Chelsea arrived at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with confidence in short supply. Four defeats in five Premier League matches had seen their lead over Spurs, who had won four of their last five games, cut to just three points. Lose to their London rivals and they would drop out of the top four the weekend before Christmas.
What followed was a tactical masterclass from Frank Lampard, who comprehensively outwitted his former boss Jose Mourinho. This was the most significant moment in the former England international’s burgeoning managerial career.
Fortune favours the brave
In the weeks prior to Sunday’s success, Chelsea lost to West Ham, Everton and Bournemouth. Lampard admitted that his team have struggled to break down opponents who defend deep and set up in a low block this season. A lack of creativity has at times proved their undoing, a problem which has also afflicted Manchester United.
A trip to Tottenham represented a chance for Chelsea to play differently. Even so, Lampard sprang a few surprises with his team selection and game plan. The Blues lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation and started the match on the front foot, determined not to sit back and play passively.
It worked a treat. Mourinho may have attributed Chelsea’s two goals to mistakes, but the visitors were dominant from the very first whistle.
Lampard’s side pressed high up the pitch to force a number of turnovers in dangerous areas. Their passing was slick and forward-thinking. They defended aggressively, holding a high line and outnumbering Tottenham’s attacking quartet of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli.
Chelsea benefit from a united front
This was the first time Lampard has beaten a fellow member of the so-called big six this season, making it a significant moment for the 41-year-old. More impressive was the manner of the victory and the fact that Lampard won the tactical battle against Mourinho, apprentice defeating master.
Lampard showed what the win meant to him at the final whistle. The Chelsea legend headed over to the travelling fans, pumping his fists and applauding those who had made the trip across London. Even during the team’s recent poor run of form, Lampard retained the unwavering backing of the club’s supporters.
Chelsea is a club united from top to bottom. Fans have been delighted by the progress made by academy products Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James this season.
Willian, a player who has divided the Stamford Bridge faithful over the years, was superb against Spurs. Even Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, the midfield duo who had few backers under Maurizio Sarri last term, have benefited from new-found support.
January window is next challenge for Lampard
There is no doubt that there is room for improvement within Chelsea’s ranks. Despite their solidity on Sunday, the Blues have not always been defensively sound this season. They have conceded 25 goals in 18 top-flight matches, more than Sheffield United, Wolves, Newcastle and Crystal Palace.
The lifting of a transfer ban has thus given Lampard a dilemma. Football is not played on paper, and there is a danger that new recruits could disrupt the harmony and balance of Chelsea’s squad, even if they are superior players to those already on the books.
It would be wise for Lampard to preach caution behind the scenes. The time to be bold and proactive is on the pitch, as the Chelsea manager showed on Sunday.
This article was edited by Samburaj Das.