Chelsea vs Tottenham: Five things we learned as Thomas Tuchel wins the tactical battle

Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham: Two first-half goals put the Blues in the driving seat for a Wembley appearance

Karl Matchett
Wednesday 05 January 2022 21:33
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Chelsea beat Tottenham 2-0 in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg on Wednesday night to make them clear favourites to reach Wembley.

The Blues threatened through the returning Romelu Lukaku within 30 seconds, but it took a further four minutes for the opener to arrive via Kai Havertz, after a series of poor defensive choices from the Tottenham players.

If those were poor defensive moments, the second goal was merely farcical, as Japhet Tanganga headed a free-kick straight into team-mate Ben Davies and the ball bounced in past Kepa.

After the restart Spurs were improved from a woeful first 45, but the best chances still came at the other end, Timo Werner notably spurning a one-on-one.

Here are five things we learned from the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

Lukaku’s return

The Belgian striker made his midweek apology for an interview which saw him dropped at the weekend and was back in the line-up here.

He could have netted right from kick-off but opted to pass instead of shoot, and while he had a pretty quiet first half thereafter, he finished it by sending a glancing header just wide from a great position only a few minutes before the break.

All told this wasn’t a headline-making performance from the No9, but given what came beforehand (and the fact Chelsea won anyway) that was probably perfectly fine by Tuchel.

Wing-back roll call

Ziyech on the right and Doherty on the left!

For Chelsea, the Moroccan was playing a bit of a hybrid role, defensive in a five when Chelsea were out of possession, but with lots of scope to push on and take up a more attack-minded role with his team on the ball, when they most frequently looked like playing a 4-4-2 variation. After the break it was even more so, a full-on attacking midfield role for Ziyech and though he wasted a good shooting chance, he was a creative outlet for the team.

Best of all was a thunderous switch to free Timo Werner, who should have scored.

On the same side of the pitch, his opposite number was Matt Doherty, playing the opposite flank to usual but probably just glad for game time after fewer than 600 minutes on the pitch this season prior to kick-off.

He didn’t rack up many though, off at the break for a change of shape.

Managers switch it up

Both Tuchel and Antonio Conte have set their teams up with a back three whenever possible at their current clubs - but neither are so fixed on it they won’t change when needed.

The Chelsea boss did so from kick-off with the aforementioned flexibility with Ziyech and, on the other side, Mason Mount moving up as wider attacking midfielders.

For Conte, it took until the interval: the switch to see Tanguy Ndombele on for Doherty meant a back four for the visitors too, enabling them to get closer in midfield and have runners in attack with greater frequency.

An improvement in performance level, but the damage had been done on the night.

Fringe faces step up

Saul was one of the best players on the park at the Bridge - a significant step-up after his struggles in the first half of the season. He played 72 minutes and was given a huge embrace by Tuchel after being subbed.

So too was Malang Sarr a solid performer, winning challenges and tracking runs at the back for the Blues despite a lack of minutes, while Werner was lively and twice went close to scoring as he works his way back to full fitness.

For Spurs, Ndombele has been well out of favour under Conte but helped raise the tempo of their game after coming on, with much of the rest of their line-up largely first-choice anyway.

Final thoughts

A quirk of fixture scheduling and Liverpool’s first leg against Arsenal being postponed means that this semi-final will be over and done with before the other one has actually started.

The second leg in north London will require a big fightback from Spurs of course, if the Blues aren’t to stroll through, and then it will be a watching brief to see who the opponent at Wembley will be.

All this comes before the sides meet back at the Bridge once more in the final week or so of January - this time in the Premier League.

Two more tactical battles await, and Spurs must find far more attacking threat than they showed here.

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