KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Chelsea’s defence is solid now Thiago Silva has settled
I don’t believe Frank Lampard sees this as a student vs teacher encounter. Of his four meetings with Jose Mourinho, he has won two and drawn two in 90 minutes, losing only on penalties in the Carabao Cup in September.
There is an exciting rivalry developing between Lampard and his old manager, and Saturday’s clash is significant. If Liverpool and Manchester City are to be knocked off their perch, Chelsea and Tottenham are the two clubs lining up to take over.
To win this Premier League, you need to find the perfect balance between defence and attack. Finding that will be key to winning this London derby.
Frank Lampard knows it is no longer a case of student vs master when he faces Jose Mourinho
When we last looked at Chelsea closely in this column in October, Lampard was chopping and changing his defence. It felt like everybody was on trial. But Lampard has found his most reliable back four in Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma and Reece James and it’s paying dividends.
Whereas previously he could not decide on his centre back pairing, Silva and Zouma have become his regular partnership. Since the start of October, they have started together seven times. Chelsea are unbeaten in all of those and have kept five clean sheets.
Previously, the Blues’ habit of ball-watching was getting them into trouble. Their naivety was on show in a 3-3 draw with Southampton, which took them to 65 goals conceded in 43 Premier League games under Lampard. Now, they’ve shut that door.
Silva was absent against the Saints that day and he is a class act — the conductor from the back. He dictates the play and pace of the game. He knows when to punch it into midfield, or when to slow things down.
Thiago Silva has settled at Chelsea and new goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has also found his feet
Against Rennes in midweek, as soon as Silva got the ball, Mason Mount and Timo Werner could be seen sprinting forward in case he decided to go long into space.
The 36-year-old Brazilian is part of a strong spine which Lampard has put together — from goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, to Silva, to N’Golo Kante, to Tammy Abraham, who has started five successive games now.
Jorginho in midfield makes them more of a passing team, but Kante would be a more sensible option against a streetwise Tottenham.
Chelsea rotate well in the wide areas, almost like a carousel. On the left there is Chilwell, Mount and Werner, constantly exchanging positions, rotating and moving.
Chilwell becomes a winger, Mount covers and Werner moves inside centrally. It is a routine repeated on the right with James, Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech. This is so difficult to contain.
Ben Chilwell has enhanced Chelsea’s defence while also helping the side in the wide areas
The only danger is those runs from the full backs can leave Chelsea exposed at the back if they lose the ball against good opposition.
Lampard might want to be more cautious against Tottenham, who have Son Heung-min and Gareth Bale as options to burst into that space. Any early balls into those channels could hurt Chelsea. As good as he is, Silva does not want to be getting dragged out wide into one-on-one situations, and neither does Zouma.
Tottenham have their own strong spine with Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Harry Kane.
They are now equipped with the competitive edge Mourinho was obsessed with instilling in his new group. Everything is linked to results for Mourinho, and they’re becoming ruthless.
If there is a Spurs player who encompasses Mourinho’s philosophy, it is Hojbjerg. He sets the tone in that midfield. When Mourinho joined tomorrow’s opposition Chelsea, he declared himself ‘The Special One’ and he looks close to being that fiercely competitive figure again. He seems reinvigorated.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg defines Mourinho’s philosophy and has brought steel to Tottenham
Tottenham are good at knowing when to press but also when to sit back and create a low block. They are likely to be the ones without the ball tomorrow.
Chelsea aren’t the best at pressing high up the pitch. They’re not a Liverpool or a Southampton in that area.
They don’t possess that physicality. But they do have nice footballers who like to keep possession and they can pass the ball as well as anyone in the Premier League.
In Ziyech, they possess a player who has a left foot potentially as good as Kevin De Bruyne’s right. Whereas once Chelsea looked disjointed under Lampard, the pieces of the puzzle are now coming together.
Beating his old boss tomorrow — to possibly go top of the Premier League if Liverpool do not win on Saturday — would be another big piece falling into place.