Tottenham Hotspur registered a crucial 2-0 victory over London rivals and League leaders Chelsea at White Hart Lane, ending the Blues’ magnificent run of 13 successive league victories and the hopes of a record-breaking 14 wins in a row as well.
Here is an in-depth analysis of the game that might turn out to be a very crucial game as far as the title race is concerned.
Spurs dominated Chelsea right from the first half— a similar kind of game plan which was executed by Pochettino when he had come to Stamford Bridge. A change in the formation to a 3-4-3; more like a 3-4-2-1, with Kane up front, turned out to be a potential masterstroke from the former Southampton boss. Pep Guardiola used the same formation against Conte, but there was a massive difference between the two 3-4-3s that played Chelsea this season.
Spurs have the best defence in the Premier League currently. Pochettino got the formation but did not leave his original style of a tight and high-line defensive play against Chelsea, something which Guardiola missed out on, leading to two counter-attacking goals by Chelsea at the Etihad.
The trio of Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Dier did the exact same thing that Cahill, David Luiz and Azpilicueta had been doing since the last 13 games; that is to fall back deep into the penalty box and head away the ball in case a cross comes in. Chelsea conceded two goals through headers resulting from crosses.Ironic.
Spurs seem to have watched the Chelsea vs Stoke game closely, and might have realised that creating spaces near the Chelsea penalty box— especially between centre back and wing back— could help them take the lead as early as possible, and that is what exactly happened. Spurs played Chelsea keeping Stoke City in mind— they were physical and timed their tackles well, outplaying the midfield duo of Matic and Kante.
Secondly, The pace and agility of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker was too much to handle for Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, and that was one reason that caused Spurs creating numerous opportunities in the first half. The midfield pair of Wanyama and Dembele were influential in cancelling out the counter attacks of Hazard and Pedro, winning the midfield battle over Nemanja Matic and surprisingly, N’Golo Kante.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld looked as if they were warned by their manager about the potential threat that can be caused if a long pass from David Luiz successfully lands into Diego Costa’s feet which could well turn out to be an assist for the Brazilian. Spurs’ high line defence; with three at the back; held their line very well and every time David Luiz decided to provide a long ball to Costa, the striker found himself offside throughout the game. Pure Pochettino class.
Moreover Alderweireld had the experience of playing with Eden Hazard and his experience of playing with the Belgian sensation proved to be crucial as he was ready to cancel out any magical move that Hazard might produce anytime. Plus he was aware of the Italian’s strategy of passing the ball long as he might not have yet recovered from that surprise, unthinkable long pass from Leonardo Bonucci that went right above him; and by the time he realised that it was his mistake, Giaccherini had run past him and scored the first goal for Italy against Belgium. He could not read a 35-yard long assist that day but he was very well prepared for such long passes this time, creating the offside trap for Diego Costa.
Chelsea on the other side looked under pressure right from the first minute of the game probably because of the expectation of breaking Arsenal’s 13 game unbeaten run, and were looking quite the same as any team that plays under undue pressure. Azpilicueta and Moses were the players that looked very loose on and off the ball, and the second goal by Dele Alli proves the point.
The urge to get done with this game was so high that Chelsea crumbled under pressure.
Diego Costa and Pedro were involved in an argument after a failed counter attack and that saw a sudden and drastic decrease in his work rate — so much that he had to be subbed off in the second half. N’Golo Kante was a major surprise in the game— he did not have a good game either, and he was substituted too, a rare sight indeed.
Chelsea looked really good in the start of the second half with shots from Diego Costa and Hazard to name a few, in the wake of the goal that was scored just before half time. The wing backs intercepted a very less number of crosses from the Spurs wing backs and Christian Eriksen, a skill which is mastered by an in-form Branislav Ivanovic (and I emphasise in-form). His ability to intercept crosses and delivering them is the best when he is in good shape, and that is something that Moses and Alonso can improve on.
After Antonio Conte got all three substitutions done, Chelsea played with a different formation for the last 15 minutes, which looked like a 3-4-1-2 formation with Eden Hazard playing as an attacking midfielder with Costa and Batshuayi up front. Alonso and Moses got substituted and their positions were occupied by Pedro and Willian.
Chelsea have conceded more goals against Dele Alli than any other premier league team they faced away in their 13 match winning streak. An own goal by Gary Cahill at the Etihad is the only goal the Blues had conceded in the 6 away games they played out of the 13. Massive.
But as of now Chelsea still look good with a five point lead over second-placed Liverpool. The last time Conte changed his formation while losing a match to a North London led to a magnificent run of 13 games won in a row. He got the system changed while chasing a losing cause and again to a North London team. Does that mean we can see another system change or another series of victories? Only time will tell.