16 Conclusions: Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham

Date published: Sunday 29th November 2020 8:47

Jose Mourinho ought to be fairly happy with that…

 

1) “Tottenham might as well have put the team bus in front of their goal. Sometimes when you are a big club, a very small club comes to your stadium. Tottenham got a point they shouldn’t.

“We wanted to play. They didn’t. We wanted to score. They didn’t. Every time they just kicked the ball away. It is frustrating for me, my players, for every Chelsea supporter and for every football supporter. Because people don’t pay to see one team play and the other team falling down, demanding to see the medical department.

“We finished with all our strikers on. You don’t finish with so many attackers on if the other team are also trying to win it. Ledley King, Naybet and Robinson were good. But poor Jermain Defoe. Poor boy. He was just chasing the ball.”

It is funny how things work out. Tottenham, on this occasion, got a point they probably just about warranted. But what would Jose Mourinho of 2004 have made of his 2020 counterpart, who ended this particular 0-0 at Stamford Bridge with the spectre of Harry Kane on the pitch but Heung-min Son, Steven Bergwijn and Tanguy Ndombele all removed, while Chelsea replaced three forwards like-for-like?

His message is only ever constructed to suit the side of the fence he fits on at that point, of course. Mourinho opinions are as fluid as the water he walked on when he first came to England, designed to further his and his team’s agenda and nothing else. Quite right. But if these 90 minutes proved anything, it’s that Jacques Santini is probably owed an apology.

 

2) Mourinho will and should be delighted, glorious mid-2000s facetiousness aside. Tottenham visited a team that had won its previous six games, scoring at least twice in each, whose only home defeat in any competition since football’s return came at the hands of the imposing champions. Chelsea were largely restricted to snatched chances, their best opportunities not being any of their 13 shots but instead those Reece James crosses that tested the structural integrity of Tammy Abraham’s haircut.

He would have preferred Tottenham to create more. Their last shot was in the 30th minute and Edouard Mendy’s only save was from a Serge Aurier effort outside the box in the 15th. But a clean sheet away at a direct rival is his lifeblood and four points from matches against Manchester City and Chelsea in the space of eight days with a commanding Europa League victory in between is admirable.

 

3) This was a perfect example of why he approaches every such game like this. There was one particular match last season, the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool in January, after which he was condemned for his tactics. The juxtaposition with Jurgen Klopp’s breathless attacking, control and inventiveness was enough for most to consider Mourinho outdated and not long for the modern game. Yet his ethos then and here was and is as simple as when it was first laid out by Diego Torres in his 2014 biography of the Portuguese. The seven principles he still holds for bigger games, as detailed by The Guardian, include:

1. The game is won by the team who commit fewer errors.
2. Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.
3. Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it’s better to encourage their mistakes.
4. Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.
5. Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
6. Whoever has the ball has fear.
7. Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.

Had Lucas Moura capitalised on Kurt Zouma’s slack pass in stoppage-time, those seven points would have described the game succinctly. Mourinho keeps heavyweight bouts tight enough to ensure every opposition mistake is magnified if taken. As uninspiring as it might be to watch, performances in November are not remembered nearly as clearly as any potential glory in May.

 

4) Frank Lampard has plenty of cause for hushed celebration. The doubts surrounding his coaching acumen are gradually dissipating with each game; strolling over a trap Pep Guardiola jumped head first into last week only strengthens that suspicion. The naivety that undermined his and Chelsea’s progression last season seems a distant memory. This required no little maturity.

Chelsea have now drawn successive Big Six games 0-0 in laughably contrasting manners. They had more than twice as many shots here as they did at Old Trafford in October, switching relatively seamlessly between a side happy to defend and one leading the attacks. Mourinho played for the draw – whatever he insists – and Lampard seemed happy enough to play along.

 

5) The question then is what he could have done differently to affect a result his contemporary clearly wanted. The starting line-up was solid, the midfield three of Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante and Mason Mount providing poise, protection and pressing, while the defence and attack essentially chose itself. But his substitutions, while positive on the surface, were futile. Olivier Giroud would have feasted on crosses that Eric Dier and Joe Rodon managed to defend by not really defending, while Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz were given no real time to make an impact. Hakim Ziyech needed removing long before the 83rd minute, both due to his early booking and general ineffectiveness.

It is, of course, rather simplistic to criticise a manager’s substitutions after a 0-0 draw at home. If any of the three players Lampard brought on had scored it would have been labelled a masterstroke. It’s just that none were really given much time to do what was asked of them and Chelsea didn’t actually change their approach to suit them.

 

6) A word for Rodon, the latest beneficiary of his manager’s strange penchant for blooding young centre-halves in important games when concentration in defence is imperative. The Welshman did Tomas Kalas, Japhet Tanganga and Mourinho proud with a solid enough offering.

It was not without fault. One incident in the 11th minute saw him caught on the halfway line by Abraham, resulting in Werner scoring a narrowly offside goal. A couple of early passes went awry before Abraham’s movement dumbfounded him on a few crosses and Giroud almost punished a late, short back pass. But considering his most recent league start was spent trying to quell Tom Bradshaw and Mason Bennett, this was an admirable step-up not without a couple of stumbles. Where it leaves Davinson Sanchez is a point for another day.

