Jose Mourinho cannot help himself when it comes to managerial mindgames, and he is at it again, after Tottenham moved back to the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought draw at Chelsea.
While pundits and even some long-suffering Spurs supporters are starting to believe they can put in a real challenge for the title, Mourinho was quick to take the pressure off his players. “We are not in a title race, we are not a horse in it, we are just ponies,” he said with a smile, happy to have blunted Frank Lampard's own ambitions to go top.
Mourinho saw it as a job done, Lampard rued a missed opportunity, but at the end of an uncharacteristic goalless draw between these two sides, it was Tottenham who returned to the top and came away with the greater satisfaction.
Mourinho said: “A draw here is normally a positive result and to stay top of the league is also a positive thing, but the players in my dressing room are not happy.”
He also summed up the game perfectly when he added: “I believe both teams wanted to win but also both teams did not want to lose.”
Lampard admitted his disappointment. “We dominated possession, our discipline was good, and we just hoped for a bit of magic. Maybe the handbrake was on slightly, but I was pleased with how we defended.”
It was a game of few clear-cut chances, with Hugo Lloris and Edouard Mendy stretched only once each over 90 minutes of cat-and-mouse football, and when each side was presented with golden chances to take all three points in stoppage time, they failed to take them.
Olivier Giroud, on a late substitute for the disappointing Tammy Abraham found himself with the ball at his feet and only Lloris to beat, but scooped it tamely into the hands of his international team-mate.
And moments later, in 93rd minute, a sloppy pass from Kurt Zouma gave Giovani Lo Celso a chance to snatch it for Spurs but shot wide of the far post.
The defensive lapses that allowed both chances were out of character in a game where defenders came out on top, while some of Chelsea's strikers did little to enhance their reputations. Chelsea's front three of Abraham, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech all missed decent chances and were replaced in the closing stages, as a frustrated Lampard tried to find a way to break down a stubborn Spurs side, and get one over his former manager and mentor Mourinho.
But the Blues did not have enough about them to break down Spurs, for whom a point was enough to replace Liverpool at the top of the table.
“We are not happy and that is fantastic for me,” added Mourinho. “It is a complete change of attitude, change of mentality. We did not have many chances, but nor did they. We respected them and they respected us. Nobody tried to gamble, to change the course of the game.”
That latter remark might have been a subtle dig at Lampard's inability to get the win that would have taken Chelsea top. Try as they might, Chelsea did not possess “that little bit of magic”, as their manager put it.
“It went as I expected, we had a lot of the game and possession, and enough chances to win,” said Lampard.
“We watched how they played against City, they are very well organised and have great players on the counter-attack in Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. The way we handled the game was brilliant but we just could not finish it off.”
It was little surprise that the game followed the pattern from Tottenham's 2-0 win over Manchester City last weekend. Mourinho has a really well-drilled side, now, and has instilled a miserly, mean streak in his players.
Just as against City, Spurs were happy to let their opponents have plenty of possession, soak up whatever pressure the west Londoners could muster, and then attack on the counter.
The same gameplan worked to perfection against Manchester City last weekend, and the only difference from the side that had beaten Pep Guardiola's team was a full debut for Joe Rodon the former Swansea centre-back deputsing for the injured Toby Alderweireld.
The young Welshman slipped in the 12th minute to allow Timo Werner in and although the German curled a fine finish past Hugo Lloris, he was flagged offside.
Spurs could have been ahead by that stage, when Harry Kane set up Steven Bergwijn at the end of an intricate move but the Dutch winger scooped his shot over the bar.
Thus the pattern was set. Another quick counter-attack from Spurs gave Serge Aurier a shooting chance from 20 yards, but Edouard Mendy dived full-length to tip the ball away.
Kane smashed a long-range free-kick over the bar, while Mason Mount aklso shot too high at the opposite end of the pitch.
Abraham had a half chance to open the scoring from a Reece James cross early in the second half, but his glancing header was well wide of the target.
Mason Mount finally made Lloris work in the 81st minute, with a long-range shot that forced the French keeper to dive full-length and save
Werner and Ziyech also shot high, and it was no surprise to see the disappointing German replaced by Christian Pulisic for the final 15 minutes. In stoppage time Rodon's weak header gave Giroud a chance that he squandered. Moments later Lo Celso did the same, and it was honours even.
Mendy 6; James 7, Zouma 6,Thiago Silva 8, Chilwell 7; Kovacic 7, Kante 7, Mount 8; Ziyech 6 (Havertz 83), Abraham 5 (Giroud 79), Werner 5 (Pulisic 74).
Lloris 7; Aurier 7, Rodon 7, Dier 7, Reguilon 7; Hojbjerg 8, Sissoko 6; Ndombele 7 (Lo Celso 64); Son 7, Kane 7, Bergwijn 6 (Davies 89).