* After the midweek victory over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Jose Mourinho was quick to respond to questions about his public disagreement with Diego Costa.
“I wanted him to do a certain movement that he didn’t,” explained Mourinho. “I was disappointed. I reacted. He reacted too. At half-time in the dressing room – a few kisses and a few cuddles.”
On Thursday, Winners and Losers warned Costa against picking a fight: ‘Costa is still a pest and a nuisance, but now it’s Jose Mourinho getting upset. Insistence of “cuddles and kisses” between the pair from Mourinho are all well and good, but make-up only follows break-up. Tensions are simmering. Having been second best in most battles this season, a fight with Mourinho is another that Costa is unlikely to win.’ More prescient than anticipated.
“He’s playing every match and things are not going really well for his confidence,” said Mourinho before the game. “It’s the first time Diego is on the bench unless he was on the bench for some injury.”
Kisses and cuddles are all very well, but Costa is still sleeping in the spare room.
How very Jose. Days after stating that all was well between the pair, Chelsea’s manager stamps his authority on the squad. There was consternation when Costa’s name was announced on the Chelsea bench, but we should no longer be surprised by Mourinho’s stubbornness.
In this case, it is understandable. When Mourinho gives in to shows of dissent by his own players, his grip is loosened. That grip is his managerial raison d’etre.
The message is clear: Don’t f**k with me, Diego. Especially when your recent contributions have been negligible.
* BT Sport got the big scoop on the story that will undoubtedly make the Monday headlines – Costa failed to join the squad for the warm-up before the game.
One can understand the Spaniard’s disappointment at being dropped, but that is the reaction of a petulant child, immediately vindicating Mourinho’s call. Football is a team game, and managers succeed and fail on their big calls. The reputations of high-profile players are not only established in their performances, but their temperament too. Costa has a lot of growing up to do.
Still, at least he’d calmed down by the end of the game and reacted to his lack of introduction as a substitute with good grace.
Mikel enjoyed Costa’s bib strop almost as much as I did pic.twitter.com/4rPJuguF65
— Jenny Brown (@cfc_jb) November 29, 2015
* After a period of fine form, Mauricio Pochettino gave another compliment to Mousa Dembele in the enforced absence of Dele Alli. Most Tottenham supporters would have expected Dembele to drop deeper and Erik Lamela to come into the side, but Ryan Mason was instead given the nod. Dembele’s performances persuaded his manager that he was too vital a tool in the final third to move.
After half an hour, we saw the reason for keeping the faith. A crossfield ball was played over Dembele’s head, but the Belgian controlled it superbly. After exchanging passes with Mason, Dembele skipped past Cesc Fabregas and fired a low shot at goal that Asmir Begovic pushed away on the stretch.
It is no secret that Spurs have tried to move Dembele out of the club at least twice in the last year. Now Pochettino is wary of even moving his starting position.
* Dele Alli’s reputation grows once more in his absence. Mason did not play badly, but suffers through comparison. Whereas Alli is all-action, Mason is a tidy, comfortable player. Tottenham lacked someone driving forward from midfield to outnumber Chelsea’s defence.
The proof is in the numbers. Alli has averaged 4.2 dribbles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season. He has averaged 2.7 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 1.5 shots, too; All-action is the correct term. During the first half, Mason did not have a shot, he did not make a tackle, he did not make an interception and he attempted to dribble past a player on one occasion.
This is not intended as a criticism of Mason, for that is not his game, but it highlights the value of their missing 19-year-old. Alli may be junior in years, but in terms of importance he is already one of Tottenham’s senior players.
* Chelsea’s ‘false nine’ question was immediately answered, Hazard occupying the position – if not role – that Costa usually fills. That came fully ten minutes after Mourinho said Pedro would do it.
Having a lack of focal point up front is unusual for a Mourinho team, but it provided Tottenham with their own headache. Without Costa’s obvious presence, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen had to be more watchful of the movement and shifting positions of Chelsea’s forwards. Hazard started in a central role, but predictably drifted to the wings. Pedro and Oscar were both happy to fill the gap.
This new strategy might have legs for Mourinho, particularly if Costa continues to be frozen out. With neither Radamel Falcao nor Loic Remy offering a threat greater than Luxembourg’s navy, Chelsea’s coach needs an alternate plan. The false nine experiment did not produce any goals, but it does at least provide some excitement and flexibility in the final third. An out-of-form Costa may become an expensive Plan B.
38 – Eden Hazard made more sprints in the first half vs Tottenham than any other player in the game. Rebooted.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 29, 2015
* Spurs dominated territory and possession during the first half, but Mourinho will have been hugely encouraged by his side’s display as the home side were kept at arm’s length. Spurs may have had seven shots before the break, but six of those were from outside the area. There was a solidity to Chelsea’s defending (and defensive midfield) that has been AWOL over the last three months.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, most of their attacking enthusiasm was curbed by their own imperfections. Fabregas and Matic may have had well-publicised problems this season, but simple passing has not been amongst them. Both squandered possession far too readily, and then looked for direct passes as if to atone for those mistakes.
These passing flaws, and Chelsea’s direct play during the first half, were reflected in the passing accuracy of their central midfielders; Fabregas’ was 65.5%, Matic even lower at 61.5%.
* The only two good chances of the first half were headers, both of which fell to unsuitable protagonists. Hazard’s effort landed on the roof of the net with the Belgian slightly on the stretch, but Heung-Min Son did not have that excuse.
Harry Kane’s cross was hit with such power that Son only needed to guide the ball into the corner, but he mangled the opportunity horribly. Begovic was able to parry away comfortably, consigning my ‘On yer head, Son’ headlines to the cutting-room floor. For shame.
