Spurs hit back for top-four lifeline
Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2
After the retirement of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger was given another very good reason to smile yesterday.
With his greatest adversary finally departing from the Premier League landscape, Arsenal were the main beneficiaries as Chelsea and Tottenham effectively punched each other into submission at the end of a thrilling London derby.
It was a high-quality match played at a breathless pace but, in the final analysis, a draw did not really suit either club. Chelsea still need another win to be sure of finishing in the top four and so cannot completely switch their focus to next Wednesday's Europa League final against Benfica, while the Champions League fate of Tottenham, who twice fought back from losing positions last night, is now out of their hands.
Should Arsenal win their remaining matches against Wigan and Newcastle, they will again finish above their north London rivals and would even have third-placed Chelsea in their sights.
Rafa Benitez has previously admitted to concern that the players will look at his team selections and draw their own conclusions about their place within his rotation system.
If so, there was little encouragement last night for both John Terry and Frank Lampard ahead of next week's Europa League final. Having been named among the subs, logic dictates that they will play against Aston Villa on Sunday and may very well miss out next week.
That Chelsea old guard, and particularly Lampard, have been perceived as the main instigators of the dressing-room resistance that undermined Andre Villas-Boas during his eight months at Stamford Bridge.
Although Villas-Boas received what was little more than pantomime booing on being publicly welcomed back to Chelsea, he made a point of shaking hands with as many people as possible before the match, including Lampard and Terry.
Villas-Boas had caused a surprise of his own with his team selection, starting Emmanuel Adebayor as the main central striker and relegating Jermain Defoe to the bench.
There was also a reshuffle to the midfield of a Tottenham team that had looked jaded in beating Southampton on Saturday, with Scott Parker returning and Lewis Holtby rather than Gareth Bale starting behind Adebayor. It meant pushing Bale out to the left and it was Chelsea who soon established control of the midfield.
Juan Mata, inevitably, was the catalyst behind most of their best play and quickly went close with a volley after being released by Fernando Torres.
Chelsea then forced a corner after Eden Hazard had been cynically tripped by Tom Huddlestone. Mata's cross was headed towards the goal by Gary Cahill, with Oscar evading Parker and timing his run perfectly to put Chelsea into the lead. Remarkably, this was Oscar's 77th game since the end of last season.
Chelsea's advantage might have been doubled moments later, when Mata found space inside Tottenham's penalty area but shot wastefully over from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross.
With David Luiz again sweeping up to great effect in his new holding midfield position, Chelsea's fans became sufficiently confident to start taunting Tottenham that 'you've only got one player'. They spoke too soon. Holtby then dispossessed Hazard and Ramires before feeding the ball to Adebayor just inside Chelsea's half. Inexplicably, both Azpilicueta and Cahill began back-pedalling and simply invited Adebayor into a shooting position.
Petr Cech had also wandered off his line and, sensing his opportunity, Adebayor brilliantly lifted the ball over the Chelsea goalkeeper and into the top corner.
Tottenham might have been level but the momentum still remained with Chelsea. Torres, who was without his mask for the first time in several months, responded with a moment of wonderful individual skill and passed for Ramires to finish clinically past Lloris.
With Adebayor producing a rare performance of real influence, Tottenham pushed hard for another equaliser but were almost punished on the stroke of half-time after another slick passage of passing that ended with Oscar shooting into the arms of Lloris.
Chelsea continued to dominate after the interval, with Mata giving a further demonstration of his vision to create a chance for Torres that was ultimately bundled wide by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Tottenham's defence was again unlocked as Hazard then broke clear on goal, only to wastefully shoot over. An even better chance went begging moments later after Mata galloped clear following a wonderful touch from Hazard only for Ramires to lose his footing with the goal at his mercy. There was then another moment of comedy when Luiz crept to the touchline and listened in to Villas-Boas' instructions to Holtby while nodding in mock agreement.
The scoreline, however, was still not nearly as comfortable as it should have been for Chelsea, with Tottenham proving that they remained dangerous when Jan Vertonghen shot over and then Bale had a penalty appeal turned down after tangling with Ashley Cole.
Luiz and Villas-Boas then found themselves embroiled in a rather more heated exchange as the Spurs manager complained about the Brazilian's use of an elbow on Gyfli Sigurdsson.
Clint Dempsey and Tom Carroll were also introduced as Villas-Boas sought desperately to get something out of the game, although it was puzzling that he should not choose to introduce Defoe.
Villas-Boas, though, was vindicated on 80 minutes when Luiz failed to track the run of Sigurdsson and he ghosted into the penalty area unmarked to finish Adebayor's clever pass. (© Daily Telegraph, London)