Chelsea’s shock 5-3 loss to Tottenham at White Hart Lane is anything but that. The Blues may have walked off the pitch shaking their heads in astonishment (and not the good kind) at what the Spurs dared to do to them at Three Point Lane, but what exactly did the Lilywhites do to Mourinho’s men that so beggars belief?
If Chelsea are shocked that Tottenham failed to roll over for the champions-elect after conceding the first goal, then perhaps they’re in the wrong sport. Barcelona may have won more than its share of games by default: their opponents falling over by the wayside at the mere mention of Barcelona’s name, but that supremacy was established in a different league and in a different set of circumstances. Chelsea’s supremacy over the Premier League has never been as uncontested even at the best of times.
There’s a certain calmness in the Chelsea camp after the defeat. Mourinho did complain about a decision that he believed should have gone his way, but his willingness to see the other side isn’t necessarily him turning over a new leaf but an admission that he suspected a walloping of this sort was just around the corner.
Chelsea are no longer the aging team they once were, barring Terry who might as well have been 40 in the Spurs game. But the capital that is the relative youth of their players is now expended on Mourinho’s new, aggressive approach where Chelsea players are expected to keep possession at all time and swarm their opponents when they lose it. Four games in 10 days was always going to be a tough ask, and with three of those games being played away, Chelsea were always going to drop points.
Chelsea did come out showing a lot more intent in the second half, but you could tell Fabregas and Matic – with arguably the toughest jobs in the team – were lacking in imagination. In attacking teams, oftentimes it is the mind that gives way to fatigue even before the legs begin to cramp up. In a span of ten days, Chelsea had gone from one of the more exciting teams in the league to a team that looked like it was positively repulsed by the game. Mourinho’s men have developed an adverse reaction to the game, hoping to stroke the ball around, content with retaining just enough possession of the ball to deprive their opponents of time on the ball.
Their only hope is a period of 10 days without Premier League football, will help them refocus on the sharper aspects of their game, and renew some of the spark and their earlier hunger. Chelsea also have the opportunity of giving its second rung line-up, with stellar characters other clubs would give an arm and leg for, the chance to run about against Watford.
Hectic schedule aside, Chelsea also lost to the Spurs because Mourinho has prized team stability over rotation of resources. Having effectively almost always started the same team in all their Premier League games, Chelsea’s first team have tired out mentally and physically. Their reinforcements have spent so little time in action, they lack the sharpness to take charge right away. Chelsea’s much envied depth has come to zilch when the going got tough. Salah and Schurrle may have been more than acceptable replacements for Willian, but their lack of game time this season showed in their performances against Southampton and the Spurs.
You could accuse Chelsea of complacency in the game against the Spurs, but that would barely scratch the surface. The Blues were so confident that their first goal signaled business as usual, that even when the Spurs scored the unexpected equalizer, Chelsea treated it as a temporary aberration waiting to be corrected.
So what did the Blues think of the Spurs second goal? Why, just another aberration. So Chelsea pushed forward, flooding the Spurs half and trying to pass their way around Pochettino’s men hoping for a glimpse of daylight from between Tottenham’s back line. Instead, and not without a dollop of irony, it was Chelsea that left a yawning chasm at the back. And so as Chelsea’s back line loitered around half-way up the field, dutifully doing their best to keep up the appearance of pressure, all Tottenham had to do was feed the ball to its strikers who only needed to avoid the offside trap.
Harry Kane had a field day running at Courtois, every time he received the ball in line with Chelsea’s defenders. Any striker worth his salt can outrun a defender, and Kane had no problems leaving his opponents in his wake as he flew down the other end of the field frequently. Chelsea’s custodian, the much ballyhooed Courtois deserves his share of blame too. He could have pulled off a couple of saves that would have justified his tag as one of the best keepers in the world. Petr Cech certainly would have.
When Chelsea went down 3-1 in the first half, Mourinho should have tapped Drogba’s and Cech’s experience for the job. It’s hard to imagine Cech letting in five goals in a game, even if Courtois is widely regarded as the more talented one. And Didier Drogba might just have harassed Spurs with memories of him tormenting them in the past. Facing terrifying odds, Chelsea could have done well with an old hand and a calm head at the back and in front.
Manchester City relied on just that, when Lampard scored the winner that drew them level on points with his former employers.