Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea: The Thinking Behind Mourinho’s Tactics at White Hart Lane

Tottenham 1-1 ChelseaThe 28 September clash between Spurs and Chelsea saw what many believed to be one of the most interesting matches of the season, with André Villas-Boas headlined as ‘The Student’ and his previous coach, José Mourinho, ‘The Teacher.’ Mourinho’s media plan was clear: he was to have little thought for what AVB had to say, refusing to be pulled into the same conversation as him and even refusing to be put into the same league as his former assistant.

The team selection saw Chelsea present the semi-flat back four that they have adopted in the opening few weeks of the season, with Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, and Cole ahead of Cech and behind the pivot of Mikel and Lampard. Torres got the nod over Eto’o, who’s fluid movement in possession to fragment center-back pairings and full-backs was impressive, but Torres’ recent form saw him play ahead of the two wide men Ramires and Hazard, with the controversial choice of Oscar in the Number 10 role. This was an extremely similar set up to the game at Manchester City last season, which Chelsea lost with the score of 2-0.

Tottenham initiated the game by taking early control of possession, fielding a medium block in ball control and defensive transitions, aiming to cut out quick tempo counter attacking play. This move was countered with Chelsea aiming to expose the rashness of premature pressing from Naughton and Walker with long balls. Chelsea also used the medium defensive line, utilizing Lampard as well as Brazillian Oscar, who’s role was to drop deep to counter Eriksen in his zone like a typical Number 10.

Hazard and Ramires were quite easy to handle however, as too often Ramires was cut off from counter attacking after being handcuffed with providing defensive acts, and was unable to make effective runs out wide. Ramires, providing width and the defensive ability to drop into the Chelsea final third at will was quite unable for this job also, as diagonal runs from Sigurdsson inside provided a mix up between Ramires, Mikel, and Ivanovic on who to mark. This eventually saw Eriksen skip away from the jogging Lampard out wide, cutting in Soldado, who played in Sigurdsson and made that clinical run in from the left wing to take the lead for Tottenham.

Pellegrini-style tactics were initiated from the Blues in offensive transitions, creating pockets near corner flags of triangles including the winger, ST and AM, all rotating bar Ramires. This provided width and a crossing option during build up, which was however rarely utilized. The inability to provide effective possession build up in the first half was easily contained, and saw Chelsea create little opportunities to capitalize on. This ineffective use of possession in the first half saw more and more bodies pile up outside the Spurs box, creating large gaps in Chelsea’s defensive midfield area, which was totally exploited by the extremely influential Eriksen during Tottenham’s lethal counterattacks.

Tottenham 1-1 ChelseaThe second half saw Mourinho solve almost all of Chelsea’s defensive problems, with Ramires being repositioned into RDM and completely negating offensive runs from Eriksen and Sigurdsson, silencing them almost entirely for the second half. Jose switched his team to a 4-2-4 looking side with the substitute Mata being played in a central winger role, drifting wide into a RAM spot where his left foot came into effect beautifully. Oscar provided cover in defensive transitions whilst marking Walker as well as dropping deep like a traditional AM.

Hazard was repositioned into a LF role, playing between the LW and slightly deeper and to the left of the ST, being perfectly positioned to make the most out of diagonal runs being fed by Mata. The long ball was also not used quite as often, due to Spurs’ low defensive line, and this as a result saw Chelsea being far more direct in possession, using Mata to his full potential. The 4-2-4 switch was warranted due to Tottenham’s lack of numbers going forward in the early second half. Oscar was quite often being pulled deep and out of formation due to effective runs from Spurs attackers, which saw Hazard rotating and hugging the touch line more often, resulting in the instinctive Schurrle providing the runs as he was substituted for Hazard.

After a perfectly weighted cross from Juan Mata, Terry glanced it by Lloris, seeing Chelsea abandon the 4-2-4 and switch to a defensive 4-3-3, resulting in Oscar rarely going forward. Ramires’ defensive duties in the DM spot eradicated any vacant space left to be picked up by Tottenham offensive runs or through balls, heavily thwarting Spurs’ counter attacking transitions. After the red card incident, Schurrle took up a more central position with both wingers dropping even deeper, pushing Oscar out wide away from his LCM role to provide cover for offensive runs from Schurrle. This resulted in a late on possession dominance from Spurs, exploiting Chelsea’s wide midfield, flooding players centrally which forced an extremely deep line from the Blues.

In the final moments, Azpillicueta was substituted for the fatigued Oscar, carrying out a number of defensive duties and effectively man marking wing backs. The sub also provided a worrying threat on the counter, similar to his role against United in the final moments. Despite a poor first half, Chelsea deservedly earned a 1-1 draw following drastic half time improvements implicated by the Special One himself, Jose Mourinho.