Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR missed a chance to climb into the top-four after meekly slipping to defeat against an organised Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge.
Robbed of his attacking assets, Jose Mourinho poured cold water on suggestions his side might achieve what earlier in the season appeared impossible: “Sonny and Harry, they score the majority of goals that Tottenham score,” he explained.
“This season was so negatively special that we’ll be without them both at the same time for a lot of matches.
“So yes, not for me, my achievement, but collectively for this group of boys if we manage to finish fourth without Harry and Sonny it would be something incredible – an incredible achievement for the boys – so we have to give everything we have.”
Mourinho decided against starting with Dele Alli – Giovani Lo Celso the focal point of the Spurs midfield. Chelsea too had their injury woes – N’Golo Kante ruled out, along with Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi – Ruben Loftus-Cheek returned, but had to be content with a place on the bench.
It had been muttered in certain quarters that Tottenham’s armoury had been replaced by water pistols. Nevertheless, Willy Caballero expertly pushed aside a stinging attempt from Lucas Moura as the North Londoners created the games first clearcut opportunity. Chelsea responded – Hugo Lloris saving at the foot of a post from Mason Mount, then Ross Barkley drilled wide as the hosts began to find their feet.
But it was Chelsea who snatched the lead shortly before the fifteen-minute mark. Olivier Giroud fired home after his initial effort was saved, then Mount’s follow-up struck the woodwork.
Buoyed by their excellent start, Chelsea looked to kill the contest in double-quick time. Marcus Alonso was agonisingly close with a dipping volley. Meanwhile, stuttering Spurs struggled to make any positive headway against a well-drilled Blues backline.
Moura’s left-footed attempt was deflected behind – Caballero tipping over a goalbound header from Davinson Sanchez arriving from the resulting flag-kick.
Japhet Tanganga ran out of track after his initial heavy touch had deceived Caballero. But the Tottenham threat was somewhat minimal during an otherwise timid opening period.
It took Chelsea just three second-half minutes to double their advantage. Alonso sweetly sweeping home from twenty-yards after Reece James and Ross Barkley had combined to fashion an opening – it was no more than the hungry home side deserved.
Lloris did well to prevent Barkley making it three with a fizzing angled strike – insipid Spurs, along with their top-four hopes, were well and truly on the ropes.
Mourinho introduced Erik Lamela, Dele and Serge Aurier, but the spark never really materialised – Alonso hitting the frame of the goal as the Blues continued to ask the sterner questions.
Incredibly, the much-maligned VAR system failed spectacularly when Lo Celso appeared to stamp on Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta – the Stockley Park brigade later admitting their error in failing to advise referee, Michael Oliver, to give the Spurs man his marching orders.
Spurs – who have only tasted victory once at Stamford Bridge in 34-years – were handed a late lifeline when Lamela’s attempted deflected off Rudiger and wrong-footed Caballero. But it was too little too late for the visitors, who now trail their West London rivals by four points in the chase for a Champions League berth next term.
Spurs return to Premier League action on Sunday, March 1 when Wolverhampton Wanderers visit the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (2pm).
Chelsea: Willy Caballero, Antonio Rudiger, Marcus Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Jorginho, Ross Barkley (Willian 77’), Mateo Kovacic, Olivier Giroud (Tammy Abraham 71’), Mason Mount, Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta (Capt) Subs not used: Kepa Arrizabalaga (GK), Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kurt Zouma, Emerson, Billy Gilmour
Booked: Andreas Christensen (foul)
Goals: Olivier Giroud 15’, Marcos Alonso 48’
Tottenham Hotspur: Hugo Lloris (Capt), Toby Alderweireld (Serge Auirier 78’), Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Harry Winks, Giovani Lo Celso, Steven Bergwijn (Dele Alli 78’), Lucas Moura, Tanguy Ndombele (Erik Lamela 62’), Ben Davies, Japhet Tanganga Subs not used: Paulo Gazzaniga (GK), Eric Dier, Ryan Sessegnon, Gedson Fernandes
Booked: Harry Winks (foul), Giovani Lo Celso (foul)
Goals: Antonio Rudiger (own-goal) 89’
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
Fourth Official: Kevin Friend
Reaction to follow…