London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane on Saturday, with the result probably a fair result over the course of the 90 minutes.
Spurs came out of the blocks as the better side and limited their talented opponents to fleeting opportunities in the first 45. They were good value for their 1-0 half-time lead and had Paulinho’s effort crept inside the post instead of ricocheting off the outside of it, the hosts could have commanded all three points.
The Blues made a change of personnel at half-time and were much the better side in the second half. The visitors’ equaliser was just reward for a period of pressure, and had it not been for Fernando Torres’ red card, José Mourinho’s men could have won all three points.
Here are some key observations from the clash.
Tottenham’s defence rides its luck
Much has been made of Tottenham’s miserly defence this term, with John Terry’s header only the second goal the side have conceded in six Premier League games. Despite Spurs looking more defensively strong with the presence of Paulinho in central midfield, there are still question marks over the back four.
Jan Vertonghen may well have been caught up in a personal battle with Fernando Torres, but the Belgian centre-half made some crucial blocks, interceptions and challenges to thwart the Blues’ attack. With Michael Dawson’s positioning under question and both full-backs better going forward than defending, Vertonghen is the reason that the side’s defensive record is intact.
With four top international central midfielders fighting for two starting spots in Tottenham’s boiler room, competition for places is fierce at White Hart Lane. Of André Villas-Boas’ four options, Mousa Dembélé is the most forward-thinking and arguably the most technically gifted.
Despite this, the former Fulham man has looked slightly lost in some of Spurs’ games this term. There have been calls from some of the White Hart Lane faithful for Sandro to be recalled to the starting XI, with Dembélé putting in mediocre performances in some of Tottenham’s early season showings.
However, against Chelsea Dembélé showed just how good he can be. The Belgian tracked back admirably to break up Chelsea attacks, was always available when his team-mates were in possession and showed his individual ability too. If Dembélé can get into a run of form, he will be a critical man for Spurs this term.
Tottenham’s attack – who to play?
In Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1 formation, there is an argument to suggest that only Christian Eriksen’s role as the side’s number ten is safe, despite Lewis Holtby’s good early season form.
Gylfi Sigurðsson got on the scoresheet again and has shown that despite big-name signings over the summer, he is worthy of a place in the starting XI. His effort from the edge of the box at the death was whiskers away from winning the game for his team.
Andros Townsend again showed promising signs, linking up well with Kyle Walker and Paulinho on occasion. However, despite his pace and trickery, his decision making is still not 100 per cent, and Spurs fans have their hearts in their mouths when the 22-year-old tries to take on opponents and do too much, especially in his own half. His booking for diving is also something that must be stamped out of his game.
Roberto Soldado worked hard once more, but is finding the going tough in England. In the long-term he will be the man to get the bulk of Spurs’ goals, but at the moment there is a case to give Jermain Defoe a start. The England striker is on form, while the Spaniard is still adjusting to his new environment.
Ramires needs to play centrally
Chelsea looked like a different team in the second half after a jaded showing in the first 45. Much of this had to do with the half-time change of personnel, with John Obi Mikel being replaced by Juan Mata, and Ramires moving to the centre of the park.
Mikel offered very little in the opening exchanges, and was guilty of giving away the ball. The defensive midfielder also failed to limit the space of the likes of Pualinho and Christian Eriksen in front of the Chelsea defence.
Ramires offers more energy in the boiler room, while playing the Brazilian centrally allows an extra attacking presence, such as Mata, to be included.
Juan Mata has been largely on the fringe of things at Stamford Bridge since Mourinho’s reappointment, but put in a competent showing after coming off the bench on Saturday. Surely the Spaniard will be reintroduced to the Blues’ side – he is too good to be omitted.
Eden Hazard is an immensely talented attacking midfielder, but has not shown his top form this term to date. The Belgian was once more ineffective in creating much for the Blues, as Mourinho has yet to harness the full potential of the former Lille man.
Torres’ sending off was harsh, no doubt, but his petulance throughout the game was enough to have seen him dismissed at other times – his scratch on Vertonghen’s face does not make pleasant viewing when watched back.
Despite this, his second half performance will inspire confidence that he can command a starting berth in Mourinho’s side. The trademark devastating pace that made him a hit at Liverpool is no longer there, but his first touch and ability to beat players was fully demonstrated.
Tottenham have a team that is good enough to challenge for the top four and Champions League qualification, but they have to believe it in big matches. It felt like the hosts came out in the second half to defend their lead rather than kill the game off, and if Spurs are to be consistent challengers they need to change their psyche.
The talent in the Chelsea squad is unbelievable and it is up to José Mourinho to maximise it. If he can get his team selection correct and unleash the potential of some of his attacking stars, the west Londoners are more than capable of winning the Premier League title this term.