Chelsea remain unbeaten after smacking Spurs in London affair
For a little while, it seemed the story might be one of a newly vulnerable Chelsea.
After failing to break down Sunderland on Saturday, the league leaders found itself facing an early storm. But it survived, went ahead after a moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard, and from then on controlled the game, recording a 3-0 win over Tottenham that leaves them six points clear of a resurgent Manchester City at the top of the table.
Chelsea performed like a champion, riding the early punches before asserting its authority. Would it have been different if Spurs had taken one of their early chances? Perhaps, but it didn’t, which is typical of Spurs this season. In fact, just typical of Spurs. Again there was great promise; and again there was little in the way of end product. There is a quality in football that is hard to define, a stout willingness, a hardness that allows teams to ride out the bad periods and take advantage of the good. Jose Mourinho has it in abundance; Spurs does not.
There had been signs in the 2-1 win over Everton on Sunday that Tottenham was finding its rhythm, but still, its start at Stamford Bridge was startling. Spurs haven’t beaten Chelsea away since 1990 — when Gary Lineker scored the winner — but it began with tremendous verve. This was the youngest Spurs lineup in six years — itself probably an indication of how wasteful much of its recent spending has been — and perhaps meant it wasn’t as scarred by previous failures as some recent sides have been.
Jan Vertonghen put an early header just over, then Harry Kane, again inspirational, took over. He struck the angle of post and bar with a header from Aaron Lennon’s cross and then surged by Gary Cahill before driving his shot across the face of goal. Kane is still just 21, but has been the one undoubted plus for Tottenham this season. It’s not just his goals — 12 of them this season — but his exuberance. He ran 8 miles in the win over Everton and was tireless again at Stamford Bridge, tracking back, pressing, leading the line with enthusiasm and intelligence.
But Chelsea is Chelsea and Tottenham is Tottenham and the natural order soon reasserted itself. Hazard, so well marshalled by Santiago Vergini on Saturday, turned cleverly to create space, played a one-two with Didier Drogba and, as Lennon failed to track his run, beat Hugo Lloris from close range.
The France goalkeeper got his hand to the shot and there was a thought he might have done better, although the shot was powerfully struck. He was clearly at fault for the second, though. Three minutes later, he scuffed a clearance straight to Hazard. He played it to Oscar who laid in Drogba to score with a smart finish.
And that, really, was game over. Tottenham battled on — this wasn’t a capitulation like the 4-0 defeat last season, when Spurs collapsed after holding Chelsea for 56 minutes in the game that prompted Tim Sherwood’s rant about the "character" of the side — but it felt like nothing more than the obligatory playing out of the final hour and a bit of the game.
Loic Remy, who had come on for Drogba, added a third after 75 minutes, running on to a flick from Hazard, showing great strength to hold off Vertonghen and then wrong-footing Lloris. That, his third goal this season, was perhaps a point made to Mourinho, who again preferred Drogba as his replacement for the suspended Diego Costa, but it also seemed to say something about the way Spurs can be bullied. Mauricio Pochettino, it’s been suggested, has been disappointed by the lack of leaders in his side, a lack of those players who can instill that winning attitude, and this seemed symptomatic: Vertonghen is experienced and physically imposing and yet he was brushed aside with almost embarrassing ease.
It also says much for Chelsea’s strength. In Diego Costa’s absence, the other two strikers in the squad both scored. Mourinho has been oddly loath to rotate this season — Costa aside, this was the same side for the fourth game running — but the options are there. City’s return to form, thumping Sunderland to make it three league wins in a row, suggests the title race may not be quite the procession it had looked like being, but there is already daylight between it and Chelsea, who shows no sign of slowing down.