Comment: Chelsea boss Antonio Conte holds his nerve as threadbare Tottenham unravel

So where does this leave Chelsea? Top of the table, certainly, having shown the invaluable ability to win despite being outplayed for large swathes of a game.

It is the mark of champions to grind out results on days like these, when Tottenham looked much more like their old selves, and were the better side for the best part of an hour.

But Chelsea got back into the game with a strike of brilliance from Pedro on the stroke of half-time, took control of the game in a 15-minute burst after the break, and then hung on to take the points.

Not only did they extend their remarkable winning streak to seven games, they showed the resilience to come from behind and were emboldened by the knowledge that they can beat their title rivals.

Previous games against top five opposition had ended badly, as both Liverpool and Arsenal blew the Blues away with first-half performances similar to Tottenham’s.

The difference on Saturday was that Chelsea dug in when they were being outplayed, and instead of taking a two or three-goal into the break, as Liverpool and Arsenal had done, Spurs found themselves deflated by Pedro’s wonder goal to cancel Christian Eriksen’s stunning opener.

And while most pundits expected Antonio Conte to change his personnel or formation at half-time, the Italian kept his nerve and kept faith with the players who have given Chelsea the look of champions.

“It was not about one player, it was the team,” he said. He simply told them to copy Spurs, to press high up the pitch, to increase their work-rate and to have a go.

Whereas Chelsea had taken half an hour to register a shot on target, the start of the second half saw them take the initiative and it paid off as Victor Moses found himself in the space created, somewhat inevitably, by Tottenham’s lack of a genuine left-back, to fire home the winner.

They held on, despite increasingly frantic attempts by Spurs to end their 26-year hoodoo at this ground, and Stamford Bridge was rocking at the final whistle.

“We are top of the league,” sang their supporters, but another Premier League title may not be as straightforward as they believe, with Conte and his compatriot Gianfranco Zola counselling caution.

Zola was back at the ground where he became a club legend since joining Chelsea 20 years ago, and he still believes Liverpool and Manchester City, whom the Blues face next weekend, are as strong. “It would be foolish to say who will win the title because it is so unpredictable, but the teams that are most consistent are Liverpool, City and hopefully Chelsea.”

Conte, too knows titles are won in May, not November. But he is learning quickly, not just about the relentless nature of the Premier League, but about his own team’s growth, remarking that the team of two months ago would have folded against Spurs.

He lauded their mentality, and there are other positives for Chelsea too. They have real strength in depth, experienced cover in every position, so injuries or suspension will not weaken them, the way it has affected Tottenham.

Without three of their best players — Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela — Spurs had a makeshift side with central defender Kevin Wimmer at left-back, and a glance at the bench showed it was men against boys. While Mauricio Pochettino had kids — Josh Onomah, Harry Winks, Cameron Carter-Vickers — Conte could call on the likes of Branislav Ivanovic, Willian and Oscar, and still had Cesc Fabregas sitting there kicking his heels.

And much as Conte says it hurts to be out of Europe, there is no doubt that he can focus on the training ground for a week at a time, embedding his ideas into his players, getting to know them better. Pochettino, by contrast, has struggled to strike the right balance between European and domestic football.

In the gambler’s paradise of Monte Carlo on Tuesday, the stakes were high, with Spurs’ Champions League future resting on a win-or-bust game against Monaco. He gambled on Tottenham’s Premier League chances over Champions League survival, resting key players in the hope of beating Chelsea, and lost both games.

Now Spurs are seven points off the leaders, facing the Thursday-Sunday slog that the Europa League brings, and with a squad that lacks the depth of their rivals.

Yet Spurs are in exactly the same position they were in at this stage last season — fifth place with 24 points from 13 games. 

And this time he has not been able to select his first-choice side for two months, with injuries first to Harry Kane and then Alderweireld, last season’s outstanding players, as well as Lamela, Dele Alli and the six games Mousa Dembele was forced to miss after last season’s explosive game at Stamford Bridge.

So it is not all doom and gloom for Tottenham, despite a bad week, and Chelsea should not assume they have a clear run to collect the title at the end of the season.

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