Tim Sherwood have been portrayed in the media as a tactically naive manager, but I think this is a simplistic view that does not reflect reality. He has changed tactics effectively in games before, but it is fair to say that he was up against one of the best tacticians in the league in José Mourinho.  

 Unfortunately for Tottenham, Tim Sherwood decided to tinker with his line-up to nullify Chelsea's main threat, which resulted in a loss of identity. Tottenham had multiple players in positions that were unfamiliar for them, which resulted in a poor performance from the North London team.

Source: The Guardian

The formations

Image created with Tactical Pad.

 Mourinho decided to field Chelsea in a 4-3-3 formation. Samuel Eto'o started as a central striker, with Hazard and Schürrle changing their positions on the left and right wing. The midfield trio of Lampard, Ramires and Matic started in central midfield, with the former playing in the deepest position out of the three of them.

Tottenham Hotspur started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Surprisingly Kyle Walker started on the right wing in front of the right-back Kyle Naughton. Aaron Lennon played as a central attacking midfielder, with Gylfi Sigurdsson starting on the left wing. Bentaleb and Sandro started as the two holding midfielders.

The right wing of Spurs

 The partnership of Walker and Naughton is a very defensive one. Although one can see the logic behind going for a defensive partnership - additional protection against Eden Hazard - Sherwood basically gave up the possibility of attacking effectively on the right wing. Walker failed to pose any threat to Chelsea, as he started from a more advanced position in this game. He simply didn't have the space to outrun his opponent, which is his strong point.

Kyle Walker's passing. He was poor in the final third,
 most of his passes in this area were backwards passes, while he failed to make any crosses.
Image from Squawka.com

 Walker also seemed to be unfamiliar with pressing in the opponent's half. He failed to press in obvious situations - for example when the ball was next to the byline - and was slow to adjust his positioning to the ball when it was passed around by the deep players of Chelsea.

 Adebayor tried to drift to the right side a lot - for example at Tottenham goal kicks- but he didn't have a good understanding with Walker. When Adebayor came deep to play the ball forward, he failed to make a forward run in order to receive the ball back. This resulted in Tottenham lacking penetration in the final third.

The heat map of Adebayor.
He often moved to the right, but lacked understanding with Walker.
Image from Squawka.com

 When Spurs moved the ball from the left towards the right, Walker drifted towards the middle, Adebayor often came deep to provide the link between the midfield and the right wing. Naughton pushed high in these situations. Due to Adebayor being outside the box, and Sigurdsson being dominated, he had no one to cross to even though he made those forward runs.

 Sigurdsson often changed positions with Lennon, with the former moving to the left wing, the Icelander coming inside to a number 10 position. If Adebayor dropped deep, Sigurdsson made the reverse run to play as a central striker. He also found himself in a position that was unfamiliar to him, and he was fighting a loosing battle against the much more physical partnership of Terry and Cahill.

The heat map of Gylfi Sigurdsson.
He changed positions with Lennon, or entered the box when Adebayor left it.
Image from Squawka.com

The tight defence of Chelsea

 Chelsea pressed very little in the first half. They let Tottenham have the ball in central midfield, pass it around, while they were waiting for a chance to hit Tottenham on the break. Chelsea have defended in a 4-5-1 formation, with Matic playing between the defence and the midfield. When Chelsea have won the ball, they played a long ball to Eto'o, who drifted to the wing. This allowed him to wait for his team-mates to catch up with the attack, and play the ball to those arriving on the run. Ramires was especially adept at this.

 The Chelsea backline was playing very narrow on the side with the ball. If the full-back stepped up to close down a player on the wing in possession, the closest centre-back to him came closer to, the other centre-back came a bit closer as well, while the full-back on the other side stayed wide with the winger. So instead of shifting the whole defence horizontally to one side, Chelsea aimed to cover as much width as possible, but still making the area small on the side with the ball.

Above on the left: The common way of defending if the full-back has to step up.
Above on the right: The way Chelsea defended if the full-back had to step up.
Both images were created with Tactical Pad.

The high line of Tottenham

 Tottenham Hotspurs have played with a very high line. Chelsea were much quicker in transition, and the partnership of Dawson and Kaboul looked particularly shaky at the beginning. Chelsea went through on goal twice in the first four minutes after Dawson stepped up to confront the player in possession, while Kaboul stayed back. Eto'o was wrongly ruled offside the first time, Hazard missed the open goal the second time.

 Tottenham should have been more aggressive in midfield when playing with such a high line. However they played in a man-marking system, in which the trio of Sandro, Bentaleb and Lennon marked Matic, Ramires and Lampard one-on-one. The problem with this is that it is impossible to keep up for extended periods due to the energy and concentration it requires, and the fact that even one mistake can lead to a disaster. Ramires and Lampard often dropped deeper into their own half, which opened up a gap between the Tottenham midfield and defence due to them being followed by their markers. At this point Schürrle or Hazard just had to pull away from their markers, and they could receive the ball in plenty of space, right in front of the Tottoenham defence.

