Tottenham started 2015 in an unforgettable manner by stunning leaders Chelsea, who got no less than they deserved. It was an epic encounter at White Hart Lane. Spurs gave a stunning performance, by far their best of the season, lead by the outstanding Harry Kane who was a constant menace to the liable Blues defense.
Chelsea on the other hand gave their worst defensive performance over both of Mourinho’s spells at the London club and deserved to be on the wrong end of a 5-3 drubbing. It was unbelievable at times how the young Harry Kane, accompanied by Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen took apart one of the most solid defences in Europe, one that seemed almost impenetrable over the season until then.
It was an early dawn for Chelsea who were 1-0 up early on, but a 4 goal frenzy in the space of 25 minutes on both ends of half time gave Spurs a 4-1 lead not even the most optimistic of North London supporters would have expected. Chelsea did pull one back through Hazard, who was by far their best player, but the star of the day Kane restored a three goal lead for Tottenham before Terry’s header ensured the Blues are still top of the table, though only alphabetically.
Tottenham entered the game in 7th place with their last defeat in the league coming against their opponents Chelsea, who have been somewhat of a bogey team for their North London rivals in recent years. Their encounter in December ended in a 3-0 victory for the Blues so the Spurs had a lot to avenge. The Lilywhites came off a tough entertaining game against Manchester United which somehow stayed goalless. Chelsea were also held to a draw at St. Mary’s and were risking being pulled into a title race having had an eight point lead ahead of Manchester City cut to three points.
Tottenham had a strong start to the game in the opening minutes. Kane was showing why the home fans love him, by working hard as ever but his big show had not even started. Chadli had the first shot on goal from distance that was saved by Courtois in the visiting goal. Pochettino faced some early problems in the game as he was forced to replace Steve Mason who appeared to pull his hamstring and Moussa Dembele took his place in midfield. Chadli and Kane were the most active players on the pitch and after a darting run from the young English striker down the right, the Belgian forced Courtois into an awkward one handed save from an overhead attempt from the edge of the six yard box.
But it was Chelsea who got the breakthrough after 17 minutes. An Eriksen corner was easily caught by Courtois who threw the ball to Hazard for a quick counter attack. The in-form Belgian turned around Rose and just managed to keep the ball on the pitch on the right side. Hazard took on Rose again and sent him the wrong way after a quick change in direction, bursted into the Spurs box and sent a low shot through the legs of the sliding Vertonghen that deflected off the far post to the supporting Oscar. The Brazilian tried to score with a one time left footed effort but his shot turned out to be a perfect pass for the lurking Costa who had an easy job at the far post and record his 14th goal in 17 appearances this season.
The goal sparked Chelsea to life and the visitors took control over the game as is their tradition. Their slight domination resulted in the most controversial moment of the game. Costa did well to get on the end of a long pass from Fabregas into the home sides box. He fended off Fazio who tried to take the ball of him and tried to find Oscar who offered support. Vertonghen read his intention and got a foot to the pass but it ricocheted off Oscar back into Vertonghen and it struck his arm as the Belgian defender was falling, denying Oscar a one on one with Lloris. Phil Dowd gave nothing and his decision infuriated Mourinho on the sidelines and probably poured some oil into the fire he started by his claims of a referee conspiracy against Chelsea. Just a minute later, Oscar sent another shot at Lloris, this time inches wide of the post.
On the half hour mark, Kane’s first big moment came. He collected the ball on the left from Danny Rose before running past Fabregas and holding off Oscar who was all over his back to find some space 25 yards from goal and send a stunning effort to the low left hand corner just as Terry stepped out to close the striker down. This was the definite turning point in the game. In the remaining 15 minutes of the first half, the Tottenham trio Kane, Chadli, Eriksen turned on their own show to earn Tottenham an unexpected 3-1 lead at halftime.
First of all good pressing from the home team forced Azpilicueta to misplace a pass and spark the Spurs into a quick counter attack lead by Eriksen. The Dane slipped a pass behind Cahill to Chadli who hit a first time effort on the post past Courtois. The deflection off the left post fell right into the path of Danny Rose who was not followed by Willian and despite Terry and Cahills efforts the defender slotted the ball into the empty net to turn the game on its head. And that wasn’t all from Tottenham in the first half. Ivanovic sent a back pass to Cahill under pressure for Chadli but Kane was more alert than the England centre half and just managed to poke the ball before Cahill could clear and the defender’s momentum brought him into Kane for what was a stonewall penalty. Andros Townsend stepped up and sent the penalty into the bottom right corner and Courtois could not get his hands to it despite guessing the direction. This was the last kick of the first half which saw Mourinho angrily leave down the tunnel.
Chelsea were clearly stunned and struggled to find tempo after half time. The hosts were lethal and effective on the other hand and they capitalised from another counter attack in the 52nd minute. Ramires was bundled off the ball by Vertonghen, Bentaleb burst out with the ball to find Chadli on the left wing, the Belgian found Kane on the edge of the box with two touches. The England striker who was clearly in his element beautifully turned around Matic and finished past Terry into the far post leaving Courtois with no chance.
