16 Conclusions: Tottenham 3-1 Chelsea

Date published: Saturday 24th November 2018 8:50 - Steven Chicken

1) A demolition, but not the one most of us expected. Tottenham were surprisingly excellent; Chelsea were utterly, utterly rotten, and the late goal they scored flatters them.

It is strange that we are still so surprised when Spurs do well. If you put together a table across all Premier League games since Mauricio Pochettino arrived at White Hart Lane in May 2014, the top six would be as follows: Manchester City (358 points), Chelsea (328), Tottenham (327), Arsenal (308), Manchester United (307), Liverpool (306).

Despite remaining so remarkably consistent over more than four years, they are still rarely spoken about in the same glowing terms as City, Liverpool or Chelsea, with the conversation always turning to how long it can possibly last.

This is exactly the kind of performance and result Tottenham need if they are to shake off that long-standing image problem, and it came at just the right time: they will now finish the weekend third, two points ahead of Chelsea, instead of potentially slipping to fifth, behind Arsenal on goal difference and four points behind what would have been a still-unbeaten top three. Now they need to show they deserve to continue being taken seriously.


2) Perhaps it is because of that shaky reputation that while we were all busy wondering how Spurs were going to cope with Chelsea, we forgot to ask how Chelsea were going to deal with Tottenham.

Horrendously, as it turns out. Their defending in the early minutes was reminiscent of the don’t-give-a-crap idling that was on show at times under Antonio Conte last season – such as their meek 1-0 surrender to Manchester City – and that allowed Tottenham to practically walk through them with incredible ease.

That carelessness was signalled less than 90 seconds in, with Kepa Arrizabalaga half-heartedly chipping a goal-kick straight to Christian Eriksen, completely unmarked and just 30 yards from goal with three Spurs attackers ahead of him. They were lucky to escape on that occasion, with Serge Aurier getting caught offside to end the move; yet despite surviving what should have been a sphincter-tightening moment, Chelsea remained disturbingly slack.


3) Indeed, the move that led to the opening goal actually came from a Chelsea free-kick in their own half. Devoid of any other ideas, they simply played the ball to Eden Hazard and then gave the Belgian no passing options, leaving him to try and weave his way through a pack of Spurs players in the midfield. Inevitably, he lost possession, Tottenham launched a counter-attack, and David Luiz committed a needless foul on Harry Kane out on the Tottenham right wing. Lots of people seemed to think Kane had dived to win the foul; this correspondent disagrees.

Eriksen duly crossed that set piece to the near post and Dele Alli was allowed to win the header far too easily, with neither of his two markers – Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic – even bothering to jump with him.

As a final condemnation, Kepa was caught flat-footed by the glancing header, and could only flap uselessly at it as it flew into the net.

No one part of that litany of Chelsea errors led directly to the goal, but the opener was death by a thousand self-imposed cuts. Sides as good as Chelsea simply shouldn’t make such a large number of simple errors.


4) The second goal was hardly any better from a Chelsea perspective, with nobody taking any responsibility for picking up Kane out on the Spurs left wing: Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger all had the opportunity to step to the England striker, but none of them did, leaving the trio looking dumbfounded at one another when a man who has scored 111 goals in his last 151 Premier League games cut inside and fired the ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

With just 16 minutes gone, Spurs were now 2-0 up against undefeated Chelsea. This was already a world away from the way they were completely outclassed against the division’s other two undefeated sides, Liverpool and Manchester City.


5) That said, Tottenham were a little bit lucky not to have a penalty given against them when Juan Foyth bundled into Hazard from behind just half a step inside the penalty box. For whatever reason, a foul was not given.

However, if we’re looking at opportunities in between the two first-half goals, the advantage was with Tottenham. Son Heung-Min twice got through on goal, first firing well over the bar and then seeing his second effort kept out by Kepa’s feet.

Though he will have been rightly disappointed with his finishing on those occasions, the Korean looked sprightly and active, time and again acting as Tottenham’s outlet when launching counter-attacks by hanging out in the space behind Marcos Alonso, who was often preoccupied by Aurier. Once again, Chelsea bafflingly failed to take heed from the clearest of warnings, and it would come back to bite them in the second half.


