THERE has been a lot of talk of evolution at Chelsea in recent months, but to see Frank Lampard and John Terry celebrating wildly in front of the Matthew Harding Stand at the end of this fortunate, hard-fought victory was to be reminded that some things never change.
This has been the season where the arrivals of Fernando Torres, David Luiz and Ramires were meant to usher the elder guard, Jose Mourinho’s men, towards the exit door.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, the new Chelsea looks exactly the same as the old version; never-say-die, physically robust and in possession of enough outrageous good fortune that marks them out as potential champions.
Think back to last season.
Then, a clearly offside Didier Drogba scored the winner at Old Trafford as Chelsea claimed the title on the final straight.
The events of Saturday could end up being just as vital.
This time, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were grateful for two huge slices of luck, firstly when assistant referee Mike Cairns somehow decided that Frank Lampard’s shot had clearly crossed the line after a Heurelho Gomes fumble when it patently had not and, secondly, when Cairns’ colleague, Martin Yerby, failed to flag Salomon Kalou offside as he poked in the late winner.
Chelsea are starting to believe again. And no-one is better placed to articulate that than their skipper, John Terry, who played his 500th game for the club on the weekend and knows that number 501, against Manchester United next Sunday, will be vital.
“We will never give up,” said Terry. “That is what has made us the club we are in the last six or seven years.
“We’ve got that mentality on the training pitch, a great manager the players believe in and trust and who has kept us going. He deserves a great deal of credit. He took a lot of stick but he kept us going and the formation went back to what worked for us earlier in the season. We will never give up.
“There’s no bigger spur than going to Old Trafford and winning to put ourselves right in the frame for bringing the Premier League trophy back to the Bridge. At the end of it, regardless of whether it is Man United or whoever in front of us, it is that trophy we want back. It’s the feeling that will drive us on.
“And I think we are stronger than when we lost at Old Trafford in the Champions League (on April 12). On the day, as we showed last year by going there and winning a decisive game, there’s no reason why we can’t go there and win again.”
Yet for long spells on Saturday they looked nothing like a side that has won seven of their last eight Premier League games.
Shorn of width in their 4-3-3 formation, Drogba appeared disinterested on the right of the forward line, with the Ivorian’s disconsolate body language telling its’ own story.
Tottenham were the better side, with Sandro and Luka Modric providing the platform with a composed and elegant display in central midfield.
They took the lead thanks to the Brazilian’s wonderful, curling effort with the outside of his right boot, and appeared set to make it to half time with a deserved advantage.
Then came Lampard’s moment of fortune, when Cairns guessed that the ball was over the line when all of the ball clearly wasn’t. In a moment Pravda would have been proud of, Chelsea’s players were shown a picture by the club photographer that they thought proved it was a goal. Television replays demonstrated otherwise, but the basic fact is that Gomes should never have let the shot through his legs in the first place.
Yet the hosts were slow to take advantage, and only did so when Kalou nudged home Drogba’s miscued effort from an offside position with a minute remaining.
It is likely to be a blow from which Spurs’ Champions League hopes will not recover, considering they have to visit both Manchester City and a revitalised Liverpool.
For their manager, Harry Redknapp, that will be a sign to strengthen again, not sell players.
“You need to keep improving — a backward step is if you don’t improve because Manchester City have gone out and improved from last year when we finished above them,” said Redknapp in a fairly transparent call for funds to his chairman, Daniel Levy.
But Chelsea are solely concerned with the here and now.
They will hope that the winning mentality of their senior men shines through as strongly as it did here.
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