Football: Tottenham's revival hopes threatened by Venglos factor

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Chelsea 6

A match of conflicting signals about the impact of foreign managers on English football. Ruud Gullit's unconventional wisdom helped Chelsea become only the second visitors ever to score six at Tottenham, while Christian Gross suffered a setback more redolent of Jozef Venglos than Arsene Wenger.

Dr Jo, it may be remembered, was the highly experienced Czechoslovak coach to whom Aston Villa turned after losing Graham Taylor. But like Gross, plucked from relative obscurity in Zurich, his command of English did not match his obvious urbanity, causing communication problems. Spurs must trust the similarities do not extend to an inability to attract signings of the requisite quality.

The Swiss said afterwards that he was still "assessing" his new charges, though he felt the existing squad had mid-table potential. Yet this was a defeat so crushing that there can be no doubt he urgently needs to buy.

Therein lies a catch. Players need little persuading to move to Stamford Bridge because of Gullit's status as one of the most revered performers of his generation, not to mention Chelsea's participation in Europe. Gross has no such reputation and can offer only a relegation struggle.

The next fortnight is likely to have a considerable bearing on whether he bridges the credibility gap. Spurs meet Coventry and Barnsley, two places above them and below them respectively. With Ramon Vega starting a five-game suspension, John Scales out with injuries suffered against Chelsea, and Sol Campbell still doubtful, Gross' first venture into the transfer market may well be to buy a centre-back.

Having worked abroad until last month, he will not be as aware of British players as those managers who have watched several matches a week for longer than they care to remember. So Spurs' scouting network had better be good. Maybe Alan Sugar, whom one has always suspected of Michael Knighton tendencies, could offer advice.

Tore Andre Flo's hat-trick might suggest that that the absence of Vega and Scales can scarcely make matters worse. However, Gross' compatriot was the best player in a team who defended wretchedly from back to front. David Ginola rightly won praise for his industry on the ball, but he was standing around rather than closing down Frank Leboeuf as he set up two goals like some playmaker manque.

Similarly, Spurs seemed surprised by Gianfranco Zola's propensity to drift into midfield. New as Gross may be to the London scene, the Italian's capacity to inflict damage from deep positions is so well known it carries a government health warning. Despite Spurs' central midfield staffed by combative rather than creative players, Zola ran free.

Dan Petrescu was also allowed too much space. If his forays caught the eye of Glenn Hoddle, whose England side will encounter the Romanian at the World Cup, the marksmanship of Flo should certainly rate a mention the next time Colin Calderwood speaks to Scotland's manager, Craig Brown.

The Norwegian was the beneficiary of Gullit's disregard for the maxim about never changing a winning team. After hailing Chelsea's 4-0 defeat of Derby as "perfect", he left out Mark Hughes, presumably on the basis that the warrior forward is banned for the next three games. Other managers pay lip service to the concept of squad rotation. Gullit exploits it without fear or favour.

Chelsea continue to look like Manchester United's most plausible challengers. After a deceptively even first half, the rhythm and precision of their attacking was formidable.

They have made a habit of upsetting United over the years. Now they must stay with them as doggedly as Leeds in 1992 and Blackburn three years later. While five defeats in the first third of a season is usually too many for title aspirants, Chelsea have drawn just once. This second six- goal spree on their travels also indicates that their habit of losing to lowly placed sides is behind them.

Embarrassingly for Spurs, the programme listed results between the clubs under the headline "Close Encounters". With hindsight, the faithful may almost have wished the margin had actually been greater, because their record home defeat remains a 6-0 drubbing by Arsenal. Gross could do his standing a power of good by evening that 62-year ignominy, if only partially, in the Christmas derby.

Goals: Flo (40) 0-1; Vega (44) 1-1; Di Matteo (47) 1-2; Petrescu (59) 1-3; Flo (63) 1-4; Nicholls (78) 1-5; Flo (90) 1-6.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Vega, Scales (Allen, 71), Wilson; Fox, Nielsen (Anderton, 60), Calderwood, Sinton (Edinburgh, 56); Ferdinand, Ginola. Substitutes not used: Mabbutt, Bardsen (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-1-1): De Goey; Sinclair, Duberry, Leboeuf, Babayaro (Nicholls, 20); Petrescu, Di Matteo, Wise, Le Saux; Flo; Zola. Substitutes not used: Vialli, M Hughes, Myers, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

Booking: Chelsea: Di Matteo.

Man of the match: Zola.

Attendance: 28,476.