Played out in the shadow of a legend, who illuminated not only Tottenham and Chelsea but English football in its entirety, bitter rivals were brought together on a day of grief but also in celebration of the great Jimmy Greaves, whose passing on Sunday morning shone more glory on this fixture than 90 minutes could ever dictate on the pitch below.
That fact should be of no disservice to the breathless and exhilarating nature of this contest, though, as Chelsea added yet another layer of credence to their title ambitions, repelling an impassioned tide of Tottenham momentum before striking cunningly and clinically to continue their unbeaten start to the season in imperious style.
Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante scored in quick succession early in the second half – the latter’s deflected shot aided by more than a little fortune – before Antonio Rudiger deservedly capped the victory in stoppage time. And despite Spurs’ brave efforts, they were eventually simply outclassed and outgunned, the fine-tuned strength of Thomas Tuchel’s side a force too great to withstand in a match that evidenced the difference that remains between these two old rivals: one at a seemingly unstoppable peak and the other sputtering in transition.
Chelsea’s fans remained long after the final whistle to soak in their derby joy, but in truth, the singing had barely stopped throughout, the moving minute’s applause held in Greaves’s honour giving way to an electric start. Almost immediately from kick-off, Chelsea sliced through the Spurs midfield with the startling ease of one Romelu Lukaku shimmy and Kai Havertz raced clear before the linesman lifted his flag in mercy.
Spurs refused to surrender any semblance of the early rhythm, though, and mounted their own statement of intent just minutes later. The brighter of the two sides, buoyed by a bullish atmosphere, Son Heung-min was irrepressible, allaying any lingering concerns over his fitness with a surging run that revealed the years in Cesar Azpilicueta’s legs before cutting inside and fizzing a shot towards the far corner. It was blocked, desperately and successfully, but was a forewarning of his threat, flitting across the front three with freedom, using his pace to undercut Chelsea’s high line.
That tempo was a credit to Nuno’s starting line-up, too, shedding the reins of caution that cost Spurs so dearly against Crystal Palace last weekend and starting Tanguy Ndombele in the centre of midfield. A mercurial enigma, he burned bright in the first half, the ignition for Spurs’ creativity without costing them any industry in defence. Harry Kane had a free-kick deflected over the bar and Son continued to stream forwards, but the final pass or clinical touch to lift the ball over Kepa Arrizabalaga, who started in place of the injured Edouard Mendy, continued to elude Spurs.
Tellingly, the clearest chances of the half fell to Chelsea, whose counter-attacks were infrequent but always carried a devastating air. Mason Mount should have given them the lead but slipped and scuffed his shot after a neat one-two with Lukaku, while Andreas Christensen curled a shot narrowly wide while masquerading as a centre-forward. The promise of that sucker punch was ever-present, even if Spurs had spent much of the half on the front foot.
Such is the strength of Chelsea’s bench that Thomas Tuchel was able to bring on Kante for Mount at the break, and he provided the perfect antidote to Spurs’ frenetic pace. However, their breakthrough required no such great imagination, as Silva sprinted and leapt highest to meet Marcos Alonso’s corner and glance a header past Hugo Lloris. The goal drained Spurs of their urgency, stealing the pace and conviction from their attacks, and the lead might have been quickly doubled if not for the outstanding intervention of Eric Dier, who blocked Alonso’s volley on the line just moments later.
The wait for a second goal would not last much longer, though, even if it benefitted from a significant slice of luck. Kante was afforded a wealth of space on the edge of the box and accepted the invitation, hitting a shot from all of 25 yards. This time, Dier’s last-ditch stretch was the cue for disaster, the ball flicking off his heel, leaving Lloris hopelessly flat-footed and he could only watch the ball ricochet in off the inside of his post.
Spurs attempted to mount a fightback, with Kane fizzing a long-range shot that tested Kepa’s vulnerability in goal, but instead it was Chelsea who kept a stranglehold on possession, with Lloris making a fine save to deny Silva a second headed goal. Had it not been for Timo Werner’s loose touch, he might have scored at least one, but there was to be no abating the onslaught.
Lukaku endured individual frustration, so nearly extending his magnificent scoring streak with a late header, before Rudiger stepped out of defence to provide the final blow, lashing a low shot into the corner and condemning Spurs to a scoreline that left their valiant efforts red-faced and in vain, even if the result will ultimately pale in significance on a day that carried far greater meaning for both winner and loser alike.
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