Tottenham swept past Chelsea at Wembley in an one sided affair and the 3-1 scoreline actually flatters Chelsea since it could have been much worse if not from some finishing hiccups from Spurs and a couple of great saves from Kepa. Since his arrival at EPL, Sarri has been very precise in his game plan and have set up his side admirably as per his philosophy and until this match, was actually unbeaten in EPL. However, despite his clever and complex system, there always was this feeling that perhaps there are chinks in the armour which can be exploited by a side set up properly. Unfortunately, Pochettino proved out to be that manager on saturday and his clever tweaks and application of ideas meant that Spurs ruthlessly exploited the wedges in the formation of Sarri and Chelsea could not retaliate. So let us take a look at what happened.
Sarri, as per his philosophy, lined up in a 4-3-3 with Jorginho as the fulcrum, Kante as the instigator and Kovacic as the auxiliary conductor linking Jorginho to the left flank and the attack. Sarri’s system heavily relies on buildup from back, which essentially means a Sweeper keeper behind two wide ball playing CB’s (here Luiz & Rudiger) forming a sqaure/rectangle/quadrilateral with the pivot i.e. Jorginho. The attack comprised of Hazard- Morata-Willian.
The pivot will link between the defence and carry the game forward via his passing, linking up with the two other midfielders or in the flanks as required. He is the brain on whom the complete play hinges. Kovacic or the carrier will run between the spaces in liaison with the pivot and the LB and will support the structure with his energy,pressing and dribbling. The instigator i.e. Kante will shuttle up and down as required i.e. when the play is in midfield, he will make himself available as an option, defend and press, fill in the vacated zonal spaces, and most importantly poke in the opposition defence with pace and power to disrupt them in an advanced role. Hence the play will happen in four laps or layers, first lap comprises the pivot deciding the course of play, second lap have the two fbs and the carrier combining, third lap has the instigator combining with the two wide forwards and the fourth lap consists of the striker/forwards combining or finishing.
Pochettino decided to disrupt the complete buildup process and disrupt the flow of Chelsea. Spurs lined up in an unconventional 4-4-2 diamond, with a much flatter midfield than a traditional diamond which almost resembles a high pressing 4-3-1-2 (flat three) and there was a specific reason to the same.
Spurs played a flattish three men midfield simply to press in synch and block Chelsea’s build up. In front Son, Alli and Kane were continuously shifting positions and wrecked havoc with their high energy press. Jorginho was continuously hurried by Alli, Eriksen and Sissoko and no Chelsea midfielder provided options and support to him. Normally when a midfielder of the diamond occasionally moves in to press in centre, he leaves behind the space to be exploited. But Aurier, with his energy, was not only providing the width , but also dropping to cover the space in case Kovacic decided to exploit it. Moreover Kovacic failed to exploit the space due to inward movement of Sissoko and did not gave Aurier much headache. Marcos Alonso is not a dribbler and hence his up ward movement was easily dealt by the combination of Aurier and Foyth. Hence play was breaking up in midfield only and Hazard was devoid of supply. Both Kante and Kovacic needed to drop a bit deep to provide options to Jorginho and especially Kovacic’s dribbling was needed to break the pressing lines which he failed to do. Alonso was moving up and losing the ball and his lack of pace meant Spurs were exploiting the right flank and two of Chelsea’s goals came from the right flank. Also Azpulicueta stayed behind and Willian was not tracking back meaning there was a lot of space on the left flank of Spurs for Eriksen to operate. Eriksen was pressing, continuously moving in space and pulling the strings without any pressure. When Pedro came on instead of Willian, the situation on left flank of Spurs improved immediately for Chelsea. Also both the CB’s of Chelsea, especially David Luiz, were having stinkers and lost the ball numerous times. Luiz especially was directly at fault for the second and third goals.
The first goal was bad set piece defending from Chelsea since Jorginho was stationed at near post and he is not the most aerially remarkable player. The second goal came from the acres of space in left flank due to Azpulicueta staying deep and Willian staying up. Eriksen took full advantage and played the ball to Kane who took a wild shot, and thanks to Luiz brushing off, Kepa could do nothing. In third goal, Son took full advantage of Alonso staying high and moved with the ball. Jorginho read the danger and since neither the left sided midfielder, nor the left back was pressing of tracking Son, he rushed on and tried to block the move. When he moved to block Son, Luiz needed to move up in support and double up on Son to recover the ball or take it out of play, but Luiz stayed deep and Jorginho was alone trying to block Son. Son beat Jorginho for pace and brushed aside Luiz afterwards in what was a half hearted defensive attempt from Luiz and scored the goal. Things improved for Chelsea with the introduction of Pedro, Barkley and Giroud, but it was too late by then.
Sarri must have taken important notes from this defeat and he surely must be working on the tactical solutions with the assets he has at his disposal. Also he must be needing some reinforcements in the January window to introduce variety in his scheme of things. It will be interesting to see, how he responds tactically to the high press in the upcoming fixtures.