On Sunday, a battle took place in London, as two league powerhouses played an intense match in front of a lively crowd at White Hart Lane. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, as Chelsea squandered a wonderful opportunity to go ahead in stoppage time.
Tottenham Hotspur began the match in the 4-4-2 formation. The most remarkable aspect of the starting eleven was that Spurs were down center backs, with Younas Kaboul and William Gallas both being out with injury. Michael Dawson and Sebastien Bassong started in front of goalkeeper Heurelio Gomes. Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko were strikers.
Carlo Ancelotti started Chelsea in his preferred 4-3-3 attacking form. Ancelotti started the game with Didier Drogba as a substitute, electing instead to have Nicolas Anelka lead the attacking charge. Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou were the attacking midfielders on the wings. Drogba was one notable named substitute, as well as Frank Lampard who had not played in months.
Chelsea was very concerned with the speed and ability of Gareth Bale to advance down the left wing. Both right back Paulo Ferreira and Kalou had tightly marked Bale throughout the game. With the matchup of 4-3-3 versus 4-4-2, typically the three central midfielders (Essien, Mikel, and Ramires) would outnumber the two for Tottenham (Modric and Palacios). Surprisingly, Modric was effective in getting behind Essien and Ramires, and once he did, he found plenty of room to run up the pitch
The scoring opened at the fifteenth minute, as Defoe gathered an Assou-Ekotto pass to the left of the area. He beat Ferreira on a move towards the center, and then passed to Pavlyuchenko at the penalty spot. He touched the ball to his left, and with his left foot stroked the ball past a diving Petr Cech to give Tottenham the 1-0 lead.
Chelsea had several opportunities in the first half, but they were all under duress without much space to maneuver. The Blues had a difficult time getting the ball into dangerous positions. Tottenham was effective in closing down entry into the area, and when crosses were sent towards Anelka, the defenders were deft in clearing balls away from the area.
Ancelotti knew he had to make an adjustment to give his team more options in the scoring area. He brought on Drogba for Mikel, which brought the formation to a 4-4-2 to match Hotspur. This resulted in Chelsea carrying most of the play in the second half. In fact, throughout the game, Chelsea dominated the shots as well as those on goal; Tottenham managed only one shot on goal besides the Pavlyuchenko goal. In addition, Ferreira continued to actively pressure Bale. For a period, the wing midfielder moved to the right hand side of the pitch in order to get away from the heavy marking.
In the seventieth minute, a goal kick from Cech to Drogba was challenged by Dawson. Drogba was able to chest it on into the area, and he delivered a hard shot which ate up Gomes. He tried to catch the ball, but it deflected over his head, and bounded into the net to knot the score at one.
The second half progressed in a flurry. Both sides defended and countered off their opponent’s overcommitment. Among the substitutions in the second half included Lampard, who entered for Malouda in the 78th minute. The end-to-end action was dizzying at times, and you thought that the free flow would result in a deciding goal. No one would have predicted the run of events that would lead to the result.
A ball into the box was chased by both Ramires and Gomes. The Chelsea midfielder arrived ahead of the keeper, and the resulting collision left the referee no choice but to award a penalty to Chelsea. Drogba was charged to take the penalty kick. His shot was well-struck, but the placement was not good enough. Gomes guessed correctly and preserved the tie for Tottenham.
The match was well fought, but both teams will have felt as though they should have taken all three points. For Spurs, they had many opportunities to test Cech, but they could muster only two shots at net. Of course, when you couple this result with the comeback against Arsenal, Tottenham probably ended up for the better.
For Chelsea, failing to convert a penalty in stoppage time isn’t uncommon, but with the threats they have on their squad, it should have been automatic. In the end, one wonders why Drogba was left off the field from the start. It seems like a continuation of the lackluster six weeks that Chelsea has been experiencing. And as the announcers foreshadowed, the penalty could have stamped the end of this slump as they head towards their home showdown with Manchester United in a week. Instead, the deflating ending to the match provides even more doubt as to the supremacy of the Blues as they plod towards another monumental clash.