The Blues came back from a stunning Sandro strike to score two [lucky] goals and record an important win ahead of a top-of-the-table clash next Sunday.
Having scored his first Chelsea goal last week against West Ham, there was a lot of talk pre-match of Fernando Torres’ position within the starting line-up. Would Ancelotti disturb a winning formation to try and get the best out of Torres and in-form Drogba, or would he stick to the pre-January norm of 4-3-3 with natural wide attackers?
Chelsea are the EPL’s form team, with 23 points from nine games, in a late surge for the title. In contrast, Spurs’ recent form is just the one victory in the past ten, and needing victory to hang in the race for Champions League qualification.
The Italian flipped a tactical surprise, deciding instead on stationing both of his star strikers in a flexible front three with Florent Malouda, with Drogba playing as a narrow right striker, behind Torres, who was more central. The two swapped positions, but the formation was in it’s base essence a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1. It was a similar set-up to the one deployed at Old Trafford in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final, which was successful – to a point. Playing a player like Drogba out of position runs a real risk as there is real possibility for it to backfire, as Drogba’s form is subject to the mood he is in.
This was evident in the swings of form that Didier experienced over the ninety minutes, most notably the more physical contribution to Chelsea’s attack in a central centre-forward position after Torres’ substitution. Before that he had been playing almost like a right-midfielder, and was evidently frustrated – evidence being his silly yellow card for dissent.
Drogba’s chalkboard shows his uncomfortableness playing out of position, with errant delivery of passes and a real lack of link-up play.
Despite this, he still managed two assists and was the Premier League’s Fantasy Top of the Match, claiming two bonus points.
Chelsea were not at their fluent best for the whole match, preferring moments of exaggerated build-up, and the same could be said for Spurs. They looked to retain the ball across the park, but rather than a refined tactical model, it could be interpreted as lacking the presence to play any significant balls forward. This was because Redknapp deployed a 4-1-4-1 rather than his standard 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, which saw Sandro between the lines and Pavyulchenko up front on his own.
The result was that Van der Vaart drifted forward from his central midfield zone, meaning Sandro had space to move into, essentially creating a two-man midfield. Up against a defined three-man Chelsea midfield, and it meant that Chelsea had a numerical advantage in the centre, which would explain Mikel’s astonishingly good passing stats – 73 out of 78 successful passes – 93%.
However, Essien started brightly, but faded towards the half and after the break, perhaps because of his cartilage injury , and this meant Modric could play his natural, incisive passing game. Essien’s removal for the energetic Ramires was a strong move from Ancelotti, as it allowed Chelsea to regain the midfield, and control the pace of the game. After the substitution, Spurs struggled to maintain the possession stats that they had in their best period of the game.
The two fulcrum of Spurs’ attack – Bale and Lennon – were off-colour to say the least, to the point Lennon was inconspicuous. He completed just twelve passes, half of which were within his own half. He allowed Ashley Cole to run over the top of him, rather than the other way round. As a result, Chelsea could build a vast majority of their attacks on the left hand side. Bale was also poor. While he had the better of Ivanovic early on, the Serbians’ constant switching with David Luiz confused the Welshman, and Ivanovic eventually won ten tackles, seven on the right wing, and the pacey winger grew out of the game, as did Spurs chances of qualifying for Europe’s elite.
It would be cruel not to make more specific mention of the Nigerian’s performance. Restored to the starting line-up after the United loss, he has re-established balance in the midfield trio, with his cool possession and cohesive passing. His passing stats have been aforementioned, and he won nine tackles and lost just the one. In his 200th appearance for Chelsea, he affirmed his status as a world class player.
The game was a strange one. The tempo of the first half was largely dictated by Chelsea’s attacking play, and Torres in particular looked bright as the champions pressed for the goals that would keep them alive. Sandro scored against the run of play, and it was two fortunate officiating errors that pulled Chelsea back in it, despite stats that tell a different story. Chelsea managed ten shots on target, compared to Spurs’ one. But any good striker and manager will tell you it’s the quality of finishing that counts: Sandro put that beyond no doubt, and Ancelotti will be thankful for the double dosage of luck that sees his side keep the pressure on United, who play tonight against Arsenal before heading back home to Old Trafford to face Chelsea in a potential title decider.