Tottenham 5 Chelsea 3
Chelsea’s march to the 2015 Premier League title, which seemed inexorable only a few days ago, has suddenly been stopped in its tracks following a humiliating 5-3 defeat at Tottenham which sees them now share pole position with Manchester City at the start of the New Year — and manager Jose Mourinho resorting to conspiracy theories to defend them.
Two goals from irrepressible man of the match Harry Kane, one each from Danny Rose, Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend (a penalty) set up a memorable London derby win for Spurs on a remarkable afternoon at White Hart Lane which has blown the title race wide open.
How quickly things in football change. When Mourinho’s side swept ruthlessly past West Ham at Stamford Bridge on St Stephen’s Day — the halfway point in the Premier League season — there were few willing to predict anything other than a third title for Mourinho having already won in 2005 and 2006 during his first spell at the club.
But a controversial draw at Southampton (when Cesc Fabregas was denied what appeared a penalty and instead booked for diving) and now this defeat has suddenly created an air of nervous tension in the Chelsea ranks, and perhaps ended for good their sense of invincibility as they now look ahead to an FA Cup game against Watford tomorrow.
The result means Chelsea have won only one of their last five away league games — and only two of the last seven — garnering four fewer points from on the road than championship rivals City, despite playing a game more. So suddenly the feeling that this Chelsea side are champions-elect is starting to fade.
Only John Terry’s late goal prevented them offering up top spot to Manuel Pellegrini’s side on goal difference; and in fact the two clubs go into the new year with exactly the same record. If the title race ended now, it would take a play-off game to decide it.
For revitalised Tottenham, the scoreline is the stuff of dreams. They became the first team to put five goals past Chelsea since Arsenal in October 2011 — and only the second ever to hit five against any Mourinho side.
It won’t please manager Mauricio Pochettino that his side conceded three in the process — starting with Diego Costa’s opener after only 18 minutes before Eden Hazard and Terry scored second-half consolation efforts. But that won’t matter too much in the stands at White Hart Lane (Spurs have won only four of their last 46 league games against Chelsea),with a paranoid Mourinho desperately looking for people to blame.
He claimed referee Phil Dowd should have awarded a penalty for a Jan Vertonghen handball when Chelsea were leading 