LONDON — Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 on Sunday in the first-ever Premier League game at Wembley Stadium.
The reigning champs put all of their early season worries to one side to sneak out of Tottenham’s temporary home with a narrow win as Spurs squandered chances and Marcos Alonso scored twice, including a late winner.
Here’s what we learned from Wembley.
3-5-2 FOR NEW-LOOK CHELSEA?
When Chelsea’s teamsheet was passed around in the Wembley Stadium press box, there was much debate as to exactly how Antonio Conte would line his side up.
Given suspensions to Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard out injured and Diego Costa exiled in Brazil, Conte was forced into a reshuffle with David Luiz in midfield and youngster Andreas Christensen starting in a three-man defense alongside Cesar Azpilicueta and new signing Antonio Rudiger.
The 3-5-2 system worked to start with as Alvaro Morata squandered a glorious chance by heading wide, then Marcos Alonso curled home a superb free kick to give Chelsea the lead.
However Tottenham soon found space out wide with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso asked to do more attacking than in the 3-4-3 formation and this system seemed to be more out of necessity to protect youngster Christensen and help ease in Tiemoue Bakayoko, than something which will stick around for the rest of the season. Bakayoko and Kante shut down Wanyama and Die from getting on the ball and Luiz shut down the space for Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to work in.
Chelsea’s new signings settled in relatively well with Morata guilty of missing a gilt-edge chance early on and somewhat weak in the challenge, while Bakayoko roughed up Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele in midfield and Rudiger was solid. With Cahill, Fabregas and Hazard to return, it seems like many wrote off this Chelsea side too quickly this season following the shock defeat to Burnley on the opening weekend.
Yes, Conte will want reinforcements in the final weeks of the window, but things aren’t as bad as they seemed last week for the reigning champs.
WEMBLEY HOODOO CONTINUES FOR SPURS
Perhaps it was the confetti still on the floor from Arsenal’s Community Shield win over Chelsea two weeks ago. Perhaps it was the bigger pitch. Perhaps it was the increased expectation from a crowd of over 75,000. Perhaps it was Chelsea’s fine record against Spurs as they’ve now lost just twice in their last 18 encounters against Tottenham.
Whatever you put this defeat down to, this was the last thing Tottenham wanted to happen in their first-ever league game at Wembley Stadium.
The Wembley hoodoo remains as Harry Kane hit the post, Thibaut Courtois came up with a string of fine saves and there were some horror misses for Spurs. To top it all just when Spurs thought they had nicked a point for all of their endeavors, Alonso scored in the 88th minute after a horrible giveaway by Victor Wanyama.
Much has been made of the size of the pitch and how unfamiliar surroundings could cost Tottenham dear in 2017-18 during their one-year move as their new 61,000 capacity home at White Hart Lane is finished.
Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge home is closer to Wembley than Spurs’ White Hart Lane and the Blues looked more comfortable there from the start with Alonso’s late strike the difference.
Spurs have now won just two of their 11 games at the new Wembley, failing to win in nine of their last 10 trips to Wembley, and for five of those games they were “at home.”
Does it really make that much difference?
When it comes to the pitch size there isn’t much difference between White Hart Lane and Wembley. The pitch size at Wembley is listed as 105 x 75 yards. That makes it five yards longer and two yards wider than the pitch Spurs dominated teams on last season with Mauricio Pochetino’s high-pressing style seeing Tottenham unbeaten at home all season.
Before the season started Pochettino and Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen discussed how high Spurs push up the pitch and how the defense use Harry Kane as a reference point for the rest of their team. If Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld realize they’re too far away from Kane, they’ll push the entire team up. With an extra five yards to cover, time and time again, it makes a difference at the top. We saw that on Sunday with over half the pitch often separating Spurs’ defense with Kane, presumably because Pochettino was worried about Chelsea launching counters and his team being exposed.
With Spurs still getting used to new surroundings, their fans settling into their new matchday routine and a much different atmosphere generated compared to the cramped, hostile White Hart Lane, this will take time.
The main reason Spurs finished second last season was due to their home form. They will have to adapt to their new home quickly, amid an increased wave of negativity following this defeat, to try and remain not only as title contenders but top four challengers.
Tottenham dominated vast swathes of this game but the Wembley hoodoo remains.
DRY AUGUST FOR KANE
Harry Kane has now gone 12 Premier League games without scoring a goal in August.
Considering he is the top scorer in each of the PL’s past two seasons, that’s quite an achievement.
Kane, 24, hit the post, had shots saved and blocked on Sunday as he did everything but score. The curse of August continues for Kane.
But what can you attribute it to?
Kane is one of those strikers who has to feel the game, to feel the moment and then play on his instincts.
He has all of the raw ingredients — pace, power, aerial ability, vision — to dominate but he needs time to settle down on the pitch and get in the groove.
It is not easy to do that after getting 45 minutes here and 60 minutes there in preseason. Kane seemed a little hesitant when the ball dropped around the box to him on Sunday, waiting an extra split second or taking an extra touch.
In the 77th minute Mousa Dembele played him through after a mazy run but Kane slipped at the vital moment. Even if their stadium has changed, some things never do.
September to January is peak Kane time.