 

7) The suspicion was that Chelsea would take the initiative but leave themselves susceptible to being caught on the counter more often than Orville Richard Burrell protesting his spousal fidelity. Proof arrived after little more than ten minutes when Tottenham turned defence into a sudden break through Son, Ndombele, Bergwijn, Sergio Reguilon and Kane, resulting in Bergwijn curling an effort over from a decent position.

Yet that was one of few moments Tottenham genuinely pierced through Chelsea with one of their trademark counter-attacks. Another opportunity presented itself just before the half-hour mark as Bergwijn combined with Kane and Son once more but that also fizzled out at the Dutchman’s feet. The Blues deserve credit for putting embers out across the pitch, not least chief firefighter Kante. That asterisk that was placed against Chelsea’s recent defensive improvement with regards to the standard of opposition can be removed. They look remarkably balanced and resolute.

 

8) Much of that will be put down to Mendy and Thiago Silva, justifiably so. But Zouma has been allowed to quietly establish himself as a well-rounded centre-half in their shadows. One interception to thwart a Tottenham attack in the second half pointed to a player who has come into his own this season. While the true depth of his passing still needs refinement he did not lose a single header all game and has benefited from playing alongside an experienced, calm partner in a more settled unit.

No longer should the Frenchman fill anyone with fear. After two titles, a relegation and one campaign next to Michael Keane, the rollercoaster that has been Zouma’s Premier League career might have entered a rather boringly consistent high point. Even if that stoppage-time pass to Lucas Moura represented a whiplash-inducing dip.

 

9) The star of the first half was undoubtedly Ndombele, whose impact had sadly diminished by the point of his scheduled removal for Giovani Lo Celso on the hour. The difference in Tottenham’s performance levels before and after half-time can be roughly matched against his degree of fitness: at 100% he was vital in breaking the press and beating a couple of players at once before splitting the lines with a quick pass, but as Ndombele laboured, Tottenham seriously struggled to advance and were penned in with alarming regularity.

At one stage he danced away from Kante and Abraham on the halfway line and played Bergwijn in to win a corner on the left. A while later he skipped between Kante and Silva on the byline, cutting inside to win a free-kick and carve a set-piece chance out of nothing with no support. On both occasions a simple change of direction opened Chelsea up, spinning one of the best defensive midfielders on the continent each time. If he had stayed on and at that level – or if Lo Celso replicated his game well enough – Tottenham would have won this.

 

10) None of his teammates produced anything quite as coherent all game. Kane and Son had by far their worst performances in some time, both isolated and unable to combine at any point aside from a moment on the half-hour when Kante intercepted an attempted one-two on the edge of the area. Bergwijn was also thoroughly disappointing and while the lack of Gareth Bale was understandable, the mind inevitably lingered to how the Chelsea full-backs might have reacted to having to defend. They might have keeled over with shock.

 

11) At the other end of that particular scale, Ziyech had plenty of the ball but was so poor, while Werner found himself one-on-one against Aurier on a single occasion: his offside goal. Why Chelsea did not return to that well is a mystery.

Then there was Abraham, he of four off-target shots and eight passes in 78 minutes. There were flashes of inspiration – when he exposed Rodon and dropped deep to combine well with Werner – but everything collapsed in front of goal. In the first five minutes of the second half James whipped in two sensational crosses on the penalty spot yet Abraham contrived to connect with neither. He is clearly a good player with a future at Chelsea, it’s just that he lacks that final bit of composure and nuance.

 

12) Mount is the Chelsea academy product, along with James, who has an undoubted first-team future. He offers something of everything: drive and dribbling; one-touch passing and wonderful diagonals; tenacity in the tackle. The 21-year-old was perhaps the only player to bypass both Pierre-Emile Hojgbjerg and Moussa Sissoko in one move, evading both before curling over in the first half.

The shot with ten minutes to play that forced a fine save from Lloris was in complete contrast with Lampard’s post-match assertion that it is pointless trying to play through the middle of this Tottenham team. Mount could have made much more of the central space outside Tottenham’s area and against a low block if Chelsea focused there a little more.

 

13) What animals need to be sacrificed for Ndombele and Lo Celso to play in the same team and restore equilibrium to 2020? I’m more than happy to sort it.

 

14) Serge bloody Aurier, then. As impressive as the Mourinho restoration project with Ndombele has been, few ever doubted there was a talent there to work with and coax out into the mould pre-fit for him. The same could not be said of Aurier, who has looked beyond rescuing at numerous points of his Tottenham career.

Dier and Reguilon were also great and worthy of mention but for Aurier to slot into a defence that was supposed to accommodate Matt Doherty is little short of an actual miracle, considering the player he once was. His manager need not be “afraid” for at least another week.

 

15) Any newspaper giving Kane higher than a 5/10 should be disbanded. There will be no further questions.

 

16) Chelsea are now on their longest unbeaten Premier League run since November 2018. For Tottenham, their best such sequence since April of that year. Since they both drew 3-3 on the weekend of October 17, each side has kept four clean sheets and conceded only one goal, while making great progress in Europe.

You can see why Lampard and Mourinho approached the meeting in this manner; it still feels as though one card falling could bring the entire house down, so any risk here outweighed the potential reward. But credit to these managers for establishing stable foundations in the most difficult of circumstances and unlikeliest of settings. Chelsea and Tottenham both being simultaneously sensible will never feel right.

Matt Stead

 

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