Tactical Battles That Will Shape Chelsea's Clash with Tottenham Hotspur

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2014

Tactical Battles That Will Shape Chelsea's Clash with Tottenham Hotspur

0 of 5

    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    It's been 24 years and 26 games since Tottenham Hotspur last defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The date was Feb. 10, 1990 and Gary Lineker grabbed the goal to secure all three points.

    Despite numerous managerial changes at both clubs—and needless to say a swathe of comings and goings in the player department—West London hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Spurs ever since.

    Will that change this year? It looks unlikely, especially given that Spurs have more than their own unenviable record to contend with.

    Jose Mourinho remains undefeated in a Premier League fixture at Stamford Bridge, a record dating back to his first season in charge in 2004-05 and an incredible 74 games.

    It means the psychological advantage is very much with the Blues, although there will be more than a few mind games at play as both managers attempt to secure victory.

    The tactical battle will be just as intriguing in this London derby, so we look at five areas where the game will be won and lost.

Tim Sherwood's Refusal to Play Defensive Midfielders

1 of 5

    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    In more recent weeks, Tim Sherwood has been deploying a tighter midfield with Etienne Capoue sitting in the hole to shield the back four.

    It's a move not in keeping with the Spurs manager's philosophy, though, and should he get the urge to play a more attacking formation, it could prove to be his team's undoing.

    We saw it in January against Manchester City at White Hart Lane. That night, Sherwood preferred Mousa Dembele, Nabil Bentaleb and Christian Eriksen as his midfield three, and they were severely overrun, trailing 3-0 before the hour mark.

    Spurs eventually lost the game convincingly 5-1 and ever since, Sherwood has tightened things up somewhat.

    That said, he has been unable to resist playing the attacking formation on a few occasions, and if one of those proves to be at Stamford Bridge, it will only lead to one thing.

Eden Hazard Playing Between the Lines

2 of 5

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Leading on from Slide 1, should Tottenham Hotspur look to attack Chelsea as they have many of their opponents since Tim Sherwood's appointment as manager, it will unleash Eden Hazard.

    Not that the Belgian requires an invitation to attack and cause mayhem—he does it at the best and worst of times—but with the space, an attack-minded midfield will leave him with extra room.

    Hazard has been Chelsea's player of the season, leading the scoring charts and at the heart of everything they do on the break. His talents are perfect for Mourinho's counter-attacking style, and he allows Chelsea to turn defence into attack before most teams have had a moment to breathe.

    He is lethal, and Spurs will need to keep things tight if they are to avoid him floating between the lines and making an impact.

Spurs' Use of Their Wingers

3 of 5

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Tottenham Hotspur have a fine tradition when it comes to their use of wingers down the years, and in Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend they have two of the most dangerous in the Premier League right now.

    The pair started together in the 1-0 victory against Cardiff City last week, and their pace alone will allow for Spurs to sit a deeper defensively in an attempt to draw Chelsea upfield and spring quick breaks on the flanks.

    Townsend in particular caused the Blues plenty of problems when these two teams met earlier in the campaign, although playing at Stamford Bridge may suit him even more.

    It's at home where Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta have been most adventurous as a duo this term, so should their eagerness to get forward and support attacks remain, the wide men for Spurs may be gifted enough space out wide to cause Chelsea problems.

Samuel Eto'o Being Deployed as Chelsea's Lone Striker

4 of 5

    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    All eight of Samuel Eto'o's goals in Chelsea colors have come at Stamford Bridge, so it's no wonder Jose Mourinho sees him as being Chelsea's best striker on home soil.

    "Eto'o scores goals, but at home,'' said Mourinho recently, as per The Mirror. ''He scores in the league, in the Champions League, but all of [his goals have been] at home.

    ''I think playing away is more difficult for him. I think he is our best striker to play at home because of his technique, his movement and his understanding with Eden [Hazard] and Oscar."

    The stats certainly support that view, so with Chelsea playing their first home game since Feb. 22 this weekend, we can expect the Cameroonian striker to be leading the line.

    It's not just about his goals, however. When Mourinho mentions his understanding with Hazard and Oscar, the Portuguese is eluding to the other aspects of his game that Eto'o brings to this Chelsea team.

    Oscar and Hazard have been Chelsea's most potent threats this season, and with Eto'o alongside them, the manager sees them as that even more so.

    Spurs will be hoping that's not the case on Saturday.

Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado Being Strike Partners

5 of 5

    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Such is the trend with modern tactics; it's not often teams deploy strike partners in the traditional sense.

    It's normally a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, when a second striker will be forced to play slightly out of position, where we see two players of the same ilk lining up together.

    Against Cardiff City last weekend, however, Tim Sherwood opted to pair Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor.

    The result was a narrow 1-0 victory for Spurs, with Soldado on the scoresheet, although a strike duo at Stamford Bridge will cause more problems than it solves.

    The midfield battle is more important than ever these days, with teams packing out the middle of the park in their attempts to control possession and null their opponent's attacking options.

    An extra striker leaves a team with one fewer player in the middle, and out of Adebayor and Soldado, it's difficult to see either of them tracking back sufficiently enough to impact the game defensively.

    Give Chelsea's attacking midfielders enough room and they will punish any team.

    That said, it's not often John Terry and Gary Cahill have come up against a two-pronged strike partnership, so with an extra body in in the box, it will give the Chelsea back line plenty to consider.

    If Sherwood opts for this approach, he just needs to hope his team sees enough of the ball to feed their front men.

     

    Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes