The year 2016 has brought shock after seismic shock, but not a Tottenham win at Stamford Bridge. Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Nelson Mandela in prison, and football fans still behind fences when Gary Lineker secured their last win here.
On Saturday, they looked on course to finally break the 26-year hoodoo, toying with Chelsea for 40 minutes and taking a lead through Christian Eriksen’s superb 10th-minute goal. Then, in a six-minute spell either side of half-time, Chelsea struck twice, through Pedro and Victor Moses. This restored the Blues to the Premier League summit, a position briefly surrendered to Liverpool in late afternoon, and inflicted Spurs’ first top flight defeat of the season.
It was a match which answered some questions about Chelsea, who had not previously had to come from behind since moving to a three-man defence with wing-backs, but raised further doubts about Spurs. They did not fall apart as badly as they did here last year, but they again looked short of gamecraft when under pressure.
Not that this seemed likely to be a concern in the opening period. The old line about form going out of the window in derby matches is not usually backed up by results but it was the case for the first half. Tottenham arrived off the back of a midweek misadventure in Monaco and with one win in nine games. Chelsea had not conceded in six Premier League matches, all of them won. Yet it was Tottenham who made the confident start, knocking the ball around with arrogant ease as Chelsea chased shadows.
The home club were offering 25 per cent off in the megastore to mark Black Friday weekend but the concessions were not supposed to extend to the pitch. But with ten minutes gone Dele Alli was allowed to drive forward to the fringe of the Chelsea penalty box before being challenged. When David Luiz did engage Alli popped the ball off to Eriksen who had drifted, untracked, off the right flank. The Dane took full advantage of the space granted him, unleashing a 20-yard shot which swerved away from Thibaut Courtois and inside the left-hand post.
It was the first goal Chelsea had conceded in 600 Premier League minutes, and the first in seven matches since switching to a three-man defence. Bolstered by it Spurs became even more dominant. Uncharacteristically Chelsea struggled to gain, or retain, the ball. Diego Costa was isolated, Eden Hazard anonymous, a frustrated Luiz was booked for a hack at Harry Kane. On the touchline Antonio Conte was in turns furious and bewildered.
For all Spurs’ control, however, clear-cut chances were few. Victor Wanyama, Eriksen and Moussa Dembele shot over from range, from a similar distance Kane at least tested Courtois, but not enough to concern him. And, as so often, the superior team paid for their failure to convert possession into goals. Shortly before the break Pedro was picked out on the edge of the box. He created space by dummying to pass inside, then outside, then used that space to curl an exquisite shot past Hugo Lloris.
Spurs still looked shocked when they went into half-time. Whatever Mauricio Pochettino said to them failed to restore their equilibrium for they conceded again early in the second period. Caught in possession in midfield they were then drawn to Costa’s run down the inside left channel. This left Moses completely unmarked to run in from the right and onto Costa’s cut-back and drill the ball in via the legs of Lloris and Jan Vertonghen.
The reversal of fortunes brought back bitter memories for the visitors of the tempestuous match here in May, their last visit, when they lost a two-goal lead, their heads, and title hopes. Had Marcos Alonso put the match beyond them, as he should have before the hour, they may have lost their discipline again.
Instead they regrouped, and gradually began to press. After Kane carved out a half-chance for Eriksen Conte decided it was time to dig in. Willian came on for Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic for Moses. Chelsea circled the wagons. Spurs did not lack for desire but they had neither the nous nor, after a draining week, the energy, to pierce the blue blanket.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses (Ivanovic, 79), Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro (Oscar, 83), Hazard (Willian, 76); Costa.
Subs not used: Begovic, Fabregas, Batshuayi, Chalobah.
Tottenham (3-5-2): Lloris; Walker, Vertonghen, Dier, Wimmer; Wanyama, Dembele (Janssen, 83); Eriksen, Alli (Nkoudou, 73), Son (Winks, 65), Kane.
Subs not used: Vorm, Trippier, Onomah, Carter-Vickers.
Referee: M OliverReuse content