Tactics Board: Ziyech flourishes for Chelsea as Spurs' change in shape fails to deliver

Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic had joy as two number eights at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, writes Shane Keegan.


CHELSEA AND TOTTENHAM squared up against each other for the third time in 18 days at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and the tactical intrigue continued as both teams used yet another formation.

Below, we can see the constant tactical tinkering that both managers have employed across the series of games.

Game 1

Game 2

Game 3

As the Game Three graphic shows, Chelsea again used a back four with Thomas Tuchel clearly feeling that this gives his side the upper hand against Spurs.

Antonio Conte, another manager famed for his three at the back, also set his side up with a four-man defence as both managers looked to build on the lessons learned from the previous encounters.

But one had clearly learned far more than the other.

Mount and Kovacic wreak havoc as double eights

Chelsea showed their intentions right from the kick-off. Here, we can clearly see Chelsea lined out with a back four again.

Pic 1 (18)

What’s most interesting though is what’s happening in front of that. While Jorginho is positioned at six, where we would expect to see him, both of Chelsea’s eights, Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic, are looking to play in the space behind the Spurs midfield line.

Chelsea used this tactic all afternoon to tremendous effect. On this occasion, the ball makes its way across to right back Cesar Azpilicueta, and this acts as a trigger for Hakim Ziyech and Mount to make reverse movements.

Ziyech comes short to receive, attracting left-back Ben Davies towards him, while Mount looks to dart into the space that has been created behind him.

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This has the knock-on effect of centre-back Sanchez being pulled out into a wide area that he really doesn’t want to be in, leaving Eric Dier to try and deal with Romelu Lukaku one on one.

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Mount makes space and delivers an excellent cross giving Lukaku a chance to put his side up inside the first minute, but he can’t direct his effort goalward.

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Just two minutes later and the pattern is almost identical as Ziyech and Mount make the same movements again.

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This time, Ziyech’s ball over the top finds Lukaku first, who then pulls it back for Mount to drive into space.

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The ball circulates back out to Ziyech who delivers to the back post for Callum Hudson-Odoi to head narrowly wide.

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Just after the half-hour mark we saw more of the same. Kovacic and Mount are in behind the Spurs midfield, as the latter picks up a pass from Antonio Rudiger and drives forward.

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Ryan Sessegnon gives chase but can’t catch him. He plays a one-two with Ziyech before finding Lukaku but he fails to make proper contact.

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Despite the game still being scoreless at half time, Conte resisted the temptation to make a tactical change and allowed Mount and Kovacic to continue.

Here, we see both players again goal-side of the Spurs midfield as Azpilicueta threads the ball through to Mount.

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Mount switches the ball across to Hudson-Odoi and then follows his pass. Kovacic continues his run forward and this clears the space for Mount to step into and unleash a shot that goes marginally over the crossbar.

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While most of the attacks above came predominantly down Mount’s side, it was Kovacic’s positioning in the 53rd minute that contributed to Chelsea’s second goal.

As ever, we see him goal-side of the Spurs midfield and this attracts the attention of Dier, who moves towards him.

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Hudson-Odoi and Kovacic then combine to play a one-two around Japhet Tanganga. Dier tries to retreat into a position to deal with Hudson-Odoi but can only halt him by making a foul.

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From the resulting free-kick, Thiago Silva heads home.

Azpilicueta overlaps allow Ziyech to flourish

Below, we see the first example ten minutes into the game. Azpilicueta plays the ball out to Ziyech and Sessegnon goes to confront him.

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It’s clear by Sessegnon’s body shape that he is doing all he can to stop the Chelsea attacker from coming inside him but the overlapping run by Azpilicueta takes him away.

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Pic 19 (14)

This prompts Davies to go and close him down but he offers Ziyech far too much room to come inside and the Moroccan forces a save from Hugo Lloris.

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Early in the second half though, Lloris could only stand and watch. Hudson-Odoi, who had the better of Tanganga the whole game, spun away from his man and drove towards the goal.

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He then switched the ball out to Ziyech who had taken up his favourite position at the corner of the 18-yard box. We can already see Azpilicueta on the move.

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With Mount also acting as a distraction, Ziyech has just enough time to shift the ball onto his left foot.

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Pierre-Emile Hojberg and Davies do their best to try to close off the angle but it’s too little too late and Ziyech finishes brilliantly into the top corner.

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Amazingly, from the restart, Chelsea almost managed to score instantly again — this time combining the positioning of the two eights with the overlapping run of Azpilicueta.

Jorginho finds Kovacic in behind and he attacks the space.

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He then finds Ziyech, who again has Azpilicueta coming around the outside of him.

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This time Ziyech uses him, allowing the Spanish international to cross to Mount, who sees his shot blocked down by Sanchez.

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From the rebound, Ziyech forces Lloris into a fantastic save.

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Conte got this one wrong. Despite defeat in their last meeting, the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, Spurs actually had slightly the better of the xG in that game (1.1 v 1.05) and showed signs that they had Chelsea’s number.

Why then did Conte move away from that 5-3-2 shape that had caused such frustration for his opponents and instead set up in a manner that allowed Kovacic and, even more so, Mount to have such joy?

On the xG front, Sunday’s game had by far the biggest margin between the two sides (1.61 v 0.56) and further highlights which manager had learned most across the games.

2-0 on the night. 3-0 across the series. Tuchel can be very pleased with himself.

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