Joe Tweeds looks at the themes from the Tottenham game that saw a rejuvenated Fernando Torres, inspired Juan Mata and Mourinho outclass his apprentice. Things are slowly clicking into gear.
The second half performance against Tottenham may well be looked back upon at the end of the season as the moment things started to click for Mourinho Mk. II. The game changing introduction of Juan Mata coupled with arguably Torres’s best Chelsea performance seemed to hint that things are definitely moving in the right direction. While Mata’s performance suggests he is central to everything Chelsea does, it was the rejuvenation of Torres that really caught the eye.
Make no mistake about it this was a game that Tottenham expected to win. The level of confidence from not only their supporters but informed media opinion was heavily in their favour: Steve McManaman predicted Spurs to win 3-0. This game was meant to be the measuring stick for André Villas-Boas and his new look Tottenham side; to show how far they had come. Instead it merely served to highlight just how far the Sky narrative of “apprentice vs. master” was from the truth.
As soon as Mourinho made tactical changes the entire direction of the game shifted into Chelsea’s favour. This was arguably Tottenham’s strongest side and squad available, yet AVB could not live with Mourinho tactically. His introduction of Nacer Chadli did little to stem the tide and when Christian Eriksen ran out of steam Lewis Holtby could not influence proceedings at all. He did not react to Ramires’s hustle in midfield or counteract Juan Mata’s brilliance. Interestingly enough for Chelsea this may well be due to Torres’s performance level – he occupied both centre backs superbly and this meant we had favourable match ups all across the park, as opposed to the usual two-on-ones we seem to perpetually face.
Juxtapose the management of AVB with Mourinho and you will see the gulf in class. Mata’s introduction combined with shifting Ramires centrally immediately improved ball retention, attacking transitions and our combativeness in midfield. Playing Lampard and Mikel centrally is something that I am not a fan of personally – little athletic quality means even a good box-to-box midfielder like Paulinho will shift the battle into the opposition’s hands. The difference in the first half and second half certainly showed that balance to be more favourable with someone athletic in the pivot.
There was a tangible shift in momentum in the second half and while difficult to illustrate statistically the picture was certainly clear. Dembélé remained a threat with his silky dribbling but the midfield battle transformed into a very one sided affair. Paulinho struggled, Eriksen faded, Holtby barely got a kick and Sigurðsson disappeared.
The Tottenham fans bellowed “you’re not special anymore” during the first half before subsequently witnessing the tactical impact of a world class manager. We started to play a more direct game. Not direct as in aimless long balls, but purposeful passing, pressing and with a power that we have lacked since Ancelotti’s double winning side. This was a style of Chelsea that we had become accustomed to and the one that fits us best.
The withdrawal of Hazard and the introduction of Schürrle should have seen Mourinho vindicated with another masterstroke. Mourinho noticed the high block (high pressing line) that Tottenham were trying to employ and made his move. The much maligned German is at his best making runs beyond defenders: he exploits space well and will often time his runs perfectly to make an impact. While his one-on-one chance with Lloris was expertly saved, the German will be disappointed with his finish. A game at this level is often decided on the tiniest of margins and Mourinho’s awareness created the opportunity. Unfortunately Schürrle could not apply the finish.
A quick note on Hazard – we must really find a way to combat him getting kicked off the park. He had around seven chances to turn and attack during the game. Of those seven attempts he was cynically fouled on the half-turn five times and tackled the other two. The press used to slate our crowding of referees, but sadly that is the only way you can address these sorts of issues.
Walker, in particular, got ruined by Hazard’s quick feet on three occasions and amazingly did not pick up a yellow card. If Walker is rightfully booked then he cannot spend all game kicking lumps out of Hazard or pressing as intensely. Mike Dean completely lost control of the encounter, but he is not the first referee this season who sees kicking Eden Hazard as an allowable tactic and he will not be the last.
The two unquestionable points from the game though, despite Mourinho’s illustration of his superior coaching and management, were the impact of Juan Mata and the performance of Fernando Torres. Mata, unsurprisingly, changed the entire complexion of the contest upon his arrival. His central deployment is crucial in opening up avenues for our other creative players as well as meaning we move the ball far quicker.