Vertonghen pushes high at set pieces on the right

 When Tottenham had a free-kick deep on the right side of their own half, Vertonghen pushed high on the left wing. Such a situation proceeded Sandro's shot in the 23d minute, when the cross of Vertonghen was cleared only as far as Sandro, who shot it straight back at goal, only for Cech to save.

The advanced role of Ramires

 Gary Neville made an interesting point during the game. According to him Ramires was ineffective in his forward role in the midfield three due to the fact that his style is more about pace and dribbling. He just didn't have enough space to make the most of his abilities in the final third. This was probably the reason why Lampard was removed at half-time, and Oscar was introduced. Ramires moved back alongside Matic, from where Chelsea were still able to make the most of his deep runs on the counter-attack.

Source: Zimbio

The second half

 Chelsea started the second half a lot more aggressively. they pressed Tottenham a lot more than they did in the first half. Their pressing had a massive part to play in their opening goal. Vertonghen slipped in the 56th minute while Schürrle was just about to close him down. The full-back played a careless backpass, which Eto'o capitalised on.

 Just before his slip, Vertonghen was looking to play a long pass. He could not play such a ball, which shows how balanced Chelsea were. Even though the front three were pressing, those who didn't kept a great defensive shape at the back, not giving Vertonghen an opportunity to play a long ball forward.

Tottenham loose Kaboul

 Chelsea went two goals and a man up only three minutes later. Another long ball was played behind the Spurs defence, and although the penalty decision was more than debatable, the fact that there was even a decision to make shows that Spurs were not effective at playing with a high line.

Chelsea were exploiting the high line of Tottenham
with long balls and through balls.
Image from Squawka.com

 Paulinho came on for Sigurdsson immediately after the penalty. Totenham played in a 4-4-1 formation, but the midfield four consisted of Walker on the right, and the trio of Paulinho, Bentaleb and Sandro playing in central midfield. It was basically a 4-5-1 without a left winger. Tottenham were imbalanced, Bentaleb had a lot of ground to cover if Chelsea played the ball to the right.

Chelsea's passing after the sending off. Notice the dominance of the right wing.
Image from Squawka.com

The introduction of Ezekiel Fryers

 Things went from bad to worse for Spurs when Dawson had to come off in the 71st minute due to a hamstring injury. Ezekiel Fryers came on and moved to left-back, with Vertonghen and Sandro playing in the middle. Fryers had an awful game, constantly making sloppy touches, giving the ball away.

 Fryers followed Willian deep into the Chelsea half when the winger dropped deep, leaving the whole left wing free behind him. Chelsea created chance after chance with playing the ball into that space.

 Adebayor didn't perform his defensive duties, but stayed high up the field when Chelsea were attacking. Tottenham were one man down, imbalanced, with one of the players on the pitch not defending at all. It was not a surprise that they have conceded two more goals.

Chelsea score two late goals

 Another attack down the right wing resulted in the third Chelsea goal. Hazard played a one-two with Oscar on the right, who simply outran Fryers, who had no protection from behind. Sandro failed to clear the low pass from Oscar, Demba Ba took the ball and put it inside the net.

 The fourth goal demonstrated again that Walker played out of position. He headed back a goalkick to Lloris from forty yards. Ba was the quickest to the ball, and put it inside the empty net. As Gary Curneen wrote in the Modern Soccer Coach, these kinds of shocking decisions are made when players find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Walker was never seen playing in central midfield, so it is not shocking that he made a poor decision. I am not trying to take the blame away from Walker, but it is the job of the coaching staff to make sure that the players play in the positions where they can have a positive effect on the performance of the team.


 Tim Sherwood adapted the tactics of Tottenham Hotspurs to Chelsea too much. As a result they had no attacking threat at all. Playing Walker in front of Naughton on the right turned out to be a poor decision. Tottenham's high line combined with the lack of adequate pressing in midfield allowed Chelsea to play long balls behind Spurs.

 It was impossible to come back from two goals down with ten men, but Spurs didn't make it easy for themselves either. Their imbalanced formation made it easier for Chelsea than it should have been.

 Fryers had a poor game in hindsight, and with Naughton being able to play as a left-back, Sherwood could have made a better substitution by bringing on either Chadli or Townsend to play on the left wing, instead of putting on a third full-back.

 Even though Chelsea took the lead through an individual mistake, and the sending off was more than questionable, they were the far better team. Their more aggressive approach to pressing in the second half took away the opportunity from Tottenham to keep he ball like they did in the first half, and resulted in the opening goal of the West London club.

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