When push comes to shove, Spurs are left looking limited as Chelsea underline their class
Tottenham Hotspur 0
For all of Chelsea’s recent troubles in the Premier League, there is always comfort for them in facing Tottenham. A fourth meeting this season – in the league and the League Cup – resulted in a fourth victory and by a thumping aggregate of 8-0. “Can we play you every week,” gleefully sang the Chelsea fans, and who could blame them.
Mind the gap, as they say in London, and this big win meant that Chelsea re-established themselves as apparent shoo-ins for the top four, and maybe more, at a time when they feared being sucked into a five-way battle for the final two Champions League places.
It also damaged Spurs’ growing hopes and while they will look back on a first-half effort from Harry Kane that was ruled out, the truth is that Chelsea were fully deserving of the points, while the focus will again fall on the demands from Antonio Conte to improve his squad before the January transfer window closes. This will be one to watch if he does not get his way.
The Spurs head coach pointedly left out Dele Alli and Giovani Lo Celso – it is clear what he thinks of their prospects – along with Tanguy Ndombele, who he does not want and Paris St-Germain do, and tried to “park the bus”.
Chelsea eventually smashed straight through that with the kind of vibrant second-half display that will blow away claims of discontent within their camp and stabilise things around head coach Thomas Tuchel.
After winning just one of their previous seven league games, dropping 13 points which appears to have taken them out of the title race, Chelsea are suddenly 10 points ahead of fifth-placed West Ham United and have pushed away Spurs’ gathering threat. It further helped them that Arsenal drew at home to Burnley.
It was 18 years ago that Spurs arrived at this stadium, under Jacques Santini, and gave such a determined defensive performance that they not only earned a goalless draw but a rebuke from Chelsea’s new manager – a certain Jose Mourinho who first used the Portuguese saying about “parking the bus” in front of the goal. Ironically, the phrase came to be associated with his own style of football.
Still, it took an exceptional strike from Hakim Ziyech to break the deadlock, and that was quickly followed by a second, a deft header from Thiago Silva, which ended any doubt.
The way Ziyech celebrated not only showed how important his goal was but was far different from the curious way he reacted – or did not react – to scoring against Brighton in midweek when he admitted he was frustrated. It was a brilliant effort.
Conte’s approach was evident. It was the first time he had used a back four in the Premier League for six years, as he packed his team with defenders, playing Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty in midfield, with the responsibility squarely on Kane and Steven Bergwijn alone to carry the attacking threat - and, so, Spurs claimed just 25 per cent possession in the first-half and only 35 per cent overall.
Although that seemed negative, it may well have been different had Kane’s effort stood, as he swivelled and smartly finished after collecting a cutback from Sessegnon, only to be pulled up for a push in Silva’s back as they both ran into the Chelsea penalty area.
It appeared to be a let-off for Chelsea, who will have looked back on three clear chances that they failed to take – Romelu Lukaku hooked the ball over from Mason Mount’s low cross in the first minute and then completely missed another delivery from Mount. He looked like what he is; a player devoid of confidence. Also, there was a back-post header from Callum Hudson-Odoi that lacked conviction.
Bizarrely, the start of the second half was delayed because the net was torn in the goal defended by Hugo Lloris – he was soon picking the ball out of it as Chelsea scored. Ziyech took possession after Hudson-Odoi’s powerful run, Sessegnon stood off, and, from 25 yards, the winger superbly curled a left-foot shot that dipped high over Lloris, who was completely beaten, and dipped just underneath the angle of post and bar.
Analysis showed that it also owed much to the fact that Japhet Tanganga had already been cautioned and so fretted about challenging Hudson-Odoi and – for Chelsea – a vital overlapping run from Cesar Azpilicueta which distracted Sessegnon and was in itself worthy of an assist.
Seconds later and Lloris brilliantly denied Ziyech after he struck a fierce half-volley, and suddenly the game opened up. Conte tried to make changes. But before Lucas Moura and Oliver Skipp could arrive, Chelsea doubled their advantage, with Hudson-Odoi again crucially involved.
Eric Dier complained bitterly about the award of a free-kick – even though it was the right decision – and it proved prescient as Mount swung it in from the left and Silva stole in to glance his header across Lloris. Quite why Davinson Sanchez stuck out a leg, rather than try to get in front of Silva, was a mystery, but Spurs were two goals down.
It should have been reduced to one when they broke.
Kane’s cross was eventually headed to Bergwin, but he volleyed weakly and it was easily fielded by Kepa Arrizabalaga who later dived full length to turn away a Kane header from a corner.
But, equally, Chelsea could have extended their lead.
Skipp was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he wrestled Azpilicueta to the ground at a corner before Lloris beat out a crisp drive from Lukaku.
There would be no late comeback for Spurs as they did against Leicester City and Conte knew that as he stood with his hands in his pockets.
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