.

Japhet Tanganga sold short Emerson Royal with a pass, setting away Marcos Alonso on the break. Sliding the ball down the defender’s outside, he found Kai Havertz in the box. A left footed effort beat Hugo Lloris between the posts, but Davinson Sánchez gave backup. However, he merely compounded the error of his teammate. Poking out a boot, he diverted the shot into the roof of the net. 1-0 Chelsea.

Principles provide the platform for dominance

However, in possession, the story was a little different. Tuchel spoke of a 4-4-2 offensive structure, offering implicit tips on what the ploy had in mind. Above all, small asymmetries arose looking on the left relative to the right. César Azpilicueta stayed deeper than Marcos Alonso and higher than Sarr in a halfback role that suits his profile. Mason Mount dismarked to the outside of Oliver Skipp, while Ziyech was higher in the right halfspace, often leaving the flank free. Between the front two, Havertz dropped off to involve himself in the play much more than Lukaku pinning the last line.

Chelsea’s 4-4-2 offensive structure: a trick to seeing it is through the lens of an S shaped asymmetry where the players on the right are a bit higher than on the left (Azpilicueta relative to Sarr, Ziyech relative to Mount, and Lukaku relative to Havertz) added with the connected movements of the pivot.

The result was a variety of strategic avenues to make the most of their central superiority. From the right, if the double pivot of the visitors stepped forward, Ziyech could make a lateral movement in front of the back five, acting as a cue for Lukaku to run into depth on the ball far side.

Meanwhile, these asymmetries gave the buildup on the left a lot of diagonality: a crucial element of Tuchel’s vision. From the flank, Alonso had at least one, and usually, several options offset from him to work the play back inside. Mount, Havertz, and the left back moved in a coordinated manner while a member of the double pivot could tilt over towards the halfspace to create a pathway into the center.

11th minute: offensive sequence from Chelsea. Emerson presses Alonso and the rest of Spurs’ backline swing across. A series of diagonal passes work from outside to inside through the channel, while Ziyech moves inward on the ball far side to offer in the halfspace as Azpilicueta overlaps.

A Spursy slip-up

In the final third, the asymmetry between the fullbacks became clearer. Azpilicueta could offer more width from the right to create access to the halfspace while making the occasional overlap. But he mainly tucked inward to form a row of three at the back. Ahead of him, Saúl did not bomb in front of Jorginho, holding back in the pivot. So, a base of four or five men that placed the robust Antonio Rüdiger at its center sat around the halfway line, caging the front three. No shock then that Son and Kane were impotent before the break in a half where the away team did not register a single shot.

On the contrary, panic at the back had not finished wreaking havoc for Spurs. In the 33rd minute, Sánchez tackled Lukaku on the break, only for him to sweep through the back of the forward to pick up the loose ball, carelessly giving up a free kick. From the set-piece, Ziyech whipped a cross into the penalty area. Tanganga’s header should have mopped up the danger, but an inadvertent block from Ben Davies rooted Lloris to the spot in a freak incident. The hosts had fortuitously doubled their lead.

Conte follows suit

Conte was in the mire; he could not afford to risk a limp showing in the second half. Indeed, at half time, both managers made a substitution. Timo Werner replaced his compatriot Havertz, while a change in setup manifested from the other camp. Tanguy Ndombele came in for Doherty, operating in a number ten role. Spurs now set up in a 4-2-3-1 shape where Davies returned to the left back slot.

Chelsea now defended in a 4-1-4-1 block with Jorginho as a lone pivot. But, in high pressing, it was the room on either side of him that Spurs targeted. Kane dropped into pockets, showing a preference for the left halfspace, while Ndombele’s introduction helped improve the presence here too. However, the guests still looked bereft of ideas near to goal, bowing to the superiority of a disciplined unit.

All in all, Chelsea still dominated much of the play and ended up having the lion’s share of the chances. Werner could not dink a chip over the head of Lloris from the edge of the box while Lukaku was unable to round off the game with a goal on the stroke of full time. But a 2-0 lead was due reward for their effort across the ninety minutes, proving too good for Spurs on the night.


Chelsea are handily negotiating their way to the eye of the storm, managing the chaos the new year brought to handle two tricky fixtures at the start of 2022. The experiment with the back four paid off, while Saúl’s display indicated signs of a man finding his feet in a complex system. Only the two goal lead might underwhelm Tuchel, whose men will strive to complete a professional job next midweek.

Save a miracle in the second leg, Spurs’ 14 year trophy drought shows no signals of coming to an end. Conte’s fiery profile and elite resume might have raised expectations, but the task of coaxing the best out of a squad that have not hit the heights of previous seasons has shown them to be short of elite standards. Start as slowly as they did here again, and chances of a comeback will surely disappear.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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