Last season’s Champions and Runners-Up go head-to-head in the first Top 6 clash of the season and it’s easy spot the similarities between the two sides.
Both boost outstanding first choice XIs that carried them to last year’s respective finishes and both have also failed to address squad depth issues in time for the start of the season. Chelsea never had to compete in Europe last season while Spurs simply failed to.
Similarities continue when trying to gauge performances as both team’s openers were hugely influenced by red cards.
Tottenham had a slow first-half, shy of much promise as Newcastle were successful at limiting Spurs access inside their mid-low-block; forcing Tottenham to pass around in a U-shape.
Spurs switched things up in the second-half. Play-building centre-backs Alderweireld and Vertonghen sat deeper, outside the opposition block – with Newcastle’s forwards occupied by Spurs’ midfield pairing. This allowed them increased time on the ball to pick out vertical passes directly into attack.
From here Spurs quickly worked the ball wide to hit low quality crosses but the result was that it managed to move Newcastle up and down the pitch – deep to block crosses and out high again to press or for the chance of a counter-attack.
Just as the game opened up and Mousa Dembele was able to feed Dele Alli the ball between the lines he was stamped on by Shelvey. Newcastle quickly dropped into and ultra-low block and became relatively easy pickings for Tottenham.
The same goes for Chelsea’s double red card, 3-2 loss to Burnley. The Blues were exactly fine until Cahill flew in studs-up after 13 minutes.
With minimal pressure on the pass Burnley were able to threaten Chelsea aerially with crosses from deep – an area Chelsea had dominated in last season.
There is something to be said for scoring twice and making Burnley nervous with only 9 men on the pitch, so I’d be reluctant to describe Chelsea as ‘in-crisis’ but the suspensions picked up leaves a thin squad barren.
With Hazard still out and Bakayoko lacking match fitness, Chelsea could well be forced to play a recognised centre-back (Christensen or Luiz) in midfield. They may also switch to front two when picking any two of Boga, Morata and Batshuayi to accompany Willian in attack.
For Spurs, the return of Wanyama means the return of the three starting centre-backs. The Kenyan is seemingly uncomfortable dropping between the defenders to create a situational back three which allows an overload and access to the channels. Instead with Wanyama back in the team Pochettino simply forces the back three, allowing the rest of the team to adopt more attacking roles.
Trippier faces a late fitness test but remains a doubt. Before last weekend Pochettino declared Sissoko his current pick for right wing-back and Walker-Peters his preference for full-back, but given the latter’s (slightly generous) Man of the Match award, he may now feel free to brave the academy product in the more attacking role.
In one of last season’s most interesting tactical duels Tottenham ended Chelsea’s run of 13 consecutive wins. Pochettino near-matched Chelsea’ shape with Eriksen dropping-off attack and contributing in midfield to make more of a 3-5-2. In this shape Spurs pressed high, disrupting Conte’s automations to force Kante and Matic to receive with the ball their backs turned where they could then be turned over.
In attack Kyle Walker repeatedly stretched Chelsea’s back-line and Matic out on to the wide right before pulling-back for Eriksen arriving late in the channel. Eriksen could then pick out a cross to the far post where Dele was twice able to nod home after exerting his height advantage over Azpilicueta.
Chelsea responded later last year in the FA Cup Semi-Final. The Blues rested key players and set up in a mid-low-block to suffocate Spurs’ attack. In this shape and with a younger, hungrier personnel Conte was able to get a significant pressing effort from his front-line that had previously been missing in the aforementioned league fixture.
After frustrating Tottenham for the majority of the game Conte was then able to bring on Hazard and Costa from the bench at which point the Blues ran away with the game.
Though technically a ‘home’ match for Tottenham, Wembley will still be alien turf. Last season’s Champion’s League games showed Spurs struggling to adapt to a stadium with a considerably larger pitch, longer grass, softer turf and disjointed atmosphere.
Chelsea will once again be able to benefit from Tottenham’s lack of comfort on that pitch and have the added boost of the onus being on Spurs to attack. Chelsea will also have a significant athletic advantage in both wing-back positions, especially if Pochettino does opt for Walker-Peters over Sissoko, so could well look to focus their counter-attacks wide.
The question becomes, can a slightly lethargic Spurs side open up a rotated Chelsea team without over-committing, or having to force the ball into attack where it can be more easily turned over?