Despite playing far from their best, Tottenham Hotspur managed to grab a point at Stamford Bridge.
No Spurs player had a strong performance (with the possible exception of Eric Dier) and the team began with a listless attitude. Whether the squad was confused by Chelsea’s tactics or anxiously playing not to lose at a hostile spot hardly mattered – the team looked bad, and defeat felt inevitable.
It’s important to note that Tottenham’s newfound resilience and new signings both helped in the comeback. It’s fair to acknowledge that questionable officiating added a beneficial element of chaos to the game. Most essentially, though, we should note the tactical adjustments that offered hope in this particular game and suggest unexpected flexibility going forward.
Antonio Conte went with the same starting XI he used the previous week against Southampton for the first half, but his tactics were much different. The Spurs sat back in a functional low block, but they struggled to find a way to counterattack. Attitude may have been part of the problem, but it seems more likely that Chelsea’s unusual look gave them trouble.
Chelsea overloaded the midfield. Mason Mount dropped deeper than usual and Ruben Loftus-Cheek played an ambitious right wing-back. Tottenham found themselves outnumbered in the middle third, which meant they couldn’t stop Chelsea’s attack and – maybe more of a problem – they struggled to counter when they did. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg struggled with his passing, but as the team lacked quality movement, he lacked options.
The game changed in the second half. Conte brought off the struggling Ryan Sessegnon and put in not Ivan Perisic to play the same position but Richarlison. Tottenham’s formation changed as they instituted a back four. The rest of the field never quite took a solid shape, looking at times like a 4-4-2, a 4-2-4, or even a 4-2-3-1 (with Harry Kane playing the 10). The key was that Richarlison joined the attack in a forward role, and his energy and positioning made a noticeable difference, taking some defensive attention off Kane.
On the downside, the defense didn’t look fully organized at this point, and by the game’s end, Spurs returned to a back three (after allowing a goal). Tottenham continued to push the attack, adding Perisic and Lucas Moura late. With the intensity still high, the team managed to knock in the game-tying goal off a Perisic corner in the 96th minute.
The game was ugly from the Spurs side, no matter how you look at it, but fans can take away a few bits of good news. Tottenham can play level with Chelsea even on a bad day. The new transfers provide some energy and options. Finally, Conte may be looking to experiment with his deeper roster this year. He’s long used a 3-4-3 formation to great success, but tactical flexibility may help the team keep opponents off balance as the Spurs push for some silverware.