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Thursday, December 22

Tottenham 1 - 1 Chelsea: 38 (!) Shots

A look at the end-to-end orgy of shots and chances between Tottenham and Chelsea.

The Starting XI
If the tactical contrast managers Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas provide wasn't enough to satiate one's interest, the shear volume of shots and chances had to have overwhelmed spectators and viewers alike.  If Manchester City - Arsenal was "a good advert for the Premier League",  this was a hundred-million dollar blockbuster.

A frenzied affair featuring strikes off the woodwork, beautiful interplay, porous defending and an unrelenting, end-to-end thrust, the 1-1 draw saw Tottenham off and running at the beginning, with Chelsea weathering a torrid storm to allow just one goal and equalizing well before half.

Redknapp's Spurs played his favoured "whether it is 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, the numbers game is not the beautiful game in my opinion" shape at the outset.  The deemed-match-fit Gareth Bale was pressed and pressing high up the left, and Luka Modrić roaming as a playmaker with Rafael Van der Vaart coming in from the right to essentially join him.  This left fullback Kyle Walker the chief provider of width down that side, an obligation Walker, of course, didn't shy an inch away from.  In possession, with Walker positioned well-advanced down his flank, the remaining back line of Tottenham shifted right, forming a makeshift back-three.

Villas-Boas played his tried and true 4-3-3, though the inclusion of John Mikel Obi over the flourishing Spaniard Oriol Romeu was a slight surprise.  Romeo's countryman, Juan Mata, looked to come in from the left to become a playmaker, with his counterpart across the pitch, Daniel Sturridge, looking to use his pace to get down his flank or in behind the defense.  Mata's floating inside meant Ashley Cole was free to bomb down his touchline like Walker, often becoming a winger with Chelsea of possession.

Tottenham's goal came just eight minutes in.  After pressing relentlessly from the first touch, Spurs had won the ball in midfield.  Bale was found sprinting down the touchline and, similar to his work against Inter in the Champions League last season, played a beautiful ball into Emmanuel Adebayor who beat Chelsea keeper Petr Cech to the ball for the finish.  Tottenham kept the pressure after scoring, but with not being a ball-dominating side like Barcelona, their players soon tired.

And once they did, Chelsea began getting the better of the contest.  Didier Drogba was tremendous holding up play and corralling long balls throughout, keying multiple chances, keeping Chelsea in possession.  Their pulling level saw Drogba with back to goal near the centre, receiving a pass from the floating inside Mata.  With Cole roaring down the outside flank, Drogba quick-flicked the ball outside.  From there, Cole delivered a sensational cross across the front of goal, where a well-to-stay-onsides Sturridge volleyed home.

Average positions after the first half -- Spurs on top (via ESPN)
The first half saw twelve shots.  Among those: one off the wordwork, two goals, three on target, four Spurs shots blocked by Chelsea defenders.  The tactics of both teams also kept the game moving end to end. Tottenham, with Van der Vaart, Modrić and even Adebayor coming deep to provide support, had the numbers advantage in midfield, but their doing so meant they had a "short" attack, with either no players on top or Adebayor alone on an island with no clear way of providing service.  To remedy this, they looked to go down the wings to Bale or Walker to allow their midfielders the time to get forward.  This fluidity did cause Chelsea's back line some troubles, but no more goals were allowed.    Meanwhile, Chelsea's shape couldn't exactly be called rigid, but their roles were far more defined.  Ramires' pace or Mata's coming in linked their midfield with Drogba on top, and Drogba's strength and Sturridge's speed threatened Tottenham at the back.  They had a clear plan of attack, and Drogba hitting the post and Sturridge somehow missing from barely six yards out were truly indicative of Chelsea's better play since the Adebayor goal.
Second-half Starting XIs

The second half saw Romeu and Paulo Ferreira on for the injured Mikel and Branislav Ivanovic, with Romeu taking up shop as the holding midfielder, Ferreira as the right-back and José Bosingwa moving to centre-back.  Redknapp brought Roman Pavlyuchenko on for Van der Vaart, moving Modrić out right, allowing Pavlyuchenko to play more as a support striker for Adebayor.  It was the right idea to get their attack "taller", and it allowed Bale more of a free reign to maneuver or outright position himself in the centre.

After that, little tactical interest remained.  Each team had free chances on set-pieces they failed to convert, each team had blasts which beat the opposing goalkeeper only to just sail wide, and Brad Friedel and Cech both were called into service to keep the score level.  Cech made perhaps the save of a night, a ridiculous swatting that required twisting his already-airborne and moving-in-the-wrong-direction upper body to deny the deflected shot by Sandro.  It's a game that could've been tied fairly at 4-4.

While more than a few of the twenty-six shots of the second half went wild with both teams impatient in possession, the last ten minutes featured save after save and near miss after near miss, a fitting end to a frenetic game, leaving Tottenham and Chelsea at third and fourth in the Premier League table.
 

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