* What possesses full-backs to dive into challenges when wingers are going nowhere? Is it payback for being made to look like fools in previous encounters?
Danny Rose offered a superb example of the breed, sliding into the back of Hazard’s boots when the Belgian was chasing down a lost cause. There was nothing to be gained, and everything to lose. Rose was rightly booked for his stupidity, and at least didn’t have the temerity to complain.
This joins foul throws and set-pieces hitting the first man on my list of frustrating things for which highly paid footballers should be fined.
If the foul had been committed in the final 20 minutes, Rose’s excuse could have been fatigue. The Opta graphic below indicates just how much responsibility he was given on Spurs’ left wing, asked to be the whole left side of Pochettino’s team.
It’s not a surprise that Rose sprinted six more times than any other Tottenham player. Good luck keeping that up all season.
* If Rose’s challenge was dim, Kyle Walker’s on Cesar Azpilicueta was dangerous. It never seemed likely that Michael Oliver would produce a red card, but Walker could not have complained.
Similarly to Rose, it was also entirely unnecessary. Azpilicueta was passing the ball backwards when 30 yards from goal. Rather than harrying the Spaniard, Walker dived in at shin height and scythed Azpilicueta to the ground. Embarrassing decision-making.
* If the first half felt fractured, the second half amputated the leg completely. The abiding images feature defenders launching the ball out of play and crosses being headed away by the first man. Both sides struggled to gain any semblance of control, perhaps indicative of long midweek European trips. This Sunday 12pm slot always feels sleepy.
Most disappointing of all was the shooting of both sides from outside the area. With defences sitting deep, the second half became an parade of efforts from distance. On this evidence, both squads need more practice.
The one spark of quality came after 68 minutes, when Hazard fired a wonderful left-footed volley towards the far corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal. Lloris’ wonderful ability to make terrific saves appear regulation continues. A mere flick of the hand and the ball had been diverted wide.
68 – Chelsea's first shot on target vs Tottenham came in the 68th minute (Hazard). Patience.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 29, 2015
* With Ruben Loftus-Cheek out of contract in June 2017, this season is an extended assessment of whether he should cut his losses at Stamford Bridge or fight for his first-team chance.
So far there is only one answer. The midfielder’s late introduction was demeaning, reducing an exciting, young player to the status of time-waster.
“Clearly it is time not to play four, five or six kids because also some of them are not ready, said Mourinho on October 3. “But I think Ruben is a case where he is one who is more ready so if everything goes normal during these two weeks, yes, he is a player to start the next game. I am not saying it is a young player to save the season. I think it is a good moment to do it.”
Since then, Loftus-Cheek has played 64 minutes in all competitions for Chelsea’s senior team. A promising reputation is being trodden into the Cobham turf.
* Despite siding with Mourinho over Costa’s absence from the starting line-up, the striker would have been an effective substitute as Tottenham noticeably tired towards the end of the match.
On multiple occasions in the last 15 minutes, Hazard or Oscar had the ball out wide with no Chelsea player in the box awaiting the delivery. Would it not have been worth throwing him on?
Mourinho is man who would seem spectacularly prone to cutting off his nose to spite his face. The surgeon’s knife is being sterilised.
* Amid all the talk of Tottenham’s potential top four (or even title) bid, they must strengthen in January. Kane is their only frontline striker, while Pochettino’s options in central midfield are also being stretched.
Alli will be back next weekend, but Mason’s injury provides a further headache for Pochettino. He moved Dembele back to a more reserved position and introduced Lamela, but Tom Carroll is now the last cab on the central midfield rank.
Getting rid of the midfield deadwood (Paulinho, Benjamin Stambouli, Etienne Capoue, Jake Livermore, Sandro and Lewis Holtby) has been the biggest task of Pochettino’s last two years. Now it might be time to bring in a fresh face or two. Competition helps to maintain high performance.
* Chelsea’s reaction to winning the title may have been close to stagnant, but looking at their squad to face Tottenham demonstrates just how impressively they frittered away money in the summer.
Their 18-man squad contained five summer signings, bought at a cost of £57.3m; Pedro, Kenedy, Baba Rahman, Papy Djilobodji, Asmir Begovic. Now run through in your head the players those five replaced. Not one has been an upgrade.
Let’s not even talk about Nathan and Michael Hector, another cool £10m-worth of madness.
* It’s easy to say in hindsight, but both sides were obviously content to play out a 0-0 draw and take a point. Curse my lack of foresight; we could all be millionaires.
This may have been an opportunity missed for Tottenham, but it would be unfair to judge it as two points dropped. A 6,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan that only ended on Friday left energy levels low. Maintaining their unbeaten league record was the priority on a weekend when two of the four sides above Spurs had already dropped points.
Pochettino’s stunted ambition could be found in his pre-match gripes about the Premier League’s scheduling, and there the manager has a point. A single day to prepare for a London derby against the champions, whatever form they are in, is insufficient. The Premier League played their own part in a dour draw.
* For Chelsea, baby steps forward are more palatable than lurches backward. They have now kept consecutive league clean sheets for the first time since April, and three in succession in all competitions for the second time since January.
It may be a sad indictment of their slump that Chelsea supporters would be happy with a 0-0 draw against Tottenham, but that’s the reality of their mire.
Mourinho certainly took that view: “I think it was, as a team, the best Chelsea performance of the season. I think we deserved a bit more than we got, but I am really happy with the performance.”
Way to damn yourself with faint praise, Jose.