Mutu magic elevates the Bridge

Chelsea 4 Tottenham Hotspur 2
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The Independent Football

It's the story of a footballer, the most gifted of his generation, who played for and managed his country before eventually returning the glory days to his first love. Or not. Glenn Hoddle's tenuous tenure at Tottenham Hotspur may not be the stuff that Hollywood producers - currently casting around for a Premiership club to feature in their latest blockbuster - give the green light to. After all, they usually only deal in happy endings. It's better box office. And Hoddle's story now looks like being an increasingly brief encounter, especially after this defeat which consigns his club to their worst five-match League start for a decade.

Apparently Stamford Bridge meets the film-makers' criteria, although Trevor Birch, Chelsea's chief executive until Peter Kenyon was given his job, may disagree. Birch handed in his resignation before this match but was there to bear-hug the players prior to kick-off. Chelsea's coach Claudio Ranieri may also not concur. The Italian is spending so much time looking over his shoulder, he may as well be fitted with wing mirrors. Can he stay ahead? "Of course I can do it," he said. "I don't sack myself." In winning, Ranieri maintained Chelsea's voodoo hold over Spurs who have beaten them just once in 32 League and cup games. That victory, two seasons ago, was a 5-1 hammering on the way to the Worthington Cup final. It must seem a long time ago.

Yesterday's executioner was the mercurial and merciless Adrian Mutu, so far the best of the new arrivals. All four goals went to the heart - through the heart - of Spurs. "They were poor goals defensively," said a defensive Hoddle afterwards. "We made individual errors and unless we improve on that it does not matter how much good football you play." This explanation is becoming a mantra.

But they did play good football - at least for half an hour. The tone was set inside 45 seconds with Jamie Redknapp's gather and shot from distance forcing a sharp save from Carlo Cudicini. Redknapp was prominent in a committed, error-strewn opening quarter as Chelsea struggled to settle on the newly-watered turf. "We are not a team yet," pleaded Ranieri. "Maybe they [the players] think we are a strong team but we are not at the moment."

It might help if he did not make so many changes. As ever, the self-confessed "Tinkerman" - who celebrates his third anniversary in charge on Thursday - was full of surprises (one newspaper is now offering a substantial cash prize for anyone who can correctly guess his line-ups). Amazingly, his starting XI featured just two of the £110m worth of summer purchases. The £32m of Argentinian beef, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo, were left in the stands after playing in South America and arriving back late. Caracas? It seemed bananas. But Ranieri is spoilt for choice. His latest signing, Claude Makelele, was on the bench. One wonders what Roman Abramovich - and his 54 guests - made of it all.

Spurs also made changes after Simon Davies picked up a "slight strain". It was more than a slight strain to Spurs' chances. His replacement, Darren Anderton, however, created the first goal, linking with Stephen Carr before swinging the ball over for Frédéric Kanouté, who was somehow allowed space. The Frenchman calmly slipped it under Cudicini for Spurs' first goal in three hours and 43 minutes of football. "Where's your money gone?" sang the visiting fans and Ranieri immediately sent Joe Cole (£6m) to warm up. It was a good question which almost became more pertinent on 30 minutes when Anthony Gardner planted a free header wide. Ranieri was furious, instantly switching Damien Duff inside to occupy the visitors' midfield. It worked.

How Spurs came to rue Gardner's miss, since a header at the other end soon counted. Frank Lampard rose easily at the back post to meet a cross from the incisive winger, Jesper Gronkjaer. In the stands Abramovich had his hands on his head - Hoddle could have been forgiven for striking a similar pose. His despair deepened. The mesmeric Mutu picked up Duff's clever pass inside Ledley King and steered the ball low into the net before half-time. King was quickly substituted. As well as his injured pride, he was suffering from a damaged hamstring.

Soon the Romanian was calling the tune and though the perennially pouting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was slow to keep in step, it was also enough to wrong-foot a one-paced Spurs midfield. On the hour Hoddle introduced loan signing Stéphane Dalmat to try and gain a grip.

But it was two other substitutes, Makelele and Cole - reduced to another 20-minute cameo - who combined to release Mutu. With customary composure he waited and then rolled the ball beyond Kasey Keller for his fourth goal in three games. The deed was done, although the relentless Mutu missed out on a hat-trick when he steered astray after Keller's spill.

Kanouté reacted sharply after Bobby Zamora's effort hit a post but Hasselbaink marked his 100th League appearance with a tap-in to restore the two-goal cushion as Dalmat dozed. "We did not show enough resilience to hang on in there," said Hoddle. The question is: will he? Next up for the former Chelsea manager is another of his old clubs, Southampton. The inescapable truth is he may soon be the former Spurs manager too.

Chelsea 4
Lampard 35, Mutu 37, 75, Hasselbaink 90

Tottenham Hotspur 2
Kanouté 25, 87

Half-time: 2-1 Attendance: 41,165

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