Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham: Villas-Boas uses subs well, Benitez doesn’t react decisively

May 9, 2013

The starting line-ups

Tottenham twice came back from behind in an exciting, open game at Stamford Bridge.

Rafael Benitez selected Fernando Torres upfront, and David Luiz as a deep-lying midfielder, so Branislav Ivanovic partnered Gary Cahill in the centre.

Andre Villas-Boas was without Mousa Dembele, so Scott Parker played alongside Tom Huddlestone. Upfront, Emmanuel Adebayor got the nod over Jermain Defoe.

Tottenham dominated possession, but in terms of creativity Chelsea had the upper hand in midfield, and Tottenham needed Villas-Boas’ substitutions to snatch a point.

Midfield battle

The key feature in the reverse meeting between the sides was Chelsea’s advantage between the lines. With Oscar deployed centrally and distracting Sandro and Huddlestone with clever movement, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard moved inside dangerously.

Spurs again struggled to contain Chelsea’s central playmaker, although this time around it was Mata used in that role. With Chelsea fielding two deep midfielders, often one of the two – usually Parker – would move higher up the pitch to close down Ramires, with Lewis Holtby on Luiz. This left Huddlestone alone against Mata, and the Spaniard darted from side to side cleverly to escape his attention. No player had the sole responsibility for Mata – which is entirely natural, but meant he often drifted into unoccupied zones to create. He also had two decent shots from the edge of the box.

Ramires and Holtby

Elsewhere in midfield, Spurs lacked a player who could compete with Ramires’ pace and mobility. Parker did a decent job of closing down when the ball was played into his feet, but when forced to turn and run, Ramires often went untracked – most obviously for the first goal, but also for his chance after half-time, when he lost his footing in the box.

Then there was Luiz against Holtby, which was simply a contest won by the Brazilian. He made a good tackle in the first few minutes, and continued to win the ball throughout the game. Holtby wasn’t as intelligent with his movement as Mata – he sometimes dropped deep, but without a runner in the opposite direction, Spurs simply played in front of Chelsea. The game rather bypassed Holtby, and despite dominating possession, the away side created few chances.


Spurs lacked creativity, and they also struggled down the flanks, with neither Gareth Bale nor Aaron Lennon in great form. Bale stayed high up on the left, often positioned between Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill. Azpilicueta got past him a couple of times on the overlap – notably for a Mata chance, and there was little from Bale in an attacking sense to compensate for that area of weakness.

The line-ups after Villas-Boas' changes

Bale was quiet in the opening stages and increasingly moved into central positions. There was movement to the left from both Holtby and Parker to maintain the balance and allow Bale inside off the line, but he was still relatively anonymous.

Ashley Cole played Lennon very well – the left-back has had problems against him in the past, but here took up clever positions to show him inside. This exposed Lennon’s limitations – he’s not a prolific goalscorer, nor does he possess much of a left foot.


With little threat from the wingers, Spurs had to adapt their game. Upfront, there was a fine individual performance from Adebayor . As ever, it’s difficult to explain his performance – this good showing was probably because of a rare bout of interest, rather than any tactical concerns, but after a quiet opening quarter to the game, his brilliant curler got Spurs back into the match – and he was excellent for the rest of the game.

He was a constant threat throughout the second half, and played a fantastic backheel for substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson’s equaliser. That was instinctive brilliance, but his positioning throughout the second half was very calculated – always towards the left of the pitch, behind Cesar Azpilicueta.

Villas-Boas’ changes

Sigurdsson replaced Lennon, with Bale moving to the right – he didn’t do much from there either – and when Dempsey replaced Holtby, Spurs looked much more dangerous down the left. The triangle of Adebayor, Dempsey and Sigurdsson (the latter two were told to switch between the left-sided and central attacking midfield roles) was certainly the most promising area of the side.

Furthermore, Benoit Assou-Ekotto got forward well in the second half, with his combinations with Adebayor consistently dangerous. Tottenham’s full-backs increasingly came into the game in the second half – Benitez acknowledged this was a problem after the match, blaming tiredness for the lack of defensive strength in wide zones. He replaced both wide players – bringing on Yossi Benayoun and Victor Moses, but didn’t replace the clearly exhausted Oscar (who broke a record for the most games played in one season by a Chelsea player here) until Spurs had equalised for a second time, and Chelsea eventually suffered down that flank.


Chelsea should have won this match, having twice gone ahead. They had much more creativity, although they should have shut down the match in the second half, and they lacked control in the centre of the pitch. The game remained too open and frantic for Benitez’s liking, and it wasn’t clear what Chelsea’s approach was at 2-1 up.

Spurs have won a lot of points very late in matches in 2013 – here was another example of them snatching a result late on. Villas-Boas’ substitutions weren’t necessarily ingenious moves – in fact, he was primarily trying to get Bale into the game -  but they made Spurs dangerous down the left, and eventually the goal originated from that flank.

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