6) As has hopefully already been made clear, Chelsea were a shambles from back to front, but there was nobody who caught the eye for sheer incompetence quite like David Luiz.

Gary Neville recently spoke on the Quickly Kevin podcast about how when a defender has a bad day, it is pretty much entirely down to chance whether it will end up being remembered: if you made an error in a 3-1 win, you’ve got away with it, but give away a last-minute goal in the derby and your arse is grass, whatever that’s even supposed to mean. Luiz stretches that hypothesis to breaking point, because when he has a bad day, good god is it bad.

Here, he was terrible, and it had a compounding effect on the rest of his side: you can get away with midfielders failing to close players down if your centre-backs are on their game, but not if they make unnecessary tackles to give away free kicks in dangerous areas as he did for the first goal; or turn their bodies away from long shots, as he did for Kane’s strike; or overshoot their run to make a tackle to the extent that the attacker simply breezes past them, as Son did when going on to score in the second half.

Is there another player in world football whose worst performances are so hideously, outrageously beneath their best, or even their mean?


7) That’s enough Chelsea criticism for now, though obviously there is plenty more you could still pick at.

Instead, let’s finally give some credit where it’s due and give a healthy amount of praise to Mauricio Pochettino, for he got his selection spot on.

Tottenham constantly had three, often four players pressuring the Chelsea back line, and that is what led to the confusion in the midfield: they didn’t want to drop back to help the back four, but with such a threat in behind them, nor could they push up too much to try and win the ball from Tottenham’s own middle men, Eriksen and Moussa Sissoko.

That Eriksen made good use of this was unsurprising, but Sissoko also did more than his part, acting as the ball-carrier between midfield and defence to wonderful effect. At one point in the build-up to Kane’s goal, he dribbled past a Chelsea player and then laid the ball off just as three others started converging on him, thus sending four players scrambling to recover their positions with just one, simple move. Sissoko maintained that kind of devastating bait-and-switch throughout the game, and it was mighty impressive.


8) Right-back Serge Aurier also balanced his game superbly, getting forward to join the attack to draw Alonso out of position and create all that space for Son, but also remaining disciplined enough to keep Hazard out of dangerous areas throughout much of the game, with some very able assistance from Sissoko.

It all added up to a frustrating day for Hazard, who has been similarly marked out of the game against both Manchester United and Everton in recent weeks. Chelsea have beaten Huddersfield 3-0, Arsenal 3-2, Burnley 4-0 and Crystal Palace 3-1 in games where Hazard only cameoed, but seem to struggle to know what to do when he is playing but nullified.

It is one of several issues for which Sarri will need to find a solution as the rest of the Premier League increasingly gets to grips with what his side is about.


9) The frustrating thing about that for Chelsea fans is that there is an obvious plan B, as we’ve been banging on about for weeks, and yet it’s one Maurizio Sarri seems very reluctant to deploy from the outset.

Alvaro Morata was once again anonymous, managing just three touches in the Spurs box during his 58 minutes on the pitch; Ross Barkley matched that in nearly half the time.

Olivier Giroud came on in the 76th minute, and scored with his only touch inside the penalty box, powering a header past Hugo Lloris from a perfect Cesar Azpilicueta cross. That, incidentally, meant the Frenchman had more shots on target than Morata’s big fat 0.

There was to be no big dramatic comeback, but it will surely have offered sufficient evidence to have Sarri question how long he can maintain Morata as his first-choice centre-forward.


10) But that’s skipping ahead: we need to talk about Son’s deserved and wonderfully-taken goal, however much assistance he might have got from Luiz obligingly running straight under his red rag.

Though he ended up taking the man of the match award essentially on the strength of that goal, performances like Son’s are always difficult to analyse, serving as a perfect example of why we don’t give player ratings on this site. To what extent is it fair to chastise a player for missing chances they have done superbly well to create for themselves?

He was faultless with Tottenham’s third goal, though, burning Jorginho for pace to race onto Alli’s excellent through-ball before cutting inside to skin Luiz and made the most of the luxury of having two equally good feet, firing a low left-footed shot into Kepa’s far corner.

