“Reality versus perception,” that was how Mauricio Pochettino labelled the interpretations of both Tottenham and Chelsea’s season so far. The gap between the two sides is now two points and, despite Chelsea being the “impressive” and the “more likely title challengers”, it is Tottenham who are ahead. From Saturday’s showing, they looked like the unbeaten side, not Chelsea.
On the 195th day since Chelsea last lost a Premier League match, they were comfortably and roundly beaten. Their defensive weaknesses, that Maurizio Sarri has managed to keep relatively hidden until now, were exposed by a ruthless Spurs side. This defeat was in part due to Chelsea’s haphazard defending but also Tottenham’s incisive attacking play, and it centred on eliminating Jorginho from the match.
Authorative and imaginative Spurs
It was the type of game that Pochettino wants his team to play, authoritative in the ebb and flow but also truly imaginative when it came to turning promising situations into goals – and all three were marvellous. The goal which summed the entire encounter up was Spurs’s third when Heung-min Son took it upon himself to drive the Chelsea defenders into – and around – the ground. There was no smoke in the wake of Son’s spectacular run down the right side, but rather just a trail of Chelsea players. Jorginho’s legs were left in a double-helix whilst David Luiz was sent towards Wembley Park station.
The entire move from start to finish encapsulated the evening; Tottenham impressive and courageous when progressing up the field, but Chelsea far too obliging to let it all happen. It was Luiz who kept managing to be exploited – the gap between him, his fellow centre back Antonio Rudiger and left back Marcos Alonso grew and grew – and he even seemed to get out the way of Harry Kane’s strike that produced Tottenham’s second goal. Despite his troubles, Luiz refused to hide; a quality of his that surely cannot be discouraged.
Chelsea’s unbeaten run ends
Up until this point, Sarri’s Chelsea have navigated the season imposingly, not only remaining unbeaten but also moving towards the exciting concept of Sarri-ball. Eden Hazard and Ross Barkley have particularly embraced Sarri’s approach and the increased creative impetus, however, the lack a goalscoring threat has been noticeable. A steady midfield with Jorginho at the helm has kept Chelsea ticking over, although it is fair to say that they have been due a defeat.
Their defensive record of only eight goals conceded in the league before Saturday – with only one away from home – is slightly misleading, and as Sarri has pointed out himself there are improvements to be made. One of the most successful aspects of Tottenham’s performance was taking Jorginho out of the game. No player had touched the ball more times or made more passes in the Premier League season and he’s instrumental to Chelsea’s play from his deep-lying conductor position.
Everton tried, and were partially successful, in limiting Jorginho’s impact in the last match before the international break, but the constant pressing and harrying of Moussa Sissoko, Eric Dier and Dele Alli was a level above. By removing Chelsea’s most effective player in the central areas, the visitors struggled to both get the ball to Hazard and Willian and also protect a rather suspect backline. It also meant that Chelsea only managed the single goal, and even that came from substitute Olivier Giroud with a header in the final minutes.
Spurs eliminated Jorginho and attacked down the flanks
Tottenham also had success when moving the ball out to wide areas. Consequently, both of Chelsea’s full-backs were pulled far wider than they’d have wanted, and gaps amongst the high Chelsea defensive line began to appear to frequently. Son’s goal came from such play and so did Kane’s strike for the second. Again credit to Tottenham for creating such openings, but Chelsea’s tactical and individual shortcomings were clear.
This was, however, Chelsea’s first defeat in the league and, although it was emphatic, Sarri’s start to English life should still be acknowledged. There have been many positives for Chelsea to take from the twelve league matches until this point but this – the thirteenth – wasn’t unlucky, and only confirmed the limitations that have already been hinted at; namely a minimal goalscoring threat and too much space between defenders who have a mistake in them.
Could Kepa Arrizabalaga have done better with the first two goals? Probably. Was Luiz too often flat-footed? Certainly. But this was inflicted by Tottenham just as much as themselves. There were some marvellous moments from Spurs and just in the two goals. The manner in which Tottenham progressed up the pitch time after time was both easy on the eye and effective. Another derby, against Arsenal, next weekend will be something to look forward to if Spurs continue with such vigour.
Alli, who headed in Tottenham’s first goal from a Christian Eriksen free-kick, was too quick both with and without the ball. Son sprinkled quality over a performance that deserves the plaudits. Spurs’s pace and incision contrasted with Chelsea’s sluggishness. The opening 20 minutes was a blitz with two quick goals and realistically there was no way back for a Chelsea side who’d had their weaknesses fully exposed.