Pochettino went with a pretty strong line up for this one, just about the strongest line up available to him. Sanchez and Alderweireld at the back, Trippier and Rose as FB’s with Kane and Son in front of the midfield diamond of Winks, Sissoko, Eriksen and Alli.
The only real possible controversial choice was Gazzaniga over Lloris. But as has almost become tradition now (with many teams), the “league cup” keeper kept his place.
Once again, Poch went with the 41212/4312 diamond. T
his has Winks sitting in front of the back four, Sissoko and Eriksen as the lateral 8’s pivoting off him just ahead and Alli at the head of the diamond.
Tactically, this game unfolded as an almost mirror image of the league game about six weeks ago. That game back in November ranks as one of my favourite Pochettino games.
In that game he gave Alli a man marking remit on Chelsea’s key man, Jorginho, we pressed high and aggressively, and there was an intensity to our play with and without the ball all over the pitch.
Although they had marginally more of the ball that day (partly due to the fact that we’d raced to a 2-0, then 3-0 lead) we hemmed them into areas we were comfortable with them playing in, they rarely troubled us, rarely had meaningful possession in our third and ended up having 2 shots on target.
This game almost reversed that. For some reason, despite going with a similar structure shape wise, Poch decided to forgo that previously very successful application. Not just the Alli/Jorginho man marking job, but the intensity and high pressure.
The dropping of the intensity and high pressing may not have been totally deliberate, but the decision to not put someone on Jorginho, man for man, clearly was.
This game Chelsea seemed to take the initiative, show more intensity without the ball, continually pressed us high up, and I’m not sure if deliberate or just a symptom of format match up (I’d need to watch it again) but they also seemed to have Kante working Eriksen.
The result was a game that Chelsea controlled throughout, with and without the ball, and we found it extremely hard to build any momentum or create dangerous situations, even on the counter.
Even our goal was basically just a back to front hump by Alderweireld to Kane (it was a very classy hump – as Alderweireld’s often are).
Where Poch tactically outsmarted Sarri last time, Sarri definitely came out on top, tactically anyway, this time, stopped us playing through midfield, kept our “playmaker” Eriksen quiet, and effectively cut off supply to the forwards.
I think Winks was the only player ahead of the defence to come out of the game with much credit; defensively, positionally, he is learning on the job and is showing improvement (3 tackles, 1 assist – second behind Trippier on the night) but was also our only player who consistently showed up and got on the ball.
If Winks was the better of the bunch (76 touches – highest), the weakest link was Sissoko. Whilst Eriksen was also disappointing, he at least had this league’s hunter gatherer supreme – Kante – on his tail, and he still managed to see more of the ball (59 touches) than Sissoko (44) who had Barkley on his side.
And here is the problem. In this system Winks sits at the base of the diamond, he shuttles the ball to the 8’s – Eriksen and Sissoko – who’s job it is to transition, to progress through midfield, their job is spark that transition.
Eriksen failed to do this last night, but does do this regularly (4 goal, 7assists, 1.8 key passes a game, and sees sh*tload of ball and uses it cleverly), but Sissoko doesn’t (1 assist, 0.7 KP ave, and doesn’t do anything cleverly).
And defensively, Sissoko is no better than Eriksen, his pressing is no more dynamic, he also gives away more free kicks with his clumsiness (also averaging identical tackles and assists to Eriksen for what it’s worth).
Again, Sissoko isn’t the reason we played badly today, this was very much a collective and reactive performance, but a better footballer in that midfielder position might just have given us a more chances to beat the press, to compete.
Winks certainly saw his share of the ball (62 passes 88%), Sissoko (34 passes 85%) didn’t.
Several other players had their light dimmed by the efficacy of Chelsea’s application.
Alli was really poor until switched into the left midfield spot, where he found himself in the thick of the game and forced, almost by default, to be involved. His last 20-30 minutes was decent enough, and gave us a more physical presence in there.
Son was ineffectual and rightly subbed, with Lamela the logical choice. Lamela brought “Lamella” stuff.
Some tenacity, some carelessness, a modicum of creative threat, unfortunately he made a bit of a mess of our best second half chance, that might of killed the game off.
In the past it’s been levelled at Poch that whilst his football intentions are admirable – and the application of them sometimes fabulous – there’s sometimes been a bit of naivety (Juve, ManU semi, Chelsea semi eg) when the big test arrives.
That maybe his football altruism gets undone by more wiley tactical practitioners, so maybe, just maybe this is an example of a more pragmatically robust Pochettino, a game won ruthlessly, rather than extravagantly.
Let’s hope so. We’ll know in a couple of weeks.