Chelsea were given a lifeline by an error from Fazio. The defender lost the ball under pressure from Hazard and Fabregas and the pair turned the ball around quickly and accompanied by Costa created a three against two. The Belgian charged into the Spurs box, played a one-two with Fabregas and slotted past the rooted Lloris for his first away goal of the season. The goal put Chelsea back into the game and the visitors went at it. A mishit shot from Bentaleb fell to Fabregas who immediately looked for Hazard on the run with a long ball. The Belgian got to it before Walker and Fazio and just as he was about to pull away Fazio just about managed to get his toe on the ball to clear the danger.
Gary Cahill who was tormented by Kane all evening decided to get even with the forward and with a duel between the two sending Kane to the ground, the defender took a kick at his back before stepping on his ankle in an attempt to poke the ball away. Phil Dowd took no action but Gary Cahill will be lucky to get away with that. Chelsea pushed to get a contact goal and came very close in the 75th minute via a lovely one touch action from Ramires, Matic and Hazard’s backheel that found Azpilicueta alone in the left half of the box. The defender curled a low shot into the far corner but was denied by an outstanding and very important save from Lloris.
Chelsea’s hopes were definitely killed off by Chadli just minutes later. It was Kane again at the heart of everything, who held the ball well down the left side before teeing up Chadli who was given too much space by Chelsea’s defense. The Belgian’s shot was deflected off Terry’s leg out of Courtois’ reach to the far corner and ensured a team lead by Mourinho conceded five goals for the second time in the managers career. Chelsea still didn’t give up and Ramires dragged his shot just wide of goal after Terry added a late consolation goal. A quick free kick was played by Fabregas to Hazard on the right, he went to the byline before drilling a low cross across the face of goal which went past everyone to Terry while taking a slight deflection off Ivanovic. The Chelsea skipper couldn’t miss the empty net from three yards out for his third goal in the season. Lloris was called upon once more to produce a great stop to push Fabregas’ shot on the post and avoid any late drama for Spurs.
While for Chelsea it has been a week to forget, the story of how Spurs beat Chelsea 5-3 will be a popular one for a long time in the North of London. It was truly a phenomenal match of football to start 2015, not quite so for the Chelsea fans. The team that was thought to be able to go the way unbeaten a few weeks back was made look ordinary over the festive period claiming just four points from nine. What stands behind the Blues’ skid? Were they unlucky with decisions and deflections going against them when almost every Tottenham shot ended up in the back of their net or are the leaders running out of gas due to their packed fixture calendar?
It is likely the answer is a combination of both. Only two teams in England played as many games as Chelsea. Their today’s opponents Tottenham and Liverpool. While the latter two switch things up quite often, Mourinho hesitates to rotate his starting 11. Sporadically, Luis, Schurrle, Cech, Zouma or Drogba break into it ahead of the established starters, but Mourinho’s tactic of playing his strongest team may have turned against him over the packed Christmas period. Afterall, nine players started all three festive games. It is a characteristic of Mourinho’s team to have a strong work ethic but the speed with which Chelsea pressed to recover the ball in the earlier phases of the season was not there tonight. The way some of the attacking players failed to track back proved costly with Oscar and Fabregas allowing Kane to get past them too softly for the first goal and Willian not tracking back Rose for the second. Fabregas played four 90 minute games in 11 days and although he bagged another assist, it was visible on him he needed a rest. Their managers reluctance to interfere with the starting 11 may cost the Blues dear.
It has not been the best of starts to the league for Tottenham who have been sitting around mid table for most of the season, but a few Christian Eriksen last minute match winning goals later, they are in the race for a Champions League berth. Tottenham’s sudden improvement can be quite precisely traced back to the moment Mauricio Pochettino started deploying Harry Kane in attack. The young England starlet has started in ten successive games in the league. In those games, he scored six goals and gave four assists, Tottenham took 20 points. “He is one of us” echoed all around White Hart Lane. Kane can be the new Gareth Bale if not better, he is still only 20! He could be the right man to carry Tottenham into the Champions League this season. Based on what they showed on Thursday, they can certainly have the highest aims.
While everyone was focused on Chelsea and their alleged invincibility, Manchester City has silently grown in their shadow and now hunted them down from being eight points adrift in the space of weeks. Not many people believed Chelsea could go all the way unbeaten, but very few optimists (or pessimists) would see Chelsea and Manchester City being equal in points, goals, victories and goal differences on 1st of January. The Citizens have amazingly closed the gap and the momentum is now on their side. Two or three weeks ago, it appeared to be an easy answer to who would win the league. Now, for the first time this season, the answer you give may not be Chelsea. It is to be seen if Jose Mourinho’s men can turn things around, but from what was a single horse race, we now have a proper battle on our hands. The beauty of Premier League football. Now, that Stamford Bridge encounter on the 31st of January looks more important than ever. The title race is back on.