Defending the defence: Tottenham or Chelsea?

The 2016/17 Premier League title race saw Chelsea and Spurs battle it out at the top for the majority of the season. With Chelsea coming out on top, rather comprehensively, Spurs will want to get their revenge this weekend in what will be the north-London club’s first League fixture at Wembley. 

They say that ever title-challenging side starts with a mean defence. And, in both Chelsea and Spurs, this is most certainly the case. Both managers pride themselves on strict organisation throughout the pitch with work-rate and energy key components to that.

Although Mauricio Pochettino and Antonio Conte have similar requirements in terms of organisation, they implement their philosophies in contrasting ways.

Chelsea’s strength

Antonio Conte’s debut season at Chelsea was nothing short of perfect. A club-record number of wins in a season and a well-drilled side saw the Blues seize the Premier League trophy for the second time in three years.

Despite that, Conte’s side conceded 33 times, five more than Spurs, whilst keeping 17 clean sheets. Such an impressive record must be accredited to the manager. Who, in his first season at the club, had raised them from mid-table mediocrity from the 2015/16 season to title winners.

The Italian boss instilled a sense of belief and tenacity into a Chelsea side that had not previously been there. John Terry started to become left out of the Chelsea side and David Luiz came in – things changed under Conte last year.

Deploying a 3-5-2 formation took time for Conte. His epiphany at Arsenal early in the season proved a crucial moment. From them, the change to such a formation would see Chelsea sail to the top of the league. Such a drastic change can be seen by the below tweet, sent just before Conte’s Revolution began.

Moreover, Conte’s formation proved ruthless, efficient and dangerous. In terms of defence, three centre-backs allowed a stable base whilst full-backs pushed up. And, in Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante, very little threatened the Chelsea goal.

Spurs’ strength

The North London club had one of their best Premier League seasons last year. Conceding just 28 goals and keeping 17 clean sheets was a big part of that, showing them as the defensive kings of the Premier League.

In contrast to Conte, Pochettino often opts for a 4-2-3-1 formation. In electing this formation, Spurs’ defence starts from midfield with Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier providing protection for the back four.

Pochettino appears to have oiled the Spurs formation machine well, especially in the last two seasons. Each and every player knows their job in defence and attack. If it isn’t Alderweireld making an important block, Dier will be providing sufficient protection.

In addition to this, Spurs have the ability to defend well from set-pieces. Their height – consisting of Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Dembélé, Dier and Kane – is a terrific advantage that allows them to impose their physical superiority over teams.

If that isn’t enough, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris comes to the rescue. Whether it is his shot-stopping ability or pace off the mark, he is certainly one of the league’s best ‘keepers.

How does the transfer market change things?

With successful seasons last time out, both Chelsea and Spurs have little to strengthen to their starting teams. Indeed, strength in depth could be added, but who wants to sit on the bench?

The departure of Matic to Manchester United proves a curious one for Chelsea. Whether Conte wanted him to stay or not is unknown. But, what we do know is that he is a terrible loss for the West-London club.

Chelsea’s defence won’t be the same without Matic. It remains to be seen whether new signing Tiémoué Bakayoko will fill that void – Chelsea fans will hope he can. If he can become an effective partner for Kante, the Blues should remain solid this season.

Spurs, meanwhile, have also suffered a blow. The loss of Kyle Walker to Manchester City for £50million will see Kieran Trippier become first-choice right-back. Whether he can replicate Walker’s performances levels for an entire season is currently unknown.

Walker’s departure offers some reason for concern, though. Pochettino had built an efficient and well-drilled team. Although, Walker’s departure may slightly change that.

Verdict

Overall, Spurs have the meanest defence of the two sides. Indeed, Chelsea have some of the best talents in Kante and David Luiz, but their uncertainty is a worrying factor.

The debacle between Conte and Costa looks set to roll on until the end of the window and that won’t help the club.

Whilst Danny Rose’s untimely comments about Spurs’ lack of transfer activity has also caused a few raised eyebrows, Pochettino looks far more in control. The Portuguese manager is one of the coolest in the League. His calmness and tactic nouse proves Spurs’ defence to have the upper hand on what is a fairly wobbly Chelsea defence at this moment in time.