Tottenham Hotspur 0, Chelsea 3
The previous week it had been the European footballer of the year Thomas Tuchel had been able to call on and this time, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was the man many believe should be in the running to win the Ballon d’Or.
It sure helps to have a substitutes’ bench as strong as Chelsea’s.
Tuchel, the head coach, had blamed himself for throwing in Saul Niguez too early against Aston Villa and needing to replace him at half-time with Jorginho, the Uefa men’s player of the year.
But just as he took responsibility for Saul’s debut to forget, Tuchel should be the man to take the plaudits for this victory over Tottenham that owed much to another decisive half-time change that sparked a Chelsea win – again by three goals.
In many ways, it was the obvious call to send on N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s Ballon d’Or candidate, after a first half in which Tottenham had caused their visitors so many problems. What was not so obvious was replacing Mason Mount with him.
Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic had both struggled to get a grip of the midfield in the opening 45 minutes and yet Tuchel sent Kante on in place of Mount and reverted to a 3-5-2, allowing Kante to press high up the pitch.
The change killed Tottenham’s momentum and within 15 minutes of the restart, Chelsea had practically killed the game, with a Thiago Silva header and an own goal from Eric Dier from a Kante shot. Antonio Rudiger’s stoppage-time goal was assisted by another of Chelsea’s supersubs, Timo Werner.
Silva had been the coolest head on the pitch during a chaotic first half in which Tottenham put their opponents under pressure with plenty of energy and drive.
The Brazilian has become accustomed to the blood and thunder of the Premier League, but he was often the only player who looked like he had any time.
And it was Silva who had created a great chance for Marcos Alonso a couple of minutes after half-time, when he lifted the ball over the Spurs defence and the Spaniard’s volley was tipped over by Spurs’ goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
The favour was returned in the 50th minute, when Silva opened the scoring.
The 36-year-old was lurking around the edge of the penalty area, when Alonso stood over a corner. But when the delivery came in, Silva made his run and got in front of Dele Alli to head the ball into the net.
It took a superb block from Dier, back from injury with heavy strapping around his left knee, to stop Chelsea immediately doubling their lead, but the central defender was out of luck in the 57th minute.
Giovani Lo Celso, one of Tottenham’s two Argentines who started after completing their isolation periods in Croatia, carelessly lost the ball, which was worked to Kante.
The France international did not catch his 20-yard shot perfectly, but it cannoned off the unfortunate Dier and completely wrong-footed Lloris, who could only watch the ball bounce off the foot of a post and into the corner of his net.
Perhaps the difference between the two clubs was best illustrated by the fact that when Nuno decided it was time for a change, he had to send on two young players, Oliver Skipp and Bryan Gil.
Tuchel, when he wanted to make a change, was able to call on Germany international Werner, who should really have put the game out of sight with 12 minutes remaining. But, after being picked out by Romelu Lukaku, he shot weakly at Lloris, who later saved from the forward with his legs.
But there was an assist for Werner right at the end, as it was from his cut back from the byline that Rudiger swept in Chelsea’s third goal.
Despite this being a second successive Premier League defeat for Spurs and head coach Nuno, there was some encouragement to be taken from a first-half performance that showed more attacking intent from the home side.
Lo Celso should really have tested goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, in for Edouard Mendy who had failed a late fitness check after suffering a knock late in the victory over Zenit St Petersburg, after Son’s early cross had been blocked.
Serge Reguilon should also have done much better after being released by Dele and Kepa did well to leave his line quickly and save at the feet of Son Heung-Min.
But Nuno’s experiment to start Kane left of Son did not work out quite as planned. The England captain was busy and worked hard to track back, but it took him until the 64th minute, when Chelsea were already two goals ahead, to register his first proper effort on goal.
Kane’s shot was well saved by Kepa, but Nuno surely needs to come up with a plan that provides Tottenham’s biggest goal threat with more opportunities in the opposition box.
It was against Crystal Palace that Kane failed to touch the ball in the opposition penalty area for the first time in his Premier League career and it is probably no coincidence that Spurs drew a blank in that game, just as they did against Chelsea.
While Nuno needs to find the solutions to his problems from the vast majority who started yesterday, Tuchel is clearly enjoying making the most of his cast of stars.
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