It was no less than Son, Tottenham and Chelsea all deserved: the perfect encapsulation of the entire game in just one brief counter-attack.


11) Alli’s ball was truly superb, by the way, and Son was unsurprisingly quick to praise his team-mate in their giggling post-match interview.

Like Raheem Sterling or John Stones, Alli is one of those players who remains unfathomably young, with our fragile human brains apparently incapable of understanding that a player who debuted as a teenager six or seven years ago must still be in his early 20s now.

Sure enough, the Spurs midfielder is indeed still only 22, and after some understandably patchy spells of hot and cold, is beginning to show signs of a greater consistency and maturity.

Issues around his impetuousness might still linger – he was involved in a flare-up with Jorginho in the second half – but he has given no major signals that we need to worry about his development, or that he is off-track to fulfil his huge potential. Per his early-career forecasts, he is turning into exactly the kind of natural creator that Spurs and England alike can build their whole team around.


12) Giroud proved to be an excellent substitution for Sarri, but his others – Barkley for Kovacic, and Pedro for Morata – offered very little, leaving the impression that Chelsea’s options from the bench are all fine but hardly game-changing, with respect to Barkley’s late equaliser off the bench against Manchester United.

It is this that separates Chelsea – and most of the rest of the top five, truth be told – from Manchester City, who were able to bring on Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus in their comfortable 4-0 win over West Ham on the other side of London earlier in the day.

The January transfer window tends not to be a terribly active time these days, especially for the big clubs, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Chelsea, Liverpool et al go shopping for one or two impact substitutions. Easier said than done, of course.


13) This may be a tad nitpicky given how dominant this victory was, but Pochettino might be having a few words with his defence about the lack of a clean sheet in this game. Five from 13 games is by no means a bad return, but it’s also only one more than a clutch of other clubs including Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Southampton.

Tottenham have the least prolific attack of any of the current top five, and so can least afford to concede cheap goals if they are to maintain their pressure on the leaders of the pack.


14) This result brings Chelsea’s run of 18 unbeaten games to a close, and more than anything else, Sarri seemed surprised that it had taken so long for him to suffer his first defeat.

“I knew very well that we had some problems, and today we have seen that we have problems. We have to work and we have to improve,” he said after the game, while praising the efficacy of Tottenham’s counter-attacks.

If Tottenham’s long-standing issue is Spursiness, then Chelsea’s is the occasional propensity for players to seemingly decide they can’t be bothered. Sarri had warned his side that they needed to start well after starting too slowly in their previous two games; they not only failed to heed that, but turned in their worst performance of the season yet, with the very worst of it coming in the first 16 minutes. By the time they gathered any semblance of composure – and it was merely a semblance – they were out of the game.


15) Without meaning to disrespect anybody, Sarri will look at his fixture list between now and Christmas and perhaps begin to feel like he has a pretty kind run of fixtures in which to get things right: PAOK (H), Fulham (H), Wolves (A), Manchester City (H), Vidi (A), Brighton (A), Bournemouth (H), Leicester (H)

It’s not exactly a run of games against all of the bottom six, but one enormous, take-your-retinas-out-level-glaring exception aside, Chelsea will approach every one of those games as being winnable, while still providing enough of a test to keep any further complacency at bay.


16) Pochettino, meanwhile, was similarly cautious that his players now need not to let this victory go to their heads – as well he might, given the kind of display his opposition put on at Wembley.

“When you play well and the performance is good, it’s easy now to talk highly about the tactics of the team. I think here the most important [thing] is now to be quiet and relaxed and be humble because we have a lot of games and the most important thing is to move on.”

Too right: Tottenham’s own pre-festive run starts with them hosting Inter on Wednesday, and includes two trips to Arsenal, and away games against Leicester, Barcelona and Everton, with visits from Southampton and Burnley giving a little bit of respite. Their margin for error is extremely slender if they don’t want to slip back into the kind of crisis talks that (rightly or wrongly) surrounded the club back in September.

Steven Chicken is on Twitter


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