Sunday 21 January 2018

Alli tally breathes life into title race

Tottenham 2 Chelsea 0

Dele Alli scores his and Tottenham’s second goal at White Hart Lane last night. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Dele Alli scores his and Tottenham’s second goal at White Hart Lane last night. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Toby Alderweireld challenges Diego Costa at White Hart Lane. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Tottenham's Hugo Lloris celebrates after the game. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters

Jason Burt

Tottenham Hotspur smashed Chelsea's hopes of a record 14th consecutive Premier League win and blew the title race open with a whirlwind of a performance at White Hart Lane.

Spurs lit the touchpaper through two scintillating goals from Dele Alli in a predictably fiery fixture. They will believe they have earned a little payback for last season's 'Battle at the Bridge'.

Chelsea remain five points clear, with Arsenal's record over two seasons in 2002 also still intact, but it will be a test now as to how they respond after such a pallid performance - just as it will be for Spurs, up to third. They must capitalise on this result and try to close that gap.

They have reasserted themselves; they are on the march, having enjoyed an emphatic, goal-strewn festive period. They had the added delight of dropping Arsenal down to fifth place with this result.

This felt like a game that would resonate; an encounter that could significantly influence the direction of this campaign; and not just because records were at stake. There was much more at play. The Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino brushed aside discussions over formations and tactics and called for something a little more primal. Instead he simply said it would be another "battle", not least because of that tumultuous draw at Stamford Bridge last season that sent the title to Leicester City.

Read more: Chelsea's winning streak ends as Spurs reignite title race with Dele Alli double

There was a feeling that Spurs were equipped to combat Chelsea. Of all the sides to have been beaten in the league leaders' winning run, they had come closest when the teams met in November.

Pochettino set out a formation to match Chelsea tactically, continuing with three at the back and charging his wing-backs to outflank Chelsea's.

That formation was almost undone in the opening five minutes as Nemanja Matic simply lifted the ball forward and caught Eric Dier out of position with no right-back covering. Eden Hazard ran on to the ball and angled a left-footed half-volley across goal and only just past Hugo Lloris's far post. Maybe Hazard could have taken the ball on. Either way it was a good opportunity wasted.


The game was predictably, understandably frantic. Challenges flew in and the passes fizzed, with Mousa Dembele providing an oasis of powerful calm as he glided forward only to overhit, marginally, a pass to Harry Kane as the striker threatened to break through. Thibaut Courtois snuffed that out. Unsurprisingly, the first caution soon arrived, after Pedro slid in recklessly on Danny Rose, who was already a thorn down Chelsea's right.

With both Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso more concerned with stopping Rose and Kyle Walker, it started to feel more like a night for containment - and counter-attacking - for the visitors.

Victor Wanyama stole the ball from Hazard only to drag his low shot well wide before Christian Eriksen went closer as he sent the ball bouncing just beyond Courtois' dive and the post.

The Chelsea threat was evident when they broke, with Diego Costa failing to find the unmarked Pedro - and the pair exchanging angry words in a dispute that dragged on - before a David Luiz free-kick sailed over.

Read more: Derby defeat just a stumble on Blues' march to glory

In truth, the game was too fast. Spurs endured a worrying delay after Rose was hurt in a challenge from Moses. This disturbed their momentum as Chelsea tried to keep the ball and draw the sting from the game. They almost did more than that as Hazard cleverly turned infield to find Costa, who could not adjust quickly enough and hoofed his shot over the bar.

At the other end, Dier met Rose's deep free-kick but Courtois pushed the header away before it could reach the onrushing Kane. The goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Spurs going in front. For once, Chelsea's pressure on the ball dropped and Eriksen was allowed to measure a cross before N'Golo Kante could close him down. Eriksen picked out Alli, who had pulled away between Cesar Azpilicueta and Moses and rose to guide his header superbly back across the goal and high into the net. Right on half-time, Spurs went ahead.

Given Chelsea's formidable record, how poorly they had defended that attack was surprising. As at the Bridge, Spurs were a goal up, albeit with Alli cautioned for his celebration. In a game in which referee Martin Atkinson was trying not to show a card, it meant there were four bookings in the first 45 minutes. Chelsea responded. Costa was given the chance to drive a low shot from the edge of the area that Lloris did well to push away with a low dive.

Alonso headed the ball across the box and, somehow, Hazard mistimed his header from close range and sent it wide. Soon afterwards, Chelsea demanded a penalty when Dembele nudged over Moses - it was outside the area - but Atkinson played on.

Spurs had their warning and scored again. It came from the same combination and involved the same Chelsea defenders. Eriksen teed the cross up and Alli arrived between Moses and Azpilicueta, albeit far closer to goal than for his first effort, and powered a header past the helpless Courtois. It was his sixth goal in three games. Chelsea had to respond but appeared to panic. Eriksen went close as he sent Courtois scrambling from a free-kick.

Hazard tried to make something happen but he lacked support in what was turning into a curiously disjointed performance. Alli, one of five Englishmen starting for Spurs, left to a standing ovation as his team-mates saw the game out and set up the second half of the season nicely. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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