Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2 match report: Chelsea closing in on Champions League qualification and another crack at the big time
Spurs needed a late equaliser to salvage a point
They are not quite the “deadly machine”, the description Andre Villas-Boas gave to the Chelsea team of the Jose Mourinho era, but the present incarnation is slowly but surely finding its way towards a place in the Champions League elite next summer.
Two games from the end of the season and after the tumult of another mad nine months, Rafa Benitez is within reach of delivering them to the promised land of Champions League football. If it falls nicely for them this summer Jose Mourinho will breeze back in for another crack at the big time and he might even bring Wayne Rooney with him.
It was far from a perfect night and twice they lost the lead before finally losing the initiative at the end of the match to a Tottenham Hotspur side who suddenly found the confidence to go for the win. Rarely has Gareth Bale, twice voted the outstanding player of the season, looked quite so mediocre recently as he did tonight but even so Chelsea came close in those final stages to giving him a Hollywood ending to the evening.
That was a Bale free-kick conceded on the edge of the area by a tired Ramires as Chelsea threatened to undo all the good work that had put them in a position of supremacy. There were periods of the game when they might have ground Spurs into the dust, but to the credit of Andre Villas-Boas' team they never gave up hope that they might prise a victory and after their second equaliser, from Gylfi Sigurdsson, they almost did.
Yet the result means that the chance to claim a Champions League place is now out of Spurs' hands. Even if they take six points from their last two games they need Arsenal, one point ahead in fourth place, to drop points against Wigan at home or Newcastle away in order to let their rivals back in. Three points ahead of them in third place, Chelsea are still catchable in theory but that is looking like a tall order for Villas-Boas's side.
Not that Benitez himself will expect any thanks from his club's supporters for the position Chelsea find themselves in now. He was booed for bringing on Yossi Benayoun for Oscar in the last six minutes and then barracked with the chant “You don't know what you're doing”, while Frank Lampard languished on the bench. As for John Terry this was the third straight game he spent as a substitute.
As exercised as he ever gets, Benitez responded to questions about his substitutions after the game with a degree of indignation. “In Spain we have a phrase 'It's easy to see the bulls from the fence,'” he said. There was no question that his team tired at the end of their 66th game of the season and let Spurs back into a match they should have won long before that.
A tumble from Ramires after the hour when he had only Hugo Lloris to beat with Chelsea 2-1 up at that stage, was a pivotal moment in the game. Had he scored, Chelsea would surely have gone on to win the game and yet they found themselves dragged back into it.
Spurs were blitzed for much of the first half and the goals from Oscar and Ramires only represented a fraction of the dominance that Chelsea had at times in the game. There was not much margin for doubt, from the very start, that this was a game that lived up to the billing. Among the home side it was mostly the brilliant Eden Hazard who stood out.
This was arguably Benitez's strongest team, with the exception of Fernando Torres who was picked ahead of Demba Ba in attack. David Luiz started in midfield and you could quibble over his best position but otherwise this team looked like the A-string.
On ten minutes Gary Cahill met Juan Mata's corner from the right and at the back post Oscar got a head to the ball to steer it inside the goal. When Michael Dawson got his head in front of a Hazard shot from the left that looked destined for the far corner of Lloris' goal, you wondered how long they could hold out before the second goal arrived.
Within a minute Spurs had got their equaliser. Between them Hazard and Ramires conspired to lose possession in midfield to Scott Parker and Lewis Holtby and then Emmanuel Adebayor was fed the ball deep inside his own half. He ran and ran and kept on running with Cahill inexplicably backing off when a challenge would have diverted the Spurs man. That took nothing away from a glorious lofted shot over Petr Cech and into the far corner.
Chelsea's second goal, however, was a masterpiece. It started with a throw-in on the right side in their own half and five passes later, Torres played in Ramires who stuck the ball beyond Lloris with his toe.
As they had at the start of the game, Chelsea took a hold of the match at the start of the second half and should have put the result beyond the reach of their opponents. Never more so than when Ramires fell over at the crucial moment just after the hour.
In one act of insouciance, David Luiz followed Holtby all the way over to the touchline and brazenly eavesdropped his conversation with Villas-Boas. Later the Spurs manager accused his former player of something and a sharp exchange took place between them. “He's a friend of mine,” Villas-Boas later explained about Luiz, “it's part of his character.”
Spurs came again, this time through Sigurdsson who had replaced the disappointing Aaron Lennon just after the hour. Spurs's second equaliser looked to have a moment of offside in it, on this occasion when Adebayor received the ball from Benoit Assou-Ekotto. His flick found Sigurdsson who demonstrated what a confident finisher he is with a shot beyond Cech.
Spurs have won just three in their last eight league games and must prevail over Stoke City on Sunday to have any chance of staying in contention for the Champions League places. Villas-Boas said that Moussa Dembele has an “80 per cent chance” of being fit for the game.
There was that late Bale free-kick which floated harmlessly into Cech's arms when the destiny of the season could have been altered. He cannot rescue them every time, although they have rarely needed a win as much as they did tonight.
Man of the match Hazard.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee M Dean (Merseyside).
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