16 Conclusions: Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham

Date published: Saturday 22nd February 2020 4:14

1) There is a danger of reading too much into everything Jose Mourinho says or does, but his parting message before Saturday’s return to Chelsea did little more than create a rod for his own back.

Perhaps there was no tactical leak. Maybe this was a Machiavellian construct, a cheap mind game or furtherance of a siege mentality. That was certainly his suggestion at full-time.

Tottenham had better hope so, for that would simply paint Mourinho as manipulative and reliant upon outdated techniques in pursuit of even the smallest and most intangible of advantages. The alternative – that he knew exactly how Chelsea would set up and summarily failed to respond or react – is altogether more alarming.

 

2) For Frank Lampard, this was more than a necessary victory. Greater, even, than an essential one at home to a direct rival. More than anything, it was overdue affirmation that he can positively influence a game through his team selections.

These were sizeable gambles: to stick with Willy Caballero over Kepa Arrizabalaga; to bring in Marcos Alonso; to start Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud; to change the entire shape.

He was rewarded with a solid defensive performance until those familiar nerves returned late on, two goals courtesy of those introduced from the cold, and a first league win in over a month. The last Chelsea manager to go five consecutive Premier League games or more without a win was Carlo Ancelotti in late 2010; it was imperative for Lampard that he did not change that while altering everything else.

 

3) In doing so, he became the first manager to beat Mourinho home and away in a single league season. There are legitimate grievances and valid questions to be asked of his coaching credentials and ability to dictate and adapt to certain situations. They could never have been refuted over the course of 90 minutes here. But that is not something achieved by accident or good fortune. There is something there.

 

4) It is worth wondering where Chelsea would be had Olivier Giroud not spent the season behind Michy Batshuayi in the striker pecking order.

The difference was remarkable. He occupied defenders, brought teammates into play, ran the channels, exploited space.

And forgive the Garth Crooks-esque focus on praising goalscoring defenders, but Alonso might have an even greater reason to serve his manager some humble pie over the next week. He has his obvious limitations yet neither Emerson nor Cesar Azpilicueta are solid enough defensively in that position to necessitate Alonso being sacrificed. If Lampard prioritises a formation with wing-backs – and he certainly should on this evidence – then the Spaniard has to start.

 

5) It is, after all, a difficult and often unforgivable role. Few other positions require such unerring attention, unfailing fitness levels and assured influence in both defence and attack. It is not easy.

Just ask Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga. Neither made any inroads whatsoever going forward and both were often overwhelmed at the back. The latter, whose decision to award Alonso the freedom of west London led to the second goal, has the mitigation of being an inexperienced centre-half playing completely out of position. But Davies has no such excuse. He completed 54.3% of his passes; Tottenham’s next lowest outfielder in that regard was Lucas (77.8%). He has to be upgraded this summer.

 

6) The clash with Reece James made for an unflattering comparison. The Chelsea defender was utterly imperious throughout, having two shots, creating two chances and making two tackles. The role of a wing-back is not easy, but it looks damned good when done well.

His greatest asset might be his dribbling. James has obvious physical attributes but they are enhanced by his technical skill; if his strength does not thwart you, his skill will. He completed more take-ons than all but two Tottenham players, with Davies powerless to stop him.

 

7) It took a few minutes for the game to settle. Lucas forced the first shot after clever work from Steven Bergwijn, with Giroud and Mason Mount having efforts of their own. By the tenth minute there was an obvious pattern that both sides had embraced: Chelsea had 81.3% of the possession and Tottenham were eager to counter with pace when they could.

Except their opportunities grew increasingly rare to the point that Chelsea had penned them in. The Blues scored after a quarter of an hour but Tottenham had been warned moments earlier. After Toby Alderweireld nodded an Andreas Christensen clearance into the arms of Hugo Lloris, the visitors were able to reset. They lost possession within six seconds of the ball being rolled out to Jan Vertonghen, with Davies’s pass down the line intercepted by Azpilicueta, moved on by James and collected by Jorginho. He played it inside to Barkley who drove into the space vacated by Tanguy Ndombele and fired just wide.

Tottenham conceded within 30 seconds of the subsequent goal kick. They had eight touches before the Chelsea swarm consumed them, with the only difference this time being that they were punished. To have a turnover forced in their own half so soon after their goalkeeper had the ball was a mistake. For it to happen twice in such quick succession was stupidity.

 

8) The only real similarity the two attacks bore was that Jorginho played the final pass. The ball to Barkley was simple but effective; the first-time delivery around the corner to Giroud was sumptuous.

But most of the credit goes to Mateo Kovacic, whose tackle on Lucas set the foundation. He recycled the ball to Antonio Rudiger and Alonso before lifting it out to the other side, where Azpilicueta and Jorginho combined to play Giroud in.

Kovacic was sensational. He is such a joy to watch in full flow, gliding across the pitch beautifully. There might be no better player to have when leading a game because he is incredible at retaining the ball or alleviating pressure with a timely dribble (five, the most of any player) or tackle. Chelsea do have one of the most effective Premier League midfielders in their squad; it just isn’t N’Golo Kante anymore.

 

9) And when anyone complains about a strikeforce lacking pace again, advise them to watch the opener. Giroud starts his run just before Jorginho even delivers the pass. Alderweireld was already chasing a shadow by the time he realised Chelsea were through.

But that’s what Giroud does: he is excellent at making up for his deficiencies. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in anticipation and intelligence. That run gained him an extra two or three yards whereas Batshuayi would have been stood offside.

 

10) Tottenham struggled to muster much of a response. Their approach seemed dependent on at least one player breaking the lines with a dribble to advance ten or so yards and be met with an inevitable defensive wall. There were so few slick passing moves or coordinated attacks that it made the rare exceptions to that rule – the moments when the instincts of two or three players were finally aligned – seem exciting.

The only one to stand out was Bergwijn. His flick to lay on Lucas’s shot after half an hour was exquisite and testament to his efficiency. He had just 35 touches in 77 minutes but almost none were wasted and each came with intention rather than aimless, directionless, pointless meandering. It will be awfully fun when he plays alongside the reanimated corpse of Harry Kane next season.

 

11) It was a match as much won by Chelsea’s midfield as it was lost by Tottenham’s. Ndombele was strangely quiet and Giovani Lo Celso was so absorbed by his defensive duties – seven tackles and four fouls – that he could not form a bridge to the attack.

Harry Winks did not help, either. He was more overwhelmed than anyone by Chelsea’s press and the movement of Mount and Barkley. There was nothing for Tottenham to build from, whereas Chelsea established their authority directly through Kovacic and Jorginho.

 

12) Mount and Barkley’s best combination led to Chelsea’s second goal. The former collected Giroud’s flick-on from the right – again, Batshuayi just offers nothing of the sort – and drove into the space. He played it inside to Barkley who helped the ball on immediately to Alonso to score.

It all came from an Azpiliceuta throw-in in Chelsea’s own half. So Tim Sherwood, Andy Gray, Steve Nicol and anyone else who doubts the efficacy of someone who coaches in that area should perhaps reconsider their preconceptions. They can often be as potent a weapon as any other.

 

13) It was Alderweireld who lost that header to Giroud, and who allowed the 33-year-old to run in behind for the first goal. After Tammy Abraham bullied the Belgian in December, this was another chastening experience.

The decline is stark. At 30, Alderweireld should not have lost so much of the athleticism that made him one of the Premier League’s best centre-halves for a couple of seasons recently. But both he and Vertonghen – similarly exposed for Chelsea’s two goals – are far beyond their peaks. If their respective physical deterioration can be explained through ageing, how can the complete loss of aggression be accounted for?

 

14) Chelsea, content with their work, started to sit off. After having 62.1% of the ball for the first 50 minutes, they had 33.1% for the final 40.

Lampard will be delighted that they both retained their attacking threat and, largely, dealt with a different challenge. Chelsea had six shots after the goal as they settled into a more conservative approach, with Abraham’s introduction key to sharp counters. Tottenham, however, had two shots in the final hour of the match and were kept largely at arm’s length.

That does not take into account the own goal, while the nervousness that set in for those final few minutes was palpable. Still, Chelsea had to prove they could convert early dominance into victory. They did so in relative style.

 

15) Lo Celso should have been sent off. Michael Oliver should have checked the monitor. VAR should have advised him far more effectively – and have since admitted as such. Next.

 

16) Mourinho’s away record against the Big Six since January 2015 now reads: P19 W2 D6 L11 F16 A34. That is utterly dreadful, no matter the circumstances.

There is no denying that the absences of Kane and Heung-min Son make his job harder. The loss of one is damaging but the lack of both is entirely transformative. Tottenham simply cannot play the same way.

But Christ, this is one of the three highest-paid managers in world football. It should be a source of embarrassment to Mourinho that he cannot establish a coherent plan with the talent he has at his disposal. Kane and Son are brilliant but Bergwijn, Lucas, Lo Celso and Ndombele are hardly without merit. They have excelled elsewhere but are being completely stymied by a style that suits no-one.

It harms a midfield that has no-one to pass to. It puts undue pressure on a defence with component parts that are already on a downward spiral. It asks the forwards to create something out of less than nothing. It relies so heavily upon fortune and the opposition not turning up that when they do it is exposed.

When so many managers accept and embrace the challenge of trying something new, of adapting in difficult conditions and devising different ideas, Mourinho complains. He has been handcuffed but there is an assortment of keys in front of him. Sometimes it feels like he’d rather swallow them all than check which, if any, might actually work.

Matt Stead

 

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