Pochettino sets store by performance, not results
It might sound like a small mercy, and beside the point, but Tottenham played very well for the first 15 minutes. Their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, said beforehand that it was important that performances continued to improve, regardless of results, and so he might well have been slightly heartened by how Spurs began. Just as in their 4-1 defeat at Manchester City in October, there were glimpses of a good team on show, which is more than can be said of their defeats at City and Chelsea last season.
Over the game’s opening exchanges, Spurs played as they had when beating Everton on Sunday, hassling Chelsea into errors in their own half. Harry Kane headed one Aaron Lennon cross on to the bar, and later robbed Gary Cahill before flashing a shot across goal. Of course, it was not enough to win a game against such good opposition, but nor was it nothing.
Drogba proves more than a shadow of his old self
If anyone thought that Didier Drogba was only at Chelsea this season in a mentoring role, they cannot any longer. This was not vintage Drogba – how could it be? – but nor was it the early-season Drogba, who was so rusty in his touch and movement that he impaired Chelsea’s whole approach.
Jose Mourinho preferred Drogba to Loïc Rémy last night and it took only 19 minutes for vindication to come. Drogba set up the first goal, as the pivot in a sharp one-two with Eden Hazard, before scoring the second, holding off Jan Vertonghen – a significant athlete himself – and beating Hugo Lloris. He lasted just over an hour, but he did look like a player again.
Of course, Diego Costa is first choice and will always play when he is fit, but this level from Drogba is certainly a usable replacement.
Tottenham’s best men so often turn into their worst
Pochettino is certainly improving Tottenham’s ability to press high up and to counter-attack but every team, at some point in any game, is going to have to defend. And when Spurs were called upon to do that last night, they could not. It is not even Pochettino’s fault, but rather the result of simple individual errors, not from substandard players but from two of Spurs’ best.
Hugo Lloris is a brilliant goalkeeper but he was beaten at his near post for Hazard’s goal and he set up the second through a weak misdirected kick. Vertonghen, when fit and focused, is Spurs’ best outfield player and yet he was bundled over with disdain by Rémy for Chelsea’s third goal. This is a side of the game that is out of Pochettino’s control – he cannot physically play the game for his players – and he must have despaired to see his best men let him down.
Oscar and Hazard form twin engines of title thrust
There may come a point next year, when the Champions League kicks back in, that Oscar and Hazard tire but for now Chelsea’s 23-year-old twin engines are looking as sharp as ever. This is their third season at Stamford Bridge and, while Hazard has become the more explosive player, the two of them continue to make the difference.
Tonight it was Hazard, a constant threat, who scored the first while Oscar set up the second. If the Brazilian’s form dipped at the end of last season because of the World Cup, that looks far behind him now as he directs Chelsea’s attacks. The pair of them look hungrier and stronger than ever, and they will surely be rewarded in May.
Chelsea’s confidence comes from being on top
The remarkable thing, given how the rest of the game went, is how long Chelsea allowed themselves to be put on the back foot. Because when they turned their game on – just two or three minutes before Hazard’s opening goal – Tottenham could no longer lay a finger on them.
It was, in that sense, an impressively confident performance, from a side who were simply unruffled, by their dropped points on Saturday, by Manchester City’s performance on Sunday, or by Spurs’ good start here.
Some teams freeze under the spotlight but not this one. Mourinho, the master at leading from the front, will not allow it. “We don’t have pressure to lead,” as he said last month. “The pressure is for the ones who are coming from behind. To be first is easier than to be second.”Reuse content