The 25-year anniversary of Tottenham Hotspur’s last victory at Stamford Bridge will pass in February, a run that began as a historical oddity but has become entrenched in the last decade as one has turned into a modern European super-club and the other remained a plain old club.
The gulf will rarely have been better expressed than tonight when, in a four-minute first half burst that followed an excellent start to the game by Spurs, Eden Hazard and then Didier Drogba struck and the weight of history bore down on the away side. This was what genuine league title contenders do, and when the surge came from Chelsea there was nothing that Mauricio Pochettino’s team could do about it.
In their current form, it is not enough simply to be good if you hope to tame Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, you have to be outstanding. Spurs let the home side in for the first goal after 19 minutes – sloppy defending by Aaron Lennon down the right, and then calamitous goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris for the second – and the game was up. There were 22 minutes gone and Spurs were already coming to terms with the reality that they were not going to win at Stamford Bridge, again.
For the rest of the game, Spurs never so much resembled the proverbial younger brother locked in futile, determined pursuit of his older sibling – little legs propelling him on but the gap just getting wider and wider. The substitute Loic Remy displaced any doubt in Spurs’ minds that something could be salvaged from the tie with a third goal on 74 minutes which, in the course of scoring, he ruthlessly shrugged Jan Vertonghen to the floor.
There were some crumbs of comfort for Pochettino, not least the sheer bloody-mindedness of Harry Kane who refused to give up, watched from the stands by Roy Hodgson. Otherwise there were mismatches all over the pitch, especially at right-back where Vlad Chiriches was co-opted to play against Hazard and did his very best.
In Chelsea’s defence, there was little to be concerned about, a bright early start from Spurs aside, even when Gary Cahill had to go off at half-time - what looked like a precaution following a clash of heads with Vertonghen. Kurt Zouma replaced him and the door was once again locked tight, with Mourinho able to give Cesc Fabregas the last 15 minutes of the game off.
They did not even miss the suspended Diego Costa, who will be back for Saturday’s visit to Newcastle United. Not so Nemanja Matic whose booking for a foul on Kane means he will miss that game and there must also be a doubt over Cahill. Mourinho’s team lost at St James’ Park last season and he will not wish to cede any ground to Manchester City at the weekend.
For the first 19 minutes, it might well have been Spurs’ best start to an away game at Stamford Bridge in living memory, a well-coordinated, no-holds-barred full court press that had the league leaders rocked back on their heels. That they were two goals down within 22 minutes was an unfortunate detail that rather spoiled the big picture for Pochettino’s team.
In those moments, Harry Kane, the hurricane, was a constant problem for Spurs defence, not least Cahill who he assiduously hassled and pressured on 11 minutes pinching the ball away from the defender and running on goal. His left foot shot missed the far post by inches, but was not quite as close as an earlier header that clipped Thibaut Courtois’ bar.
By then, Cahill had already been checked for concussion by the Chelsea medical staff and would later go off. Kane had drifted out left in the first four minutes and burst part Branislav Ivanovic in a way that no-one is usually permitted to do against arguably the best right-back in the Premier League. On that occasion Kane drew the foul and no one could deny Spurs were getting closer.
Not, unfortunately for Pochettino, close enough. On 19 minutes Spurs were treated to the kind of ruthlessness that better, more successful teams have in reserve for moments of high pressure. Ivanovic picked out Hazard on the left with a marvellous cross-field ball and the Belgian turned inside past Aaron Lennon to find Drogba in the area. Hazard took the return pass and beat Lloris at his near post.
In that split second, Spurs found themselves contemplating all sorts of questions. Why did Lennon not track Hazard’s run? Why did Lloris allow himself to be beaten at his near post? Where was Chiriches, ostensibly his team’s right-back? And then the more pressing concern, how had they allowed such a promising position to slip away?
It soon got worse three minutes later when Lloris’ woefully miscued clearance dropped straight to Hazard and from there the ball was moved quickly on to Oscar and to Drogba, whose run had caught the Spurs defence square. He beat Lloris for the second time in three minutes, his second league goal of his second spell at the club. What ruthlessness from the home team, and all around them in white shirts shoulders slumped and team-mates’ gazes were avoided.
The fight seeped out of Spurs somewhat in the second half and the replacement of Ryan Mason, one of the better performers, with the lesser-spotted Paulinho, did nothing to improve matters. They hardly made a chance of any note and then Remy struck on 73 minutes. On for Drogba he made light work of Vertonghen’s attempts to manoeuvre him off the ball from Cesar Azpilicueta and placed his shot beyond Lloris.
At the end of the game, there was an embrace for Kane from John Terry and what looked like a few words of encouragement from the older man. Spurs’ young Englishman was one of the few to leave west London with any credit from this performance.
The last time Spurs won at this stadium, in any competition, was 27 matches ago when it looked a very different place, in a very different era. The thought occurred that Chelsea may well have refurbished Stamford Bridge not once, but twice, by the time that their local rivals do it again. They looked miles away this time.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Drogba.
Subs: Zouma/Cahill ht, Remy/Drogba 66, Mikel/Fabregas 76
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Chiriches, Fazio, Vertonghen, Davies; Mason, Bentaleb; Lennon, Lamela, Eriksson; Kane.
Subs: Chadli/Lennon 58, Paulinho/Mason 58, Soldado/Lamela 74
Booked: Chelsea Matic Tottenham Chiriches
Referee: M Dean
Man of the match: Hazard
Rating: 6Reuse content