Wednesday night saw a thrilling all-action encounter between the two of the three London clubs fighting for a top four place. Tackles flew in furiously and a total of 23 fouls were committed as both team’s midfields battled for superiority in the middle of the park. In the end, the result was a fair one as the two sides shared the spoils in a hard fought 2-2 draw, leaving 3rd and 4th place in the balance.
Spurs currently sit 5th place in the table, a point behind Arsenal with two crucial league games against Stoke and Sunderland coming up. André Villas-Boas introduced Lewis Holtby and Emmanuel Adebayor into the starting line up and set up in a 4-3-3 system, designed to stop the surging runs of Ramires as well as keeping the attacking trio of Oscar, Mata and Hazard in close proximity of a high energy Spurs player; all in an attempt to disrupt their slick short passing game and frequent positional changes. These tactics yielded both positive and negative results for Spurs, but what exactly did we learn about AVB’s men?
The big front man has endured a torrid time in front of goal this season and Wednesday night saw him score only his 4th league goal of the season, a truly abysmal tally. That being said, Adebayor looked to have regained the confidence which he exhibited on a game-to-game basis last term. Ade showcased excellent link up play and technique, effortlessly holding off the Chelsea defence who just couldn’t live with his physical presence. On top of supplying a delightful back-heel flick assist for Sigurdsson’s goal in the second half, the highpoint of Emmanuel Adebayor’s fine performance was undoubtedly his stunning 25-yard strike in the first half which left Petr Cech utterly helpless.
As Spurs broke at pace from their own half, Aaron Lennon made a clever run around the back of Adebayor in order to take Azpilicueta away and open up a shooting lane for Adebayor. This worked well and it left Gary Cahill isolated 1 vs 1 with Adebayor who decided not to challenge the striker and instead chose to back off into his own box, to ill-effect. Cahill’s failure to halt the run of Adebayor meant that Petr Cech could not buy himself the extra seconds he needed to set himself to attempt to stop the shot and the rest as they say is history, 1-1, game on!
Lewis Holtby the midfield general
A performance that seems to have flown under the radar a bit is that of German international Lewis Holtby. He played as the most advanced player in the midfield trio of himself, Parker and Huddlestone, in an organisational ball circulation role. His job was to link play to all areas of the pitch, bridging the gap between midfield and attack. The most impressive part of Holtby’s performance was his ability to use his football intangibles to dictate the nature of his passing.
As the game wore on he noticed the increasing influence of Adebayor down the left wing and attempted to feed him the ball to feet as quickly as possible. He also realised Gareth Bale’s ongoing struggle to collect up the ball in dangerous shooting positions and so tried to pick him out as early as possible with diagonal passes out to the right wing, recognising that Spurs required their star man to kick into gear and affect the game. Although Holtby only completed 75% of his passes, this was mainly down to him trying desperately to get Tottenham back in to the game. His ability to read the play around him was an encouraging sign though and he was unlucky to be withdrawn by his manager on the 70th minute.
Super-sub Sigurdsson produces the goods
Introduced early on in the second half for Aaron Lennon, Gylfi Sigurðsson made an immediate and telling impact on the game. He injected a real attacking impetuous into Tottenham’s play in the second half, playing simple yet effective passes to play his way out of danger on a number of occasions whilst asking questions of the Chelsea defence with clever turns and direct dribbling from the left hand side. The Icelander’s most important contribution though came in the 80th minute when he received a delightful flick from Adebayor and sent a well struck shot accurately into the bottom right corner, ultimately rescuing a point for Spurs.
Sigurdsson has really grown into this left sided role, although not his natural position, he has shown excellent ability to come inside a strike for goal or play a clever pass for a team-mate. Moreover, this gives AVB a legitimately viable option out on the left whenever Bale is required to play elsewhere; centrally or on the right wing.
There were some underlying issues which undermined this Tottenham performance. Spur’s poor organisation from corners and free kicks was apparent, the lacklustre marking and positioning resulted in Oscar capitalising at the back post with the simplest of headers, giving Chelsea the initial lead which could have been easily avoided.
With more concentration and better positioning, Tottenham would not have conceded such a poor goal, something AVB would have been very disappointed with. Dawson was caught under the flight of the ball and unable to challenge Cahill in the air, whilst Parker was caught ball-watching and let Oscar run freely to the back post to meet the ball.
Chelsea’s second goal however was well executed, as the movement of Oscar and Ramires sliced open the heart of the Tottenham defence, allowing Fernando Torres to play a through pass which took a poorly positioned Assou-Ekotto and Vertonghen out of the game. The most worrying aspect of this goal from a Tottenham point of view would most definitely be Scott Parker.
Caught ball watching for both Chelsea goals and without the legs to track the run of Ramires; his main duty in the side, Parker endured yet another poor evening, further fuelling the questions surrounding his selection in the side. He continues to play solely due to the lack of alternatives Andre Villas Boas has at his disposal, mainly because of the long term injury to Brazilian midfielder Sandro. Dawson’s lack of mobility reared its head ugly head in Chelsea’s second goal also, unable to come across and cover his central defensive partner Vertonghen quickly enough to stop the shot from Ramires. Quite worrying for a team that employs a high line defensive system.
The Spurs go marching on
On top of all these aspects to Wednesday night’s encounter with his old side Chelsea, Villas-Boas will feel very proud of his players for putting up the fight that they did, especially when trailing the lead on two occasions. The team have been showing resilience unlike the Tottenham of old, now frequently scoring late goals as opposed to conceding them. It’s clear AVB wants and needs more players at his disposal, with no better example than his forced reliance upon Scott Parker in midfield, but with 2 games to go to make the top 4, Andre must make do with what he’s got and claim a top 4 place, possibly breaking Tottenham greatest ever Premier League points tally of 70 points in the process.