Why maturity has been the key difference between Chelsea and Tottenham this season

Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea have often been compared to one another at the start of this season. Both are ‘big 6’ sides looking to bounce back from an underwhelming finish last year with a new, exciting manager in charge and a squad filled with young and talented players eager to prove themselves in the English top flight.

Expectations were also low relative to previous seasons, and, with no European football for either team, it was widely understood that both sides had the time and patience that they needed in order for their new style of play to eventually pay dividends- both in results and performances. After all, as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have shown, these changes are part of a long-term process, and squads need time to understand the managers’ demands and develop a cohesion and chemistry with each other before the positive impact of the changes are shown.

However- mainly due to The Blues previous success, the Premier League experience of Pochettino, and their £1bn+ transfer spend in the past 18 months- this impact was perhaps expected to come to fruition sooner at Chelsea rather than Spurs, yet, the opposite has been the case. The two London clubs have had drastically different starts to the new campaign, and the increased pressure on Chelsea is already become burdensome.

After six Premier League games, Spurs have managed four wins and two draws, scoring 15 and conceding seven, meanwhile Chelsea have only achieved one victory, two draws, and lost three; conceding six, but scoring just five in the process- with three of those coming in their home win over newly promoted Luton Town. This is not a new phenomenon at Stamford Bridge however, and cannot solely be put down to Pochettino, with that win being their second since Graham Potter was sacked last April- meaning that, alongside Everton, they have picked up the joint-fewest points in the league in 2023 out of all teams to compete in both the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons.

Meanwhile, the Argentine manager has also had to deal with an abundance of injuries in his squad, with the likes of £50m signing Christopher Nkunku and club captain Reece James being out, whilst his side’s performances have largely been better than their record shows- having underperformed their expected goals more than any other side in Europe’s ‘big 5’ leagues, as per Fbref.

In contrast, Postecoglou has quickly transformed what looked a depleted and demotivated Spurs side under Antonio Conte into one that is inspired, hard-working, and confident- all whilst playing an progressive, entertaining, and most of all, attacking brand of football. The Lilywhites showed this in their 2-2 draw away at North London rivals Arsenal this Sunday, where they fought back twice from a losing position and controlled large parts of the game, coming away with 53% possession against England’s second best team.  

So, how have Spurs managed to implement their new managers’ philosophy so effectively, and why are Chelsea still struggling to do so?

Well, whilst there are multiple nuances and other factors that play a part in their respective form, there was one key characteristic that both managers referred to this weekend- maturity.

For example, having already called on his side to be “more mature” earlier on this month, Pochettino further emphasized this need in his interview following their 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday, stating: “We need to grow up as a team, not only in an individual way. But the players, when they are young, need to learn with experience and when they make a mistake. It’s about learning. We are a young team that is in a process, they need to learn altogether.”

In contrast, despite the average age of Spurs’ line-up vs Arsenal (24.7) being younger than Chelsea’s vs Villa (24.9) Postecoglou suggested that his players showed similar  levels of growth and maturity that Pochettino was asking for.

This was shown in his answer to Football London journalist Alasdair Gold’s question regarding the maturity shown in his players, where he said: “Yeah, that’s all part of it. There’s a real will and desire to become the team we want to be, which includes making sure that you’re disciplined & you’re buying into the team ethos and we had a really young team out there today.

The Australian also highlighted the importance of having a squad with varying ages, expressing his pride in the individual performances of younger players, as well as the leadership shown by the older members, saying: “Vic, that’s his first derby, Destiny, Van de Ven, Pape Matar Sarr, Brendan, they’re all in their early twenties, Porro, even Kulusevski is only 23, so it was a young team but just super proud of the experienced players we did have in there. Romero was outstanding, Bissouma has been brilliant all year and Maddison and Sonny was just on a different level, not just his goals although they were outstanding, but his work rate, his work ethic was incredible.”

The comments from both sets of managers highlight their satisfaction towards each of their teams’ respective performances, and the disparity in the levels of maturity between them both- something which was perhaps epitomized with the bookings in their fixtures.

Spurs’ midfield pairing of Pape Matar Sarr and Yves Bissouma both performed excellently in the second despite picking up a yellow card in the first, as did 20-year-old Destiny Udogie. Having struggled with Bukayo Saka initially and getting booked in the 15th minute, few would have expected the 20-year-old left-back to complete the full 90, however Postecoglou showed faith in his left-back, who kept the inform Saka at bay the second half- remaining confident and assured both in and out of possession.

Meanwhile, there was a stark difference on the other side of London, with Chelsea’s 20-year-old Malo Gusto being shown a straight red card following a rash challenge on Lucas Digne, whilst striker Nicolas Jackson was brandished with a yellow card for time-wasting;  his fifth of the season already and leaving him suspended for their upcoming fixture against Fulham. This was despite the 22-year-old’s new boss publicly warning him in the build-up to the game to stop receiving “cheap” bookings- with all of his five now being given for either dissent, arguments, or time-wasting.

Consequently, Pochettino will hope his side can bounce back and show more maturity without Gusto and Jackson when they head to Craven Cottage for a West London derby this Monday, as they look to gain their second win of the season and ensure they don’t come away without scoring in a 14th game this calendar year.

As for Spurs, Postecoglou will need his players to continue to display experience beyond their years this Saturday, where they’ll face a tough test against Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in what is set to be an enthralling match-up.

Travis Levison | Get Football

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