The last time that Chelsea enjoyed themselves like this was on 22 December in what felt like the statement victory of Frank Lampard’s tenure. It was the 2-0 victory at Tottenham, which finished with the manager slinging his coat into the travelling enclosure and joy bursting from every pore.
This was a more measured triumph over the team that Chelsea most love to hate yet the comfort ought not to disguise the significance of a result that reinforced Lampard’s grip on fourth place in the Premier League. He showed what it meant with another round of lusty post-match celebrations.
Do not be fooled by the scoreline. Chelsea might have been 3-0 up before Antonio Rüdiger turned an 89th-minute cross from the Spurs substitute, Erik Lamela, into his own net and that was a rare sortie from the visitors into the final third.
Spurs might have lost Giovani Lo Celso to a 52nd-minute stamp on César Azpilicueta – VAR spared him from a red card. Officials at Stockley Park later admitted the foul ‘ticked all the boxes’ for a red-card offence – although the VAR’s decision was a subjective one.
“It’s not good enough,” Lampard told BT Sport afterwards. “Everybody in the world, in football, saw that was a red and it’s too late. I hate to call for red cards but its a leg-breaker of a tackle. VAR has been given the chance to give the right decision … they need to clear those up.”
It was an afternoon when the manager, José Mourinho felt a harsh light fall on his defensive approach. Yes, Mourinho has injury problems, most notably for Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, but there was never the sense that he had a go here.
The result was not in doubt from the moment that Marcos Alonso made it 2-0 with a firecracker from distance early in the second-half, building on the lead given to them by Olivier Giroud, and Chelsea could also point to a stunning Hugo Lloris save that kept out their substitute, Tammy Abraham, and an Alonso free-kick that rattled the crossbar. For Spurs, there was precious little.
The game had been framed on a tactical level by what happened in the reverse fixture at Spurs’s stadium when Lampard’s switch to 3-4-3 had confounded Mourinho in his 4-2-3-1 and laid the foundations for Chelsea’s win. It hurt Mourinho to be outwitted in such fashion and, unsurprisingly, he arrived with a different plan, having suggested that he had received intelligence that Lampard would once again play with three centre-halves.
How did he know that, he was asked on Friday? “The same way journalists have a lot of news and don’t tell the sources,” he replied. The Spygate subplot was one of the many that swirled. Another was the stupid booing of Rüdiger by the Spurs fans. His crime? To report racist taunts during the last match, which could not be proven.
Mourinho mirrored Chelsea’s three centre-halves at the outset but with his full-backs tucked in and four across midfield, this was a formation built to contain and, ideally, strike on the counter or a set piece. Everybody knows that Chelsea have had problems against deep-sitting opponents at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho had started with Steven Bergwijn as a makeshift centre-forward and the January signing had some nice moments, teeing up Lucas Moura twice in the first-half. On the first occasion, on 12 minutes, Lucas drew a fine save out of Willy Caballero while on the second, Azpilicueta leapt in to block.
Chelsea played on the front foot, probing with quick passes up the channels, with Lloris denying Mason Mount after one from Alonso. The breakthrough goal originated from a similar ball from Jorginho, fizzed up towards Giroud.
It was a rare opportunity for Giroud, with Abraham fit enough only for the bench and Michy Batshuayi nowhere to be seen. He made the most of it. Taking Jorginho’s pass, he made space for the shot, which Lloris saved with his feet and, from the rebound, Ross Barkley could only hit the post. Giroud was not finished. Taking the second rebound with a fine first touch, he flashed a low shot inside Lloris’s near post and the goal stood after a review for a possible offside in the build-up.
Alonso narrowly missed the top corner with a blast from distance but Spurs gained a foothold towards the end of the first half, with Davinson Sánchez extending Caballero with a header from a corner. There was also the moment when Japhet Tanganga got in behind Alonso following Toby Alderweireld’s precision long ball only to take a heavy touch. Caballero had left his line and lost his bearings and he was relieved to see Tanganga’s touch take the ball all the way past the far post.
Giroud was involved in Chelsea’s second and what a strike it was from Alonso, a celebration of technique, cutting across a pass from Barkley, which produced the sweetest of connections to send the ball hurtling into the far corner from outside the area. Giroud had flicked on to Mount and the midfielder ignited the move by driving forward before squaring for Barkley.
Mourinho asked his players to take higher starting positions in the second half but could they lift themselves to make something happen? Tanguy Ndombele danced through before his inevitable substitution after the hour, beating two Chelsea players but not a third in Reece James, and Lampard’s team, for whom Barkley also went close on 50 minutes, could close out the result with ease.