Jose Mourinho can reasonably plead misfortune. Losing Harry Kane until the end of the season is one thing, but being without Son Heung-min for two months with a broken arm has ripped the heart out of Tottenham’s attack.
They have failed to score in each of the two games since Son’s injury. But that does not entirely excuse Spurs’ performance on Saturday. There’s nothing wrong with setting up to play defensively and hit a team on the counter attack, but Tottenham had no control in midfield and were entirely outplayed by a Chelsea team that has been in dismal form so far in 2020. This was an abject acceptance of their lot.
The least we expect from a Mourinho side is defensive discipline and fight. Mourinho’s post-match comments hardly acted as a rallying cry. He claimed that he wished the season would end already so that he could focus on next season, a bizarre statement given that Spurs are still only four points behind Chelsea.
They do still have Steven Bergwijn, Giovanni Lo Celso, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura, and yet Mourinho effectively admitted that those four could not get them into the top four. That promise of a changed, attacking, liberated Mourinho feels an awfully long time ago.
Frank Lampard spent most of January refusing to discuss a potential move away from Chelsea for Olivier Giroud, but his silence told us everything. If Chelsea had been able to get a new centre forward over the line, something Lampard desperately wanted, Giroud would have been allowed to leave and seek first-team football.
But Lampard has also bemoaned Chelsea’s poor finishing in recent months without ever giving Giroud a chance to solve his problem. Against Tottenham, Giroud started his second league game since August, scored the first goal and played a part in the second. The difference between his performance level and Batshuayi’s last Monday was night and day.
Lampard must now swallow his pride and stick with this experiment. Giroud has never been a prolific centre forward, but a series of attacking midfielders — including Eden Hazard — have championed the way in which he holds up the ball and brings others into play. With a starting place for France at Euro 2020 to fight for, Giroud will be highly motivated. He is at least as good as any emergency option Chelsea might have signed.
Dean Smith might have made plenty of friends at Villa Park since taking over his beloved club, but he is no longer prepared to be Mr Nice Guy. After Aston Villa again succumbed to a limp defeat, their third straight loss in the league, Smith launched a tirade on his players to the waiting media.
“Being 1-0 down you’re always in the game, but I just wanted to see more fight in the players - just show me that you care,” said Smith. “Show a little bit of passion about what you’re doing. That’s the responsibility of any professional footballer and we never did that.”
Smith may consider it his last hope to call out the professionalism of his players. Villa are sinking closer to the bottom three and are far too reliant on Jack Grealish to run matches by himself. The manager will know that he cannot be far from his own job being called into question, and he is asking his players to respond to such acute criticism.
The EFL Cup final next weekend gives Villa a chance to forget their Premier League problems, but facing Manchester City is hardly appetising. A trip to Leicester and home game against Chelsea gives them a chance to shine without expectation of victory, but the mood must change and change quickly or they look like relegation certainties.
It is a testament to Leicester’s brilliant start to the season that they have taken 12 points from their last 11 league matches and have won once at home in the league since December 4 and yet still have a nine-point gap to fifth.
That run of form between August and December looks set to take them into next season’s Champions League as the usual competitors stumble and struggle.
But Brendan Rodgers will also be keen to address this mini-slump. Jamie Vardy has gone eight games without a goal, James Maddison has one goal or assist in 12 league games, Youri Tielemans’ form has tailed off and Ben Chilwell is struggling both when surging forward and defending. T
he loss of Wilfried Ndidi has had a huge impact, but that can’t be an excuse for every player. A run of four league games against clubs in the bottom six must inspire a return to form.