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article imageMourinho's methodical Chelsea stump Pochettino's Spurs

By Tyrrell Meertins     Nov 29, 2015 in Sports
Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge has produced several entertaining clashes against Mauricio Pochettino, but here, the Chelsea manager reverted to caution against the Premier League’s in-form side.
The main topic of discussion prior to kickoff was Mourinho’s decision to drop Diego Costa and field Eden Hazard ahead of Pedro, Oscar, and Willian. Hazard’s improved form in recent weeks combined with the diligent work-rate of the attacking midfielders ensured Chelsea would play on the counter-attack against a Spurs outfit keen to maintain a high-line.
Still, Chelsea were deprived of Costa’s work-rate, physicality, and aerial prowess upfront, and therefore played short intricate passes towards the attacking quartet, as neither Branislav Ivanovic or Cesar Azpilicueta were keen to offer width and join the attack. Spurs’ cohesive pressing negated Chelsea’s ability to enjoy long spells of possession in the opposition’s half, which meant the Blues were heavily reliant on swift transitional attacks.
Mourinho’s men occasionally bypassed Spurs’ offside tap with simple lobs over the defence, and instant diagonals to the opposite flank, but their finishing in the final third was underwhelming. Meanwhile, Spurs' attempt to cope with the direct running of Willian and Hazard inevitably resulted in Danny Rose, Harry Kane and Jan Vertonghen bookings.
Spurs’ thrashing of Chelsea on New Years Day represents a lesson Mourinho learned regarding his midfield pivot, and with both Cesc Fabregas and Matic in midfield, the away side preferred to sit deeper and limit space between the lines. Oscar and Hazard pushed forward to cut off the centre-back’s passing lanes, which explains why Eric Dier dropped between the Belgians to create 3v2 situations to help Spurs build out the back.
Danny Rose and Kyle Walker adopted adventurous positions to peg Pedro and Willian into their half, whereas the most intriguing aspect of Spurs’ positioning was the inclusion of Ryan Mason on the right flank. With Mason drifting into central positions, Pedro held the responsibility of pressing both right-sided players, and was occasionally bewildered with his task out of possession.
Christian Eriksen’s central role left Spurs with two direct attackers playing off the flanks, but surprisingly the Spurs trio constantly charged into the channels — mainly the right channel; space between the left-sided centre-back and right full-back — to receive possession. One of Spurs’ better moves saw Kane and Walker overload Cesar Azpilicueta, as the former subsequently clipped a cross to the far post for Son-Heung min, resulting in an important Asmir Begovic save.
Nevertheless, the away side’s reactive approach encountered difficulties in the first half due to structure collapses in central areas. Nemanja Matic successfully limited Eriksen’s threat in Chelsea’s half by tracking the Dane’s movement into deeper positions, but there were still moments when the Serbian international and Fabregas were caught out of position.
Spurs recorded three shots — Kane and Moussa Dembele forced Begovic into key saves, whereas Son fired an effort over the net — with Matic in an advanced position and Fabregas failing to cover for his midfielder partner, further highlighting Chelsea’s deficiencies in central areas. Mourinho was fully aware of Pochettino’s ploy to drag Matic out of position, which resulted in Chelsea sitting in a deeper block for the final 45 minutes.
"I think we deserved more. It was clear that we always tried to win the game and Chelsea are happy because a point for them is more important than for us,” said Pochettino.
"I'm very happy with the performance and the team played well."
One loose Hazard pass in the second half led to a Matic booking for fouling Eriksen, but Fabregas was now handed the responsibility of pushing forward to press in the second half to rectify Chelsea’s midfield issue. Mason’s departure to injury forced Pochettino to summon Erik Lamela, who committed several fouls, while his preference to maintain width thwarted Spurs’ superiority on the right.
Hazard’s involvement in Chelsea’s counter-attacks persisted throughout the second half, but his best chance stemmed from a Branislav Ivanovic cross. Spurs, on the other hand, offered no legitimate threat following Chelsea’s positional alteration, as Eriksen was forced to drop deeper to pick up the ball, and Kane lacked quality service in the final third.
"The team defended like a team, defending with 11 players, the team with the ball was comfortable against a team that presses really well and aggressively and is difficult to play against, [but] we were comfortable with the ball,” said Mourinho.
"So I am very happy with the performance, I think we are not happy with the result but we are happy with the team. I think we have the team again, and we look to the future with a better spirit until the end of December.”
In terms of overall play, a draw is a fair result due to Spurs inability to consistently exploit areas they conquered in the early stages of the match. Meanwhile, apart from a few positional lapses, Chelsea’s organization and structure — mainly in the second half — showcased the Blues’ best defensive display this season, which equally negated Spurs’ territorial dominance.
More about Chelsea, Spurs, Pochettino, Mourinho, Hazard
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