White Hart Lane provided the Premier League followers with perhaps the most exciting game of the season so far. There was too much at stake, especially for the home team coming into this game. The last time these two sides met, Spurs were thumped 5 – 1 at Wembley by Chelsea. It didn’t stop there; Chelsea’s subsequent exploits in the Champions League meant that Spurs supporters had to digest the fact that their team helplessly lost out on a Champions League spot this season. The summer window saw Tottenham miss out on prime transfer target Oscar who chose to sign for Chelsea instead. While their generous Russian Billionaire’s Roubles might have played some part, it can’t be denied that the lure of playing in the Champions League played its part as well. And last but not by any means the least, there was Andre Villas Boas.
The prodigy was made to look ordinary at Chelsea. There were hopes that he’d match up to his ‘Special’ mentor, hopes that never came to fruition. His aura tainted after being ruthlessly sacked by Roman Abramovich. Villas Boas had to suffer the ignominy of watching his old team lift the FA Cup and the Champions League. It would be wrong to suggest that Villas Boas signed for Tottenham purely out of hatred for Chelsea, but it is reasonable to assume that history played its part in helping AVB choose Spurs.
Villas Boas played it cool during the build-up to this highly strung encounter but he wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t itching to deliver the first blow since being ousted from Stamford Bridge.
Team Line Ups
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Gallas (c), Caulker, Vertonghen Sandro, Huddlestone, Lennon, Sigurdsson, Dempsey, Defoe.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole, Mikel, Ramires Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Torres.
The First Half
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo decided to bench Frank Lampard for yet another big match which meant that Chelsea truly had a revamped look about them. It is hard to recollect the last time the Stamford Bridge club started without any of John Terry, Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba in a game of this magnitude. Meanwhile, Andre Villas Boas had to make a last minute adjustment after Bale withdrew from the game as his girlfriend went into labour. Tottenham were also without Moussa Dembele who was out with an injury. This meant that Dempsey occupied Bale’s position on the left while Gylfi Sigurdsson played as part of a midfield trio that saw Sandro and Huddlestone play the pivot role.
The opening exchanges saw both teams battle it out in midfield with Chelsea just about edging the contest by showing more composure when on the ball. Eden Hazard in particular was finding himself in space down the right side and he managed to cause Spurs a problem or two with his passing and constant running at defenders. Di Matteo showed impressive tactical acumen by asking both Oscar and Mata to play more through the middle while Hazard kept drifting into spaces out wide. It made it difficult for Tottenham to know whom to mark, particularly in the middle and made it easier for Chelsea to control the game. Oscar who is adept at finding pockets of space, repeatedly troubled Spurs with his excellent sense of positioning and saw a lot of the ball.
His delivery in the 16th minute saw Gallas head the ball away for a corner. Spurs hadn’t done much wrong until this point, although they could perhaps have imposed themselves more on the game, but they let Chelsea score without making them break into much of a sweat for it. Eden Hazard guided the ball high and deep into the box from the corner which Gallas failed to clear and Gary Cahill was perfectly positioned to hit the sweetest of volleys into Tottenham’s net. Friedel couldn’t have done much about that, the ball had too much power on it. ‘Punished beautifully’ the commentators described it, which was very apt.
Spurs almost immediately hit back when Defoe ran at the Chelsea defence, he had two players in support on the left but chose to shoot and Petr Cech uncomfortably turned it away for a corner. The next five minutes or so saw both teams lose their shape a bit as the game went on end to end until Chelsea started exerting their control yet again. However, the Blues did face a problem with balance in the first half, as both Hazard and Mata tucking in meant that Torres had to drift wide on occasion to support an empty flank. This meant that although in control, Chelsea were finding chances hard to come by.
Spurs responded to the Chelsea dominance by pressing very high in a bid to hurry the European Champions into losing possession. It did seem to work in the final ten minutes or so when Tottenham slowly but surely seemed to regain some semblance of cohesion in both defence and attack. But Chelsea broke on a counter and Mata should have scored his first goal from a shot which was well saved by Friedel. Mata got another chance on the rebound but failed to convert.
It was a first half that saw Chelsea largely in control and Mike Dean flash five yellow cards. The only positive from a Tottenham perspective was Aaron Lennon’s direct running. Andre Villas certainly would have expected much more from his charges.
The Second Half
Whatever Villas Boas said at half time surely worked as Chelsea didn’t quite know what hit them during the opening 15 minutes of the second half. The first noteworthy incident of the second half was a reckless David Luiz lunge into Clint Dempsey, the Chelsea man conceded a needless free kick at a position from where Spurs posed no imminent danger. However, the free kick resulted in Tottenham’s first goal. Huddlestone delivered from the freekick and Chelsea’s defense tried to play the offside trap, but the ball found its way to Vertonghen who teed it up for Gallas to nod it into the net.
