Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham: late Kalou goal sees Chelsea remain in title hunt
Chelsea turned the game around after bringing on players more suited to their system.
Carlo Ancelotti started with Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba, assisted by Florent Malouda. The natural shape with the XI that started seemed to be a diamond midfield, or possibly even a lopsided 4-4-2, but Ancelotti had other plans.
Harry Redknapp played Vedran Corluka at left-back, and Younes Kaboul at right-back. Sandro started in midfield, and Roman Pavlyuchenko upfront. Again, it seemed the usual 4-4-1-1 for Spurs, but Redknapp changed the system.
The overriding theme in this game was a lack of creativity and invention in the final third of the pitch. That may seem a strange thing to say – after all, there were three goals in this game – but none of them owed much to creativity. Sandro’s opener was a blast from distance, and Chelsea’s goals owed both to luck and errors. This was an entertaining game, but not one blessed with great technical quality.
There was some tactical interest in the way both sides shaped up, as we had two surprise formations on show. Ancelotti opted for a 4-3-3 / 4-3-2-1 hybrid, similar to the system he favoured in some of Chelsea’s crucial league games at this stage last year – at Old Trafford, for example. This suited the midfield three and Florent Malouda, but not Drogba. He was forced to play a wide-right role (though Torres sometimes switched with him in the first half) that he was completely uncomfortable in.
The way Drogba received the ball and the passes he played were very much the style of a central striker being shoved out wide, and Chelsea’s build-up play was slow, predictable and uninspiring. Drogba’s passing chalkboard shows how wayward his distribution was from the right side of the pitch.
Harry Redknapp also changed his formation for this match. He dropped Rafael van der Vaart deeper alongside Luka Modric, who played to the right, and asked Sandro to play deeper, between the lines. Indeed, Sandro’s belting strike was met only with Redknapp instructions for him to sit deeper and not go forward. It seemed harsh but was fair in the context of the game – Sandro was playing too high up and letting Malouda scamper between the lines.
It seems that Redknapp may have been expecting a diamond and instructed Sandro to pick up Lampard pre-game, but upon realising Chelsea were playing with a midfield three, needed to tell Sandro to mark space, not a man.
Two interesting formations then, but not a particularly interesting battle between the two. 4-1-4-1 v 4-3-3 – the two holding players were ‘free’ and swept up in front of the defence, whilst both sides also had a spare man at the back.
We’re used to seeing Spurs attack quickly and directly, particularly down the flanks. In this game, however, there was a different strategy on show. Spurs’ passing was short, sideways and there was a large focus upon ball retention.Van der Vaart was very deep and barely linked up with Pavlyuchenko at all, whilst Gareth Bale was keener than usual to play passes backwards and sideways. In fact, neither of those two played many successful passes in genuinely dangerous positions.
Bale was up against Branislav Ivanovic, a converted centre-back who played Bale with lots of physical power. He stuck tight to the Welshman, got tackles in quickly – and wasn’t afraid to bring Bale down either. At one point he looked like he was in danger of a second yellow (he committed four fouls on Bale), but in all he handled his man well.
Aaron Lennon, on the other side, barely featured in attacking moves – but he is good defensively and tracked Ashley Cole well.
Spurs’ main problem was the extent to which Pavlyuchenko was isolated. Again, he hardly ever linked up with another player in the final third, and his only contribution around the box was to shoot waywardly. That was partially simply poor play, but also because he had no support, and often no-one to pass to. With Mikel essentially a ‘free’ player, the Russian was often in 1 v 3 situations.
Chelsea attacking play
Having started with Drogba completely out of position, Chelsea looked better when they brought on players who were actually comfortable in the roles they were meant to play in. If we’re talking players who can play as wideish attackers in a 4-3-3 / 4-3-2-1, Saloman Kalou and Nicolas Anelka are far, far better options than Drogba. It’s unthinkable that a manager as Ancelotti would willingly choose Drogba over Kalou and Anelka in that role – compared the passing chalkboards of those two players with Drogba’s above.
The introduction of those two (and Ramires, who provided his usual energetic runs) gave Chelsea more quick, exciting attacking play. Kalou’s late goal came after a couple of slightly fortunate ricochets, but there was movement and penetration in the move, players dragging opponents out of position, and others exploiting the space. In tactical terms, that was how Chelsea grew into the game.
Did the game come down to luck? Possibly – refereeing decisions can be scrutinized elsewhere – but it’s worth pointing out that when one side records ten shots on target and the other records just one, any fortunate goals are much more likely to be awarded to the former.
Each side used a ‘free’ holding player and a spare man at the back, so it’s not entirely surprising that there wasn’t great quality in the final third.
It was also because neither side used their natural shape with players in their natural positions – which is arguably what picking a starting XI comes down to.Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham: late Kalou goal sees Chelsea remain in title hunt