We are all fully aware of what Mata offers in the opposition half. Mourinho, likewise, is not oblivious to this fact. What he has wanted and what Mata delivered was an all action performance:
“I think this is the way players should say ‘I want to play’. ‘Blah, blah, blah’ is not good. Conversation with you (the media) is not good. The agents’ ‘blah, blah, blah’ behind is not good. Good is this, good is the effort he made against Swindon. The way he changed the team in the second half here makes me a very happy manager who can say 72 hours in advance that he will start against Steaua Bucharest.” — José Mourinho.
There was an instance where Tottenham were counterattacking and from memory it was Dembélé running at Mata. Typically Mata’s effectiveness when defending ranges from ineffective to… err… well ineffective. Nevertheless, where the entire Chelsea midfield failed in tackling the Belgian international for the majority of the game Mata succeeded.
The tackle resembled Claude Makélélé in his prime (sort of…), with the Spaniard quickly nipping the ball away before surging back up the other end. In the context of the game it was significant, but for Mata it showed that whatever Mourinho is looking to achieve with him it is certainly coming to fruition.
A look at where he was making passes from gives some indication of his level of work: coming deep, centrally and drifting out wide, Tottenham could not live with him as he circulated play expertly.
The cross for the equaliser was something that only Juan in our squad can deliver. There was virtually no angle on the free kick but Mata expertly caressed the ball into the penalty area and onto John Terry’s head. The captain made amends for a miss in the first half that by his own high standards he would have hoped to have done better with. Terry’s reaction to the goal and post-match interview are reasons that he will forever be a club legend. Say what you like about him, but no player has probably had that “run through walls” mentality at the club for some time.
We are absolutely a better side with Juan Mata on the pitch. He improves every facet of our attacking play and the level of those around him. Mourinho will have witnessed the impact he can make at first hand and one can only imagine that his challenge to Mata is having the right effect. Despite the sickening wishful rhetoric from the British media Mata will continue to flourish and complete his transformation into the world’s complete number ten.
I have traditionally been quite vocal about Torres’s performance levels at Chelsea. Without question I have expected more and at times been disappointed with both levels of effort and commitment. Nevertheless, I was absolutely delighted and almost shocked at what version of Torres turned up at White Hart Lane.
We have had a handful of performances from Torres that suggested he was on the verge of turning a corner only to see them eventually as a false dawn. However, the Torres that we saw on Saturday looked like a completely different beast altogether. Something that Mourinho is doing must be working at the club and Torres could be his ultimate trump card.
We need to employ a Vertonghen look-a-like to have in the dressing room before each game for Torres to scratch etc. The hunger, desire, fire and determination on display from our number nine was revelatory. He played like a man possessed and if he needs to play on that knife edge each and every week then so be it. He left Europe’s best defence (a claim that while statistically true does make me chuckle) look decidedly average. Vertonghen and Dawson struggled to contain his direct running, smart link play and overall work rate.
Where has this Torres been for 2½ years? Can you imagine if he can replicate that level of performance every week? While the explosion of pace he once was has likely been robbed by injury, he appears physically bigger and stronger this season. Could it finally be that Mourinho and his army of world class coaches have seen a role that Torres can fulfil and fulfil exceptionally well? It was certainly the best post-Drogba display by a Chelsea striker.
Torres reborn as a physical all-encompassing Spanish battering ram would have seemed nonsensical a few years ago. Nevertheless, everything about his game seems to be heading into that direction. He was more purposeful in possession and actually used the ball intelligently more often than not. The Torres that concedes possession regularly seemed to fade away as he retained the ball superbly whilst beating players and holding play up. In possession everything seemed to be slowly coming together.
Torres was quite simply all over the Tottenham back four yesterday. He created three goalscoring chances, won plenty of balls in the air, harassed them in possession and was attempting much more than he has done in the final third for quite some time. The sending off was certainly an incorrect decision and if we had remained at 11 vs. 11 I truly believe we would have gone on and won. This felt like a palpable ‘penny drop’ for Torres and I truly hope that the ban is not a setback. If this is what he can expect to achieve every single game then goals will not only come but so will his confidence that we are continually reminded is lacking. For the love of all that is holy keep that hair short and someone buy a Vertonghen mask pronto.
Overall we still lack quality in the central midfield area. We need to find someone like an Arturo Vidal or Axel Witsel who can both physically and technically boss a game. Once we discover that player, hopefully in January, we may well be in with a chance of winning the title a year earlier than Mourinho had intended. The level of performance in the second half was superb, but that technical midfield general might well be the one signing that truly sees us move back into being true title contenders.