Buoyed by their goal, Tottenham for the first time in the game looked like the powerful threat they were at Old Trafford a few weeks back. A clearly rattled Chelsea organization struggled to cope with the intensity of Tottenham’s play. It seemed as though Tottenham’s utter disregard for Chelsea’s game plan worked in their favour. Sigurdsson then forced a save off Cech and earned a corner.
It was also to be noted that Villas Boas had made a minor tactical adjustment of his own, a strategy that nearly mirrored what Di Matteo had done with Juan Mata. Lennon had had his moments in the first half, but wasn’t involved as much as he would have liked to. Villas Boas asked the winger to tuck in rather than play in the wider areas and it helped as Lennon looked more involved. The Chelsea defence had been apprehensive of going at him throughout the game and they backed off as the winger ran at them. He then wildly lashed a cross in, hoping that it’d pick someone out. Tottenham had their second goal from that cross as Defoe showed extraordinary awareness and ability to latch on to the ball and convert it past Cech. On the touch line, Villas Boas was delirious. White Hart Lane had found its voice again with the Spurs support boisterously singing ‘Oh when the Spurs go marching in.’
Chelsea were staring at their first defeat in the Premier League this season and it looked like the negative press the club had received throughout the build up to this game was set to continue. Chelsea then started to put passes together, with the trio of Oscar, Mata and Hazard in particular combining and interchanging at will. It wasn’t champagne stuff, a game with so much bite in it doesn’t allow for that but Chelsea were finding their fluency back again. Ramires and Mikel who had been impressive throughout the game were beginning to dictate its flow now with Spurs pressing cautiously.
William Gallas had been involved in one way or the other in two of three goals the game had seen so far and he decided to indulge himself once more. Yet another failed Gallas clearance gave Chelsea the goal, this time Juan Mata was on cue to take his shot and finished with aplomb in the 66th minute. Just three minutes later, Mata was at it again as he passed the ball to John Obi Mikel and made a run into space upfront, Mikel passed it on to Hazard who laid it on to the path of Juan Mata with a beautiful first time pass. Even if the Spurs defence had seen that coming, they couldn’t have done much about the move as it started and finished within seven seconds. Mata, who was one on one with Brad Friedel could make no mistake. 2- 3. By this point, tactics in the game had pretty much gone out of the window and it all came down to individual brilliance and error. AVB was still seen scribbling away furiously at his notepad though.
Chelsea fans at the away end chorused in unison ‘Champions of Europe – we know what we are’. The final twenty minutes of the 2nd half saw Spurs bring on Adebayor for the ineffective Clint Dempsey whose ponderous style of play had cost Spurs ball possession on occasion. Spurs didn’t trouble Chelsea too much thereafter barring an absolute stinger from 30 yards out by Kyle Walker which was excellently saved by Petr Cech who had a spectacular outing. Chelsea introduced Daniel Sturridge who finished the game off in the 90th minute after Juan Mata robbed the ball off Kyle Walker’s feet and set Sturridge up for an easy tap in. That pretty much ended any hopes of resurgence for Spurs as the cameras zoomed in on fans heading for the exit gates. 2 – 4 the final score.
Chelsea go on to cement their claim as one of the title contenders after impressing in their second big test of the season. They are yet to be beaten in the league and have amassed a total of 22 out of the 24 points on offer. Di Matteo would no doubt be pleased with where his team are and even the Torres worries will be put on the back-burner for the time being as all the focus is now on the magical trio of Oscar, Hazard and Mata. The result, especially the manner of it will boost confidence levels in the Chelsea camp.
Frank Lampard will have questions in his head over his role in the squad now. He only came on during the last five minutes or so at White Hart Lane and there are no doubts that Mikel and Ramires are first choice in the Chelsea pivot now. Ramires had a shaky start to the season playing in a wide right role, but has improved off-late and is showing signs of the danger he possesses while playing through the middle.
For Spurs and Andre Villas Boas, there is comfort to be had from the fact that they did put up a fight despite missing two vital players in Moussa Dembele and Gareth Bale. That would be akin to Chelsea missing Juan Mata and Oscar for a game. But serious questions will need to be asked of William Gallas and Kyle Walker as Villas Boas conducts an inquest into the defeat, back in training.
There will be no peace of mind for Andre Villas though, the fire of frustration in his belly will only rage further and even more furiously. It was evident post the game when he feigned ignorance as the Chelsea faithful taunted him with ‘Andre Andre, what’s the score?’ It must also be equally gutting for him to see Chelsea’s creative trio flourish, it was after all a part of his blueprint for Chelsea while he was at the club. It was his ‘project’.