Friday 20 April 2018

Alli answers critics as Spurs end hoodoo

Chelsea 1 Tottenham 3

Dele Alli celebrates with Son Heung-Min after scoring Tottenham’s second goal. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Dele Alli celebrates with Son Heung-Min after scoring Tottenham’s second goal. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

James Burt

It felt wholly appropriate that, on his 100th Premier League appearance, Dele Alli claimed two of the goals and had a hand in the other as Tottenham won at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1990, when Gary Lineker scored the winner.

It has been quite a week for Alli; dropped by England, his World Cup starting place in doubt, with questions over whether he needs to buck up his ideas.

This was a resounding response.

The 21-year-old said he was "numb" to the criticism, but it did not look like that as he cupped his ear after poking home Spurs' third goal and the raucous celebrations spilled on to the pitch.

Those celebrations even included Harry Kane, who was warming up at the time, with the Spurs striker eventually coming on as a substitute - just three weeks after suffering ankle ligament damage.

It was, definitely, a very good day for Spurs. And a very bad one for Chelsea, with the champions reduced to wreckage, their title defence destroyed and a top four place - and with it qualification for the Champions League - appearing beyond them.

Dele Alli scores their second goal. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Dele Alli scores their second goal. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Having pulled away from Arsenal, Spurs are now eight points clear of Chelsea with just seven Premier League games to play.

Reflect

Mind the gap, as they say in London, where Spurs are undeniably the capital's top team and Chelsea are left to reflect and rebuild yet again.

Remarkably this was a fifth defeat in seven league matches for Chelsea - a truly astonishing run which has seen them slide desperately down the table at the business end of the season.

Tottenham Hotspur's Victor Wanyama (left) and Chelsea's Eden Hazard. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Victor Wanyama (left) and Chelsea's Eden Hazard. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire

There is still an FA Cup semi-final, but that does not feel like much of a prize for a team with Chelsea's ambitions - especially as they were eventually so comprehensively outplayed here.

Spurs had not won at Stamford Bridge since a 2-1 victory in February, 1990 - 24 hours before Nelson Mandela was released from prison, when Margaret Thatcher was still in power and Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares to U was No 1 in the charts.

Chelsea had been unbeaten in 27 home league matches against Spurs, 30 in all competitions, with the most delicious result in recent times being the bruising 2-2 draw they earned from being two goals down to end their rivals' title hopes two years ago when Leicester City were crowned champions.

Spurs lost their heads in that encounter, but they used them wisely this time round - although there were also a couple of tasty challenges that maybe spoke to that particular Battle of the Bridge.

Jan Vertonghen made a crunching challenge on Eden Hazard that must have had the watching Belgium coach Roberto Martinez wincing.

Spurs were not to be bullied as they maintained their status as the only unbeaten Premier League team of 2018.

They did so after falling behind and it seemed Chelsea had their counter-attacking game back and were going to pick them off.

The opening goal underlined Spurs' inability to cope with Chelsea's wing-backs. Antonio Rudiger surged forward and played the ball out wide to Victor Moses, who had the time and the space to weigh up a cross that tempted Hugo Lloris.

Once the Spurs goalkeeper committed himself he had to reach the ball, but it sailed over his fingertips, distracting Davinson Sanchez and giving Alvaro Morata the chance to plant a superb header into the net.

It was the striker's 11th league goal of the season and his seventh header - more than any other player this season.

It seemed Chelsea might be too wily for Spurs, with Lloris saving well from Moses, Willian and Marcos Alonso. But on the stroke of half-time it all changed.

Alli chased down a lost cause, back-heeling the ball to prevent it going out for a throw-in.

Moses gained possession, but he tried to be too clever in attempting to lift the ball over Ben Davies, who linked with Alli before feeding Christian Eriksen, who struck a brilliant right-footed shot from 25 yards that looped and dipped past Willy Caballero.

"Golazo," Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino later said, but Caballero, in for the injured Thibaut Courtois, who was nursing a sore hamstring, was flat-footed and had to do better.

Pochettino dropped Eriksen deeper for the second-half and pushed Son Heung-min wider to block Chelsea's counter-attacks.

It worked and, after Son forced Caballero into a flying one-handed save, the goalkeeper was beaten again. Eric Dier flighted a long ball between Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta to pick out Alli.

His first touch was excellent as he cushioned the ball after it flew over his right shoulder and first-time lifted it past Caballero. It was a wonderfully accomplished finish.

Chelsea were rocking and soon it was game over. Eriksen picked out Son, who burst past Alonso. Caballero blocked his first shot but it squirmed back to the Korean, whose next effort was also deflected, struck Caballero, then Christensen and diverted to Alli, who had the composure to pick his spot.

On the touchline Conte turned and kicked a water bottle. He later said it was how his players should have cleared the ball. Into Row Z.

Conte insisted he is "not worried" about losing his job, despite it now looking almost certain that Chelsea will miss out on the top four, but he refused to elaborate on his opinions about why the champions have struggled this season, saying: "I don't want to create problems."

The widespread belief is that the Italian does not feel he has been sufficiently backed in the transfer market having won the title last season, and the growing expectation is that he will leave by mutual consent in the summer.

Both Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are interested in the 48-year-old. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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