Stalemate in the Stamford Bridge leg of London's triangular tournament for Champions' League places suited Tottenham better than Chelsea, but above all favoured Arsenal, who took advantage to consolidate third position. For almost an hour it was soporific stuff but by the end, Spurs, having not threatened until the last minute of the first half, had made the better chances.
In that one attack just before half-time, they had three opportunities and later their best player, Gareth Bale, would head against the bar, while Chelsea's best, Gary Cahill, cleared off the line. Against that, Juan Mata curled a free-kick against the inside of a post, but overall the home side lacked the urgency necessary for a team starting – now staying – five points behind.
Their performance did not bode well for Tuesday's first leg away to Benfica, especially since Roberto Di Matteo did not appear to be holding anyone back. He will hope to have Branislav Ivanovic, who was outstanding against Napoli, available after missing yesterday but otherwise few changes will be envisaged. Here he used a 4-2-3-1 with Mata behind Didier Drogba but the Ivorian, who often excels in these derby games, was handled well by his old team-mate William Gallas and Younès Kaboul.
Indeed all four centre-halves were among the outstanding performers. So too was Petr Cech, making what his manager acknowledged were "crucial" saves from Rafael van der Vaart during added time in the first half and Bale late in the second.
"First half, we were too slow in possession," Di Matteo said. "We were looking to close the gap on Spurs but we have to give them credit for defending well." Harry Redknapp was understandably more buoyant, claiming: "I thought we were excellent, a good performance against a good team. It's a big point that keeps them five points behind us."
While Chelsea are in Lisbon, Tottenham will be hoping to set up an FA Cup semi-final against them by beating Bolton in the match abandoned when Fabrice Muamba collapsed last Saturday. "We're all just so pleased for Fabrice with what's happened since then," Redknapp said last night. "It's a miracle. When you saw him going down the tunnel, you thought he was gone. We all felt he wasn't going to make it to the hospital. Now he's saying to Owen Coyle, 'Where d'you get that tie from, gaffer?' "
It will be an emotional night, on which Spurs cannot afford to start as slowly as they did yesterday. Without Aaron Lennon they are unbalanced down the right, as there is no obvious replacement. Bale is less effective on that side; Van der Vaart, who was nominally filling the role yesterday, likes to roam rather than be restricted to one area of the pitch. So he did, alternating as playmaker with Luka Modric. Van der Vaart's reluctance to occupy the flank meant that Kyle Walker from right-back had an awful lot to do in both an attacking and defensive sense against Ashley Cole and Daniel Sturridge. He did it well, although it was just as well that his captain, Scott Parker, was as vigilant as ever in covering.
Parker duly broke up two attacks in the early stages when Spurs were struggling to leave their own half. It took them half an hour to launch an attack but when they did so with menace on the stroke of half-time, a goal should have resulted. Bale and Modric worked the ball cleverly down the left, the Croatian cutting a pass back to Van der Vaart. Cech parried his shot from eight yards, Cole blocked the follow-up and Emmanuel Adebayor headed the rebound over the bar.
There may be no logic behind the suggestion that speculation over the England manager's position is disrupting Spurs' season, although their recent results have been an unfortunate coincidence. In the second half, however, they replicated some of their better performances as the game became feistier. Walker hit the side-netting and Gallas wasted a header from Modric's free-kick.
Then in quick succession, Adebayor went round the goalkeeper only for Cahill to block his shot from an angle, Bale headed the resulting free-kick against the bar and Adebayor nodded over as the ball fell to him. Deep into added time Bale might have won two extra, vital points with a low free-kick that forced Cech to save low to his left.
All Chelsea had managed was Mata's free-kick against the post. They may now have to win the Champions' League to compete in it next season, which would, in turn, mean Arsenal or Tottenham being demoted to the Europa League if they finished fourth.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bosingwa (David Luiz, 60), Cahill, Terry, Cole; Essien (Torres, 75), Lampard; Ramires, Mata, Sturridge (Kalou, 89); Drogba.
Tottenham (4-5-1): Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Van der Vaart (Saha, 76), Sandro (Livermore, 76), Parker, Modric, Bale; Adebayor.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match: Cahill (Chelsea)
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content