Tottenham beat Chelsea to silence their critics – every last one of them

Tottenham ended their 28-year run without a win at the Bridge and did so with plenty to spare

Jonathan Liew
Stamford Bridge
Sunday 01 April 2018 18:12
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Mauricio Pochettino hails Spurs' first victory away at Chelsea in 28 years

“Yeah, but they can’t win without Harry Kane.”

Kane did ultimately make his entrance here, to a generous ovation from the pocket of Spurs fans wedged into the south-east corner. But by the time he did, the pattern of the game had already been determined. The pattern had been set. And so in a way, Kane’s emergence was a final hubristic twist of the knife from Mauricio Pochettino, a declaration of principles, a bold and brash assertion that Tottenham would carry on swinging to the last.

“Leaving out Toby Alderweireld is madness.”

Eriksen's thunderous strike set Spurs on their way back

As the game drifted away from them, Chelsea carried on pounding at the door, and ended up with nothing but sore fists. For that Tottenham could thank their immense back five, who went stride for stride with one of the most feared front threes in the Premier League and shushed them down. Hugo Lloris, his first-half mistake forgotten, reasserted command of his penalty area. Davinson Sanchez seemed to spend most of the game scraping the ball clear, legs akimbo, like a crab footballer. Alderweireld will almost certainly leave in the summer and the Tottenham dressing room will be a poorer place for his departure. Or he will sign a new deal and stay, and Tottenham will have a battery of centre-halves the envy of most clubs in Europe. But you suspect they’ll be fine either way.

Dele Alli is in terrible form.”

Alli wasn’t in great form coming into this game. He wasn’t in great form for a lot of this game. But then, Alli often does this: seducing his critics for weeks, sometimes months, before turning around and figuratively punching them in the mouth. His first goal was a thing of planetary precision: a curved run around Cesar Azpilicueta and the offside trap, a magnetic touch to control the ball, a gentle sine wave of a finish. His second was scruffily bundled home after a goalmouth scramble. Two contrasting strikes, then, but one overriding conclusion: Dele Alli without his cape is still very much Dele Alli.

Alli's masterful first put Spurs ahead for the first time

“They don’t beat the top six away from home. And they certainly don’t win at Stamford Bridge.”

David Howells is now the head of football at the prestigious Charterhouse School in Surrey. John Bumstead is now a cab driver in Kent. Gary Lineker is now a famous underwear model. The men who scored last time Tottenham won at Stamford Bridge are now aged and greying. And as Tottenham’s class of 2018 finally consigned that game to oblivion, the thought struck that this was another watershed moment in an era of Spurs history that has seen more than its fair share.

Not even a two-goal lead has been enough for Tottenham here in the past. Two years ago, in hot pursuit of Leicester City, they went 2-0 up and then imploded in a fiesta of yellow cards and red faces. Eleven years ago, meanwhile, Hossam Ghaly put a disbelieving Tottenham 3-1 up in an FA Cup quarter-final, only for Chelsea to burgle two late goals and ease home in the replay.

Alli's second put the game beyond Chelsea

But this didn’t feel like that. From the moment Christian Eriksen scored on the stroke of half-time, wrapping his foot under, over and around the ball at the same time, sending it high into the April sky and bringing it down with the precision of a remote-controlled drone, Tottenham were in control. That sense of calm had been notably absent in the first half, when their buzzing front four wove and twiddled to little meaningful effect, as if preoccupied with scoring the perfect goal.

Eriksen’s cannonball changed all that. The mental aspect has always been Tottenham’s Achilles heel in these big games, the sense that they were always skating on the precipice of their own emotions. But as they knocked the ball around in the last half-hour here, there were no alarms and no surprises, and very few jitters: just the easy certainty of a team who are better than their opposition, and know it.

Tottenham now look certainties for the top four

“They don’t come back from behind. They don’t win the crunch games. They can’t win ugly.”

It’s the 66th minute of the game. Eriksen finds Son Heung-Min, who bears down on goal and shoots low. Willy Caballero half-saves the ball with his backside. Son has a second dig. Andreas Christensen slides in and tries to scrape the ball away. The ball hits Caballero again. Marcos Alonso dives in but fails to make contact. Alli gets hold of the ball and with his non-standing leg, slides the ball home past a thicket of bodies.

It was ugly as hell. But for Spurs fans, who have seen their exceptional side overturn one established orthodoxy after another, it was the most beautiful sight in the world. Where do they go next? Nobody knows, and in a way that’s the most thrilling part of all.

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