Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2
If Arsenal fans were celebrating the departure of old foe Alex Ferguson on Wednesday afternoon they were served up a double helping of cheer hours later as Chelsea and Tottenham drew 2-2 at Stamford Bridge to leave the Gunners in pole position to pip their north London rivals for fourth.
Tottenham twice came from behind to deny Rafael Benitez’s side an opportunity to clinch a Champions League spot with two games to go; but the point, however worthy, does little for their own hopes of playing in Europe’s premier competition next season.
The table now shows Chelsea in third place on 69 points, Arsenal fourth on 67 and Spurs fifth, and heading for the Europa League, on 66 with just two matches to play for all three teams.
Considering Arsene Wenger’s next match is at home to relegation-haunted Wigan, three days after Roberto Martinez’s side play in the FA Cup final at Wembley, you have to conclude they could yet snatch third given that Chelsea face Villa away and Everton at home in their final two fixtures while Spurs head for Stoke this weekend before hosting Sunderland on the final Sunday.
So for all the drama served up in a pulsating match at Stamford Bridge, which saw Oscar and Ramires score for Chelsea and Emmanuel Adebayor and substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson reply for Spurs, the latter in the 80th minute, there was no sense of celebration for either set of fans as they headed into the London night.
Earlier, however, the expectation had been high for both sides.
With Fergie gone and almost certainly replaced by David Moyes, a man who although well respected has never won a trophy in his career and is hardly famous for his expansive style of football, these clubs know there is a real opportunity to be grasped next season as they bid to be the benefactor of those changes.
Whether or not United’s empire crumbles without Ferguson in the dugout will be the talking point of the next few years and the challenge for Roman Abramovich in particular is to ensure his team is ready to takeadvantage.
At the moment, it has to be said, the signs are mixed. With Jose Mourinho waiting in the wings and talk of another big spending spree in the summer, Chelsea are at least showing signs the rebuilding work started by Andre Villas-Boas and taken on by Rafael Benitez is beginning to reap dividends — but they are far from a finished product.
Moving David Luiz into midfield has been one of Benitez’s masterstrokes and he has also brought the best out of Oscar, Ramires and Eden Hazard, who were all excellent against Spurs, at least in the first half when Chelsea were on top.
Oscar, in fact, opened the scoring after only 11 minutes — nodding home at the near post after Gary Cahill, who was once again chosen ahead of John Terry, had headed on a Juan Mata corner.
Tottenham equalised with a stunning goal on the break that featured superb skill from an attacking perspective and woeful defending from the home side’s point of view, an Achilles heal that explains why they are still a long way short of being title contenders.
There appeared to be no immediate danger as Adebayor picked up the ball in his own half and began a long, lazy run forward. But as Chelsea pedalled further and further back, allowing the striker to progress to within 25 yards of goal, they were punished as the Togo international chipped home a beautiful strike into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Even after that, however, the home side looked the more dangerous; and they regained the lead before half-time.
It was Ramires who got it, accepting a clever pass from Fernando Torres to burst into the box, beat Michael Dawson to the ball and sweep home a sweet finish for 2-1.
Had the Brazilian midfielder added to his tally, as perhaps he should have done, in the second half by making it 3-1 then the game would have been over; but instead he slipped at just the wrong time and Tottenham went on to dominate the next half hour and show why they too have ambitions of catching United in future.
Adebayor, so heavily criticised for most of the season, was at the heart of it; and he provided a superb equaliser for substitute Sigurdsson after 80 minutes when his clever backheel allowed the Tottenham midfielder to sweep home from 10m.
In a dramatic finale Spurs came close to winning it; particularly when Gareth Bale — who was virtually a passenger for the rest of the match — had a late free-kick that he shot tamely at Petr Cech.
That summed up why Tottenham probably won’t make it this time; and Chelsea’s relief and weary second-half display suggested they are running out of gas too.
CHELSEA: Cech 6, Azpilicueta 7, Cahill 7, Ivanovic 7, Cole 7, Ramires 7, Luiz 7, Oscar 7 (Benayoun 84), Mata 7, Hazard 7 (Moses 73), Torres 5.
TOTTENHAM: Lloris 6, Walker 7, Dawson 5, Vertonghen 6, Assou-Ekotto 6, Parker 6, Huddlestone 6, Lennon 6 (Sigurdsson 62), Bale 6, Holtby 6 (Dempsey 70), Adebayor 8.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
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