On a day when Chelsea fan Jeremy Clarkson was in the stands, the Blues well and truly showed they were in top gear. Tottenham hadn’t beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, since 1990, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a pundit who would have tipped them to win the game.
Chelsea were without point man Diego Costa, out due to suspension, which meant Willian and Hazard would have to tune their skills to another striker’s frequency. Mourinho went with the tried and tested, battle-hardened Didier Drogba after opting for experience against Chelsea’s old enemies.
Tottenham had the younger squad, and the lesser accomplished manager of the two, but the Lilywhites certainly learned their lessons from Sunderland’s more than convincing 0-0 draw with the Blues this past weekend. Chelsea, eager to shake off any suggestions of a dip in form after the draw with Sunderland, came out firing on all cylinders but Mauricio Pochettino’s men were up to the task. The Lilywhites were robust in taking the game to Chelsea, just as Sunderland had.
For a while it looked like Tottenham were on the ascendancy and Chelsea still hadn’t shaken off the worst of their physical excesses over the past week having played Schalke and Sunderland. It also looked like Pochettino had out-thought Mourinho, by packing his midfield with an additional player (the ever-dutiful Erik Lamela) at the expense of a second striker in Roberto Soldado.
With Tottenham’s midfield pushing Chelsea up the park, the Blues found themselves with little space to clear the ball or retain it long enough to lauch the counter attack. Chelsea were firmly on the back foot, with few ideas, when things looked to get much worse as Cahill was knocked out cold following a clash of heads with Jan Vertonghen.
Harry Kane, in particular, spurned two gilt-edged chances to take the lead, first with a header that rattled the goalposts and then with a low shot that whizzed past an open goal begging to be scored in. Until then Chelsea were unable to put their counter-attacking skills to test, pressed for most of the time in their own half by a side hungrier than they were for the ball.
Where Chelsea do tower head and shoulders over Tottenham is in the sheer talent department, and it was only a matter of time before Tottenham would have to take their foot off the gas pedals. Once they did, Chelsea showed their mettle with Willian, Drogba and then Hazard combining for a decent attempt that got the attention it needed from Tottenham Hotspur’s custodian Hugo Lloris.
What Tottentham failed to do was recognize the threat of Drogba as a provider, and were soon caught unawares when Drogba and Hazard combined to devastating effect. Hazard’s giving Aaron Lennon the turnaround was as clear a statement as you will get about the gulf in talent between the two sides. With Tottenham’s focus entirely on closing down Didier Drogba, the backline let Eden Hazard ghost right through them in time for Drogba’s inch-perfect return.
For a young team in transition like Tottenham, it was natural that conceding a goal after having pressed Chelsea well, meant an immediate sense of deflation. Against the trail-blazers that Chelsea are, that was always going to be punished. A distracted Lloris offered up a hacked clearance, which Oscar and Drogba took full advantage of.
If it was ironic that Tottenham came prepared for the big Ivorian, but then paid for their obsession when Drogba turned provider for an unmarked Hazard to score the first goal. It was surely rubbing it in, as they were barely done licking their wounds when Drogba scored Chelsea’s second. Tottenham had tried to make amends for the first goal, by staffing two of their defensive players on Hazard when Oscar chose to feed it instead to Drogba coming in virtually unchallenged on the right. Chelsea’ ability to conjure up goals at will, meant Tottenham were doomed to concede as long as the Blues kept the ball in the opposition’s half.
The final broken arrow in Tottenham Hotspur’s quiver was their Villa-Boas-like irrational insistence on playing a high line. It was a fact that became more apparent as the game wore on. As Chelsea were content to play out the rest of the game with a comfortable 2-goal lead cushion, Tottenham became even more desperate for that elusive goal to bring the result back into contention.
Mourinho who brought on Loic Remy to replace Didier Drogba, was seen wildly gesticulating at the former QPR man to get in behind the ever-widening gap between the Sopurs’ backline and Lloris – naturally, without falling for the offside trap. He needn’t have worried too much, because Remy pulled it off like an expert. Staying glued to Vertonghen, as Chelsea began playing long balls, Remy broke off at the last minute and brought the game to its inevitable conclusion.
Tottenham were probably doomed despite their initial fireworks. But by first focusing all their attention on Drogba, and then letting the concession of a goal throw their game plan into disarray, and finally maintaining a suicidal high line out of desperation, Tottenham committed all of the cardinal sins. Unfortunately, as far as they were concerned, today might as well have been Judgment Day.