Tottenham vs. Chelsea: Spurs Need to Win the 'Box' to Beat the Blues

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Tottenham vs. Chelsea: Spurs Need to Win the 'Box' to Beat the Blues
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

With another outburst of international football out of the way, the Premier League gracefully resumes its torrid pace and brings out the heavy weaponry early Saturday when Tottenham host Chelsea.

In the last four years, the two squads have picked up two wins apiece while drawing four matches, including both of last year’s league meetings.

The last memory anyone has, however, of Chelsea from a North London perspective is the drubbing the Blues laid on Spurs at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinal.

Didier Drogba may no longer roam the Chelsea front line (William Gallas is sighing in relief), but in his place resides an attacking quartet that might be a more difficult prospect to blunt.

Only rock-bottom QPR has been able to stunt the attack that the Blues put forward and take a point off of the lead leaders.

Hosting the match, Tottenham will be posed with the same questions that so far have been left unanswered by most: How does anyone defend this club?

Chelsea is being asked the same question about Tottenham.

The answer for both squads may lie in the formations that both employ.

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Tottenham and Chelsea both employ 4-2-3-1 formations, though to call Spurs a 4-2-3-1 might be a bit off, as they play something more of a hybrid between that and a 4-3-3.

In any case, the winner of the match will be the squad that can win the “box.”

What, as you might be asking, is the “box?”

The “box” is a hypothetical area that will cover the space between the deep midfielders of both clubs.

As both teams like to push the fullbacks forward, it is a space that will include the deep midfielders, the fullbacks and the attacking midfielders of both squads, a 7-v-7 space.

This would include the following players for both squads:

Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen (fullbacks); Sandro and Moussa Dembele (deep midfielders); and Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey (attacking midfielders) for Tottenham.

Branislav Ivanoivc and Ashley Cole (fullbacks); a combination of John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Frank Lampard (deep midfielders); and Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard (attacking midfielders) for Chelsea.

So, with the players named, what makes this zone special?

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In theory, each man in the “box” is covered by a counterpart on the opposing squad. The fullbacks are tracked by the wide attackers, the deepest midfielder takes the central attacker, and the deep midfielders that move forward on the attack are matched by one another.

Both teams are pretty lethal counter-attacking squads. Fluidity between attack and defense will be tested any time possession is lost.

The squad that can handle transitions better has an immediate edge.

If either side has issues tracking back quickly, the other is likely to be able to flood a particular zone with players and create overload situations.

With the quality available for both squads, any time the numbers game becomes greater for the attacking squad, there’s a good chance the back of the net is likely to ripple.

It’s also worth noting that both squads are very good at taking the ball off the opposition deep in to their own territory.

By WhoScored’s reckoning, Chelsea and Tottenham are Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of claiming possession in their own defensive third (185 to 172).

The stats people also note that Sandro and Dembele are ball hawks, winning possession more times as a central pair than any other combo in the Premier League this season (91 times).

EuroFootball/Getty Images

This can’t be overstated as Mata and Hazard are both joint top in terms of assists (4 apiece) and Chelsea lead the league in goal difference at +11.

This means that both squads are very good at winning possession deep, springing attacks and have the players that can make the killer pass when not stopped.

For Tottenham, winning the “box” is paramount to picking up a win. Keeping Chelsea on the defensive, rather than allowing them to take the attacking initiative, is a big step towards reaching that goal.

Possession of the ball while limiting Chelsea’s counter attacking ability are two other major pluses that Spurs need to be on the right side of in order to pick up a win Saturday.

Though it would be unfair to note the absence of John Terry in the match Saturday, the central defenders Chelsea has in their stead ensure that Terry will be less of a distraction off the pitch than on it.

With the setup of both squads, the squad that wins the “box” of midfielders and fullbacks is more likely to impose their will on the match.

It would be to Tottenham’s benefit to be able to take control of the area, notch a fifth straight league win and put themselves in contention near the top of the Premier League leaderboard.

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