For Chelsea’s second visit to North London this season, they visit the ground formerly known as “Three Point Lane” and will be hoping that the name can be resurrected, as the Blues have not taken maximum points in the Premier League from Tottenham at White Hart Lane since 2005. (According to international public rankings FootballTop.com, Chelsea FC is on the second place in EPL.)
Chelsea will have to do so without John Terry, who has accepted the FA’s ban and fine and will subsequently miss the next four matches in English competitions. However, both Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand are fit after missing the last round of international fixtures, and Daniel Sturridge returns to the squad, giving the Blues a clean bill of health for the first time this season.
And they will need it, as Tottenham come into this fixture in good form, sporting an unbeaten run that has extended to 9 games and having exorcised their demons at Old Trafford after beating Manchester United just a few weeks ago. Tottenham also reunite manager Andre Villas-Boas with a team that unceremoniously showed him the door last season and who insists revenge is not on his mind.
However, this side is much different from the one that he managed last year, playing in a much different style. To his credit, Villas-Boas has also done wonders with Tottenham this season and is showing signs of the managerial ability that he showed at his time at Porto.
That’s the very first point to make. Villas-Boas’ Tottenham are a different outfit than the marauding Spurs under Harry Redknapp.
I have always believed that Villas-Boas is a very good manager and felt he needed some time to imprint his style because the players here weren’t right for the system. This season, he’s proving that to be somewhat true. In Spurs, he inherited a side in need of structure. His tactical approach is a much more calculated and studied approach than his predecessor, Redknapp, sometimes came across.
Under Villas-Boas, Tottenham have transformed from a marauding attacking side to a side that is just as effective but picks their moments to get forward. He’s also found a way to get the best out of both Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale by using their pace on the counter attack to devastating effects. It seems to be working.
Their biggest threat is Gareth Bale, but he’s not always found joy playing against Chelsea.
It’s perfectly obvious that Gareth Bale is Tottenham’s main threat, but against the Blues, he has struggled, perhaps more than against any other side. Why is that? Despite not having anyone in the team that can match his pace, why has he been ineffective?
Simply put, the right side of Chelsea midfield and defence have been superb positionally against him and always force him into more than one direction change, thus negating his pace.
For all Bale’s skill, he still does not possess a very good right foot. So, when he runs at the back line, the trick is to force him inside and have to shoot on his right, or force him back left with a covering midfielder and play so that you can clear the cross. Either way, it forces him to have to change directions, and let’s face it. There are only a few players on the planet that can maintain their pace while changing directions.
Add in the fact that Chelsea are excellent in clearing crosses, and you have a recipe as to how Bale has been overall limited against the Blues.
Tottenham aren’t with out their weaknesses, though. Let’s start up front Jermain Defoe.
I think Tottenham’s biggest weakness is their lack of a proper center forward to spearhead their attacks, though Defoe is doing his best. As he’s on such a tremendous run of goal-scoring form, it’s hard to justify dropping him. However, his diminutive size and playing style aren’t really suited to being a lone striker up front.
The best example of his deficiencies came against United when they were leading and United were attacking them with fervor. Every time the ball came to Defoe, rather than holding it up and waiting to be fouled, he would try to beat the defender with skill and pace, losing the ball in the process and allowing United to again attack a winded defence.
The other big key is that with Defoe, Villas-Boas is forced to play a 4-2-3-1 system with Clint Dempsey or someone else shielding the hole behind Defoe in order to support him because he cannot play effectively with the gap provided by 4-3-3. Villas-Boas tends to favor the 4-3-3 system as it’s a much more flexible system for defending and controlling a game, but because you can’t play Defoe against two center backs without a supporting player, he’s forced to change the system.
That leads to weakness number two. While their midfield is good because of Moussa Dembele, Sandro is still the weak link.
With the switch to a 4-2-3-1 and the absence of Scott Parker and, to a large extent, Tom Huddlestone, Sandro has been forced to play a role further up the pitch and a role where he’s asked to not only be a deep shield for the back line, but also to trigger the ball forward. It’s something that he’s not really had to implement into his skill set, as he came from Brazil as a destructive, strong holding midfielder, almost in the Gilberto Silva mold.
While Spurs fans will say that Sandro’s passing has improved, the one key is that he doesn’t play well with people pressuring him. He played very well against United, but as soon as Wayne Rooney came on and started buzzing around him every time he touched it, his passing stats started to drop. I expect that he’ll see much more of the same against Chelsea but with a more familiar face doing the pressuring.
Oscar has impressed with his ability to understand the tactical side and the need to do a job defensively in addition to attack. He’s shown that against Mikel Arteta and against Andrea Pirlo and was able to effectively frustrate both. I’m assuming he’ll be given the task to do the same to Sandro because with Dembele and Dempsey playing forward, he’s the man who has to start the moves.
Final weakness: central defence.
Because of injuries, botched transfer sagas, losses in form, Tottenham have played much of the season with a center back pairing of William Gallas and friend, of late that being Steven Caulker. It’s a weakness that is rarely exposed of late since Villas-Boas has finally settled on a preferred midfield to attack and also protect the back line. But it’s interesting to note that equalizers against Norwich and West Brom both came from failed attempts to clear the box when under pressure.
Given the number of players that we position in or around the 18-yard box, I would think that there’s every chance to unsettle the center two, especially given the aging Gallas and the young Caulker. It’s something that most teams haven’t been able to challenge of late, but I think it’s something that could be key, especially given the fluid attacking four that we’re likely to send out, and given the late fifth man, Frank Lampard, who they’ll have to account for.