A tactical analysis of Tottenham Vs Chelsea: Thomas Tuchel’s use of 4-2-2-2 and proactive attacking solutions

Chelsea secured a place in the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium, topping Tottenham 1-0 in the second leg to secure a dominant 3-0 aggregate semi-final victory. Antonio Rüdiger’s early goal was enough to put the Blues well and truly through, Tottenham saw two penalties wiped off on VAR and Harry Kane scored goal cancelled by VAR too.

This tactical analysis will break down Chelsea’s tactics; explain how Tuchal’s tactics made such a big difference to this match and the formations’ issues.

Line-ups

How Chelsea and Tottenham lined up on paper. Image courtesy of SofaScore
How Chelsea and Tottenham lined up on paper. Image courtesy of SofaScore

Tottenham were mostly healthy side; there is one big injury absence. Attacking force Heung-min Son is out for a month with a muscular problem that he didn’t feel until the day after the first leg at Stamford Bridge, Steven Bergwijn is also out due to a calf injury. So, Antonio Conte chose to name a weaker lineup, to save the first-teamers for Saturday’s huge Premier League match against Arsenal. While plenty of regulars like Davinson Sanchez, Harry Kane, and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg are listed, Gio Lo Celso gets a rare start as does Matt Doherty.

Tottenham starting lineup (3-5-2): Gollini (GK) – Davies, Tanganga, Sánchez – Doherty, Højbjerg, Winks, Lo Celso, and Emerson – Moura, Kane

Tottenham subs (9):  Lloris (GK), Paskotsi, Rodon, Skipp, Sessegnon, White, Bryan, Alli, Scarlett.

Chelsea are lacking defensive options, Thiago Silva had tested positive for COVID-19 leaving Malang Sarr back in the lineup. N’Golo Kante is in the same boat, alongside the Brazilian defender amongst the substitutes. Reece James and Ben Chilwell were out with their long-term injuries, while Trevoh Chalobah is also a miss with a hamstring strain. Édouard Mendy is on AFCON 2022 duty so Kepa Arrizabalaga was the man in the net.

Chelsea starting lineup (4-2-2-2): Kepa (GK) – Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rüdiger, Sarr – Jorginho, Kovacic – Hudson-Odoi, Mount – Werner, and Lukaku.

Chelsea subs (9):  Bettinelli (GK), Thiago Silva, Alonso, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Saul, Havertz, Pulisic, and Ziyech.

Chelsea’s structure and their build-up phase

Chelsea started the match with the 4-2-2-2 formation, without wingers; Azpilicueta and Sarr kept wide and high, Christensen and Rüdiger were the center backs, Jorginho and Kovacic were defensive pivots, duo Hudson-Odoi and Mount were in front of them in the central channels. Werner and Lukaku were the strikers.

The Chelsea formation in possession
The Chelsea formation in possession

Tuchel chose this formation so that his side keep the ball as long as possible by overloaded the central channels, and to manage to pass more of the progressive passes. He had what he wanted. Chelsea’s possession was 64%, which is a very high percentage. They also made almost twice as many completed passes as the opponent, as shown below in the match stats report.

How the stat sheet looked at the end of the game. Image from 365scores
How the stat sheet looked at the end of the game. Image from 365scores

In the build-up phase, Azpilicueta and Sarr stay wide and high, Jorginho drops to the first third to complete a triangle with Christensen and Rüdiger, to attract his man to create space for Kovacic to receive the ball away from the pressing structures. Here is an example of this case, but Kepa passed the ball to Jorginho instead of Kovacic who was alone in the space without pressure, Jorginho couldn’t receive the ball under pressure, so Kane managed to get the ball and score a goal (the goal cancelled later by VAR).

Jorginho and Kovacic were key for Chelsea against Tottenham.
Jorginho and Kovacic were key for Chelsea against Tottenham.

4-2-2-2’s defensive issues as Tottenham expose some weakness

Now, we’ll talk about 4-2-2-2’s defensive issues. Tuchel had to switch his favourite five-defender formation to just four after injuries hit the defenders. The 4-2-2-2 is a good formation in the terms of attacking phase and advanced pressure. It enables your team to make a lot of progressive passes and create chances from the central channels, but it has fatal defensive issues that we will talk about. The lack of wingers pushed the full-backs to go forward and left spaces behind them, which the opponent can exploit in transitions. As shown in the figure below, Kane passed the ball to Højbjerg in the space behind Sarr (advanced full-back), the referee gave Højbjerg a penalty after Rüdiger fouled him (the penalty cancelled by VAR).

ِAlso, one of the defensive issues of this formation is the lack of midfielders in the half-spaces who give the full-backs coverage and defensive support. Here is an example of this case; Kane passed the ball in the space behind Azpilicueta (advanced full-back) without coverage from the midfielders.

How Spurs got in behind Tuchel's new formation
How Spurs got in behind Tuchel’s new formation

Tuchel’s offensive solutions

In the offensive phase, Chelsea players created triangles on both flanks and central channels. Offensive triangles provide more passing options for the ball carrier and give him more time for passing; also, a gap is created in the half-space in which the midfielders move as shown below.

How Tuchel counteracted the 4-2-2-2 issues
How Tuchel counteracted the 4-2-2-2 issues

Chelsea players overloaded one-half of the pitch longitudinally, attracting the opponents to close one half and leaving the other half completely free of pressure. As shown below, Chelsea players overloaded the right half longitudinally while the left half was completely devoid of pressure structures.

Overloading the Tottenham defence.
Overloading the Tottenham defence.

Conclusion

Chelsea booked their place in the final; Antonio Rüdiger gave Chelsea the lead by a headed goal. Tottenham were awarded two penalties, only to have both correctly overturned after VAR consultations, and then had a Harry Kane strike ruled out for offside on the correct advice of video assistant referee Mike Dean in Stockley Park. The game was paused following a medical emergency in the crowd and on resumption; Chelsea completed the formalities of their victory.

Chelsea are now in their third successive final under Tuchel since he arrived. He guided them to the FA Cup final last season, which Chelsea lost to Leicester City, there is no doubt that Chelsea are on the right way under Tuchel.

Written by Mustapha Hassan (@mostafa_10)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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