Football: Zola's mastery tour

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 1

Vega 43

Chelsea 6

Flo 40, 63, 90, Di Matteo 48, Petrescu 59, Nicholls 78

Attendance: 28,476

Christian Gross took charge of Tottenham at home for the first time yesterday and Chelsea took charge of the match. After initially seeming to show fresh spirit and some steel in midfield, Spurs were torn to pieces by Chelsea's counter-attacking and the wizardry of Gianfranco Zola. This was only their second six-goal defeat in 32 years. The last time it happened, they were relegated.

Gross's reaction was an echo of so many post-match remarks by his predecessor, Gerry Francis. "Our first half was OK, but they scored with every chance. When everybody's fit we can get into the middle of the table." But now John Scales has a fractured cheekbone and Ramon Vega is about to start a suspension.

Chelsea's arrival alongside Manchester United at the top of the table following an accomplished 4-0 defeat of Derby County last weekend was subsequently made to look like one of those defiant but desperate mid- race, token efforts lesser runners make when they come on to the shoulder of a world record holder. One day later United put everything in perspective, upping the pace and dismissing Blackburn, then yesterday jogging past Liverpool. Chelsea know the depth of the task, but are high on confidence.

Ruud Gullit again changed a winning side, bringing in Tore Andre Flo in place of Mark Hughes, but Spurs were rightly more concerned with subduing Zola. Vega and Scales took on that duty efficiently enough at first to allow Spurs to create a succession of attacks that contained more menace than the suffering faithful of White Hart Lane had seen for many a month. Hope stirred, but not strongly enough to last the distance.

That hope suffered its first setback in the 40th minute when Zola centred perfectly for Flo, head and shoulders above the defence, to nod in.

At least Spurs reacted positively. Five minutes later, and after a series of thwarted attempts, Andy Sinton slung a free-kick into the Chelsea goalmouth from out near the corner flag. Vega had decided to abandon defensive duties for a moment and stormed in towards the far post where he headed in with impressive venom.

But Zola was having none of Tottenham's brief resurgence. Just after half-time, he shielded the ball as he brushed off assaults and ran diagonally across the face of the penalty area before releasing Dan Petrescu. A quick centre and Roberto Di Matteo headed past Ian Walker.

A ball drifted from the half-way line by Frank Leboeuf somehow landed on the foot of Petrescu in the penalty area and with one touch he lifted it over Walker. Zola had instigated that move and four minutes later he opened the Spurs defence again, allowing Flo to use the space in which he had been allowed to roam to drive in Chelsea's fourth.

Zola's influence became incorrigible. With still 12 minutes left, he swept unopposed through midfield and placed the ball perfectly for substitute Mark Nicholls to tap in. Spurs had not only lost Zola but totally mislaid the grains of earlier optimism, and they even failed with a last minute offside trap which Flo sprang, shooting in the sixth off Walker's fingers.