Alex Keble on the big battle in Crystal Palace vs Tottenham this weekend...
Nacer Chadli vs Wilfried Zaha
After several stagnant months of monotonous, disjointed performances, a sudden switch in formation has reignited the energetic Tottenham of old.
However, although the demolition of Chelsea may have brought renewed optimism to White Hart Lane, it also unveiled some lurking defensive vulnerabilities that an Alan Pardew-led Crystal Palace could exploit.
In this blog last month, before the visit of Burnley, we highlighted Spurs' 4-4-2 formation and Roberto Soldado's continued inclusion as the primary reasons for their attacking bluntness; since then, Spurs, after switching to a 4-2-3-1, have been largely unrecognisable, collecting 10 points from their last four games.
Against Burnley they managed 23 shots and enjoyed 66% possession, and against Chelsea they scored five. An extra central midfielder has helped them keep the ball better, and a marauding trio of attacking midfielders has injected fluidity of movement that Soldado could not offer.
Three central midfielders allowed Spurs to retain possession (606 passes attempted, up from the 492 season average), while a roaming frontline – free to attack with two defensive midfielders behind them – terrorised Burnley's back four.
Chief beneficiary of the switch is Nacer Chadli (3 assists in 4 matches), who is flourishing in a roaming left-wing position. Against Chelsea he made countless sweeping runs from deep, and ghosted dangerously into central positions; it was his positional intelligence that saw Nemanja Matic frequently pulled out of position.
The fluidity of Chadli and Christian Eriksen (both of whom moved freely into each others' positions) opened up space for Harry Kane to exploit; both of his goals, and Danny Rose's crucial second, resulted from a confusion of responsibility that left Matic overwhelmed.
There is a notable defensive failure in Chelsea's right-back position, despite a flurry of activity in this area.
However, pessimistic Spurs fans would have noticed that Chelsea, who managed 19 shots on goal, constantly threatened down Chadli's side as compatriot Eden Hazard – freed by Rose's high positioning and Chadli's positional fluidity – galloped into acres of space.
Despite playing on the left, Hazard frequently received long balls down the right; noticing Rose's absence, he often drifted into this position and awaited Cesc Fabregas's delivery.
Alan Pardew will know how to exploit this weakness. 76% of his Newcastle side's attacks came down the wings (the highest in the division), in a counter-attacking strategy that remained one of the few constants of his whirlwind tenure.
With Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha (1.9 dribbles per match), Palace are already set up for a similar system. Against a confident, attack-minded Spurs side with a history of over-committing to attack, Pardew's explosive wingers hold the key to success.
Although somewhat haphazard in form, these two are particularly dangerous on the counter-attack; Zaha is far more direct than Puncheon, but the latter's creativity from set-pieces is key.