Tottenham: What we learned from victory over Chelsea

Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images)
Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images) /

Tottenham Hotspur came from behind to beat Chelsea on penalties and advance in the Carabao Cup and, along the way, we learned some things about Spurs.

It may be early in the current campaign, but Tottenham Hotspur dug deep on Tuesday night in London and came from behind to tie Chelsea with less than 10 minutes to play and went on to win on penalties.

Past Spurs teams would have seen the first-half deficit as writing on the wall for what was to come, but little-by-little, a new Tottenham Hotspur is emerging and we saw some of that last season, particularly in the win at Newcastle.

Well, Spurs fans saw more of the evolution in the victory over Chelsea. Tottenham getting some quality hold-up play from someone other than Harry Kane and players making runs to create space were a couple new positives to take away.

Spurs’ striker situation

It is no secret Tottenham Hotspur need another striker. The coach has been open about it with the media and we have covered the negative impact on Harry Kane’s availability when he is the only option. Compounding matters already for Spurs has been the early loss of Heung-Min Son to a hamstring injury of unknown severity. This places even more pressure on Kane, as Son is the traditional go-to at striker when Kane is out.

Tuesday evening against Chelsea, Jose Mourinho employed a different approach – until Kane came on for the last 22 minutes – which was to use two strikers instead of the usual one. Instead of just Erik Lamela or just Steven Bergwijn sitting at the top of the attack, Mourinho put both players out to lead the line. With a more defensive set up 5-3-2 formation, both Lamela and Bergwijn did their best to provide an outlet.

Importantly for Tottenham, both Lamela and Bergwijn did more than provide their best, they were both rather effective in their hold-up play. While neither got much in the way of calls from Lee Mason as Chelsea defenders consistently ran into their backs, both did enough in terms of holding possession, playing it back or turning and trying to attack.

The twin attackers were particularly effective in the second half as Tottenham grew out of its low-block defensive shell and began to take the game to Chelsea. Having an outlet on both sides of the field provided a nice alternative to the long cross field passes that have long been a hallmark of Spurs’ game. Getting consistent hold-up play for players not named Harry Kane is a must for this team to succeed and last night showed they can do it.

Tottenham and movement off the ball

One of the real qualities of good football team is the ability to understand and create space for one another on the field. During the heyday under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs players would regularly bust a lung to get down the field and make things happen. However, as the passion and fire waned toward the end of Pochettino’s reign, as players made runs, unless they got the ball, hands would go up in disgust.

To be a good team you have to have movement and sometimes that movement means not getting the ball but creating a chance for others. Against Chelsea, I started to see that again and it led to the game-tying goal. Tottenham attempted a lot of long cross-field passes last night and a good majority of them were cut out. Whether it was Eric Dier or Toby Alderweireld going long to Steven Bergwijn or Sergio Reguilon, those long balls were being cut out far too often. Enter some movement.

Lucas Moura only played about 20 minutes, but he clearly came on with some different instructions as Tottenham fell back into something more resembling their 4-2-3-1 attack with Kane at the point. When Toby would get the ball and look long, Moura worked to flash behind Kane toward Alderweireld’s side of the field. This movement from the attacker would, of course, bring the defender with him as they saw Moura flash.

Lucas only had to do this a couple times and fortunately one of them was the goal. Hojbjerg restarted on a free-kick, playing it back to Alderweireld. Moura sprinted five strong steps heading directly behind Kane. In this instance he did not even have to complete the run, just make the move and the space was suddenly open.

Reguilon now had enough time to bring the ball down and look up. In doing so, he saw Lamela running toward the back post and cut back lobbing the right footed cross right to the Argentine, who did the business. It is amazing how a little commitment to a run can open space and create opportunity. If Spurs can commit to making the runs for each other, whether they get the ball or not, success will continue to follow.