Tottenham Hotspur Steamrolled Chelsea FC, Who Was At Fault?


Tottenham 5-3 Chelsea FC. A result that stunned nearly every Chelsea supporter earlier this month as the usually sturdy Blue’s defense leaked goals in a way never before seen from a team coached by Jose Mourinho. In what was the boiling point of the trend of the Blue’s defense conceding more goals away from Stamford Bridge in league performances (16 away, 19 total), Mauricio Pocchetino’s Tottenham hit the league leaders with incisive tactics for a humbling blow.

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Using their Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen to drag Serbian Nemanja Matic out wide from his natural position in front of the two center backs and attacking the exposed areas with pace in the form of Nacer Chadli and Harry Kane, the north London team ran ruckus on the pitch. With Matic out of his spot Tottenham attacked the not-speedy right side of the Chelsea defense of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic to great effect, scoring five times out of their eight shots on target.

Chelsea’s defense, while stable when facing teams who give them time to organize with Matic in the middle (think Liverpool away last season) do show weaknesses when they come up against pacey opposition. What Ivanovic adds in his offensive output is not worth what it detracts defensively and provides a weak point for teams to attack in the Blue’s defense.

The goals scored by Tottenham in the New Years Day game served as a prime example of how a team can break down Chelsea’s strong defensive setup. After scoring the opening goal and appearing to be on the stroll for another victory over the London rivals, the first goal for Tottenham came in the 30th minute. Christian Eriksen’s movement drug Matic out of his position  allowing Harry Kane to cut into the middle of the field where he could use his physicality to easily skirt past Oscar and Cesc Fabregas to angle his shot for the goal.

For the second Spurs goal Chelsea were again caught with the majority of their team upfield and suffered from it. Once Eriksen was able to dribble by Matic and run straight at Gary Cahill the Blue’s back line was in trouble. Cahill’s defense was nothing for the Englishman to be proud of in the sequence, allowing Eriksen to play the pass in behind him to Nacer Chadli who was able to outpace Ivanovic to the ball and create the goalscoring chance that was finally knocked in by Danny Rose.

By Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK (DSC01398) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsAfter a soft back pass from Ivanovic to Gary Cahill that was intercepted by Harry Kane for a hardly deserved penalty right before the halftime whistle, the fourth goal for Tottenham again exploited the Chelsea right side. Out of position to defend a Nabil Bentaleb pass, Ivanovic’s reckless decision to go in for the sliding challenge on the ball forced Gary Cahill into a difficult position of playing out of position, defending along the wing. Giving up his position at the half-way line, a place where Tottenham had no chance to score a goal and allowing them to easily get down the wing, Ivanovic’s help came too late before as Harry Kane was able to cleverly round Nemanja Matic and score to wreck Chelsea’s hopes of salvaging points.

By the time of the fifth goal Tottenham had the ability of breaking the Chelsea defense down to a science, again taking advantage of a pushed up field Matic and quickly getting the ball to the feet of their attackers close to the Chelsea back line. A combination of Nacer Chadli and Harry Kane (tired of seeing these names? so am I) took the ball down the left wing dragging Gary Cahill and Ivanovic with him, creating space at the edge of the box for Chadli to cut in and score the goal.

With Cahill covering Kane on the wing and Paulinho in the box being defended by John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta, Ivanovic’s defensive quality was badly lacking on this sequence. Already late to the play and forcing Cahill into more desperate, unnatural defending, the unnecessary closing down and doubling of Kane allowed Chadli an easy lane for his shot. Ivanovic’s inability to track Chadli running right in front of him and instead choosing to do his often seen hands behind the back ‘butler’ defense sealed the 3 points up for Tottenham.

The Chelsea pair were exposed, in particular to being caught out when on the offense by Ivanovic’s high upfield positioning. Branislav Ivanovic’s play style on the right side of the Chelsea defense has become more and more offensive over the past three seasons but at the detriment of his defensive quality. When given time on the ball in the attack Ivanovic can provide offensive options (as shown by his rise in chances created and key passes) but his posting up on the right side of the attack and delivery of passes into the area does not often suit the way Chelsea plays as most of the goals are scored through quick counter attacking play with rapid buildup.

Ivanovic’s up field positioning also makes Gary Cahill’s performances dip as often he has to play sideways against the attack as a mock right/center back in a 3-at-the-back formation. Cahill has proven over his three years with the club that he is a solid defender but does not have the talent or speed to handle those responsibilities.

The playstyle of Ivanovic also hinders the offensive output of the right-sided attackers Jose Mourinho selects. Eden Hazard, granted he is the most talented out of the options available out wide, is also allowed way more freedoms with Cesar Azpilicueta covering the area behind him compared to Andre Schurrle and Willian who must be ready to track back and cover for the Serbian’s runs at any given time.  Giving the wingers the freedom of focusing on scoring and creating chances could lead to an increase in production from a position that has been unable to contribute much offensively this season.

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This problem if not diagnosed and solved could be one that upsets the Blues again later in the season. Going up against even pacier squads in the form of Europe’s elite in the later Champions League rounds could be trouble. If the combined efforts of Kane and Chadli caused problems imagine having to face Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid or Neymar and Barcelona in the deeper rounds of the competition. A large part of the reason why Chelsea were interested in Mohamed Salah and signed him for 11 million pounds last January is how he played against the Blues in last year’s Champions League. If a player whose shots are more likely to go out for a throw in  than challenge the goalkeeper is able to be that clinical (Salah scored the equalizer at the Bridge and the winner in Switzerland) it’s not hard to envision what could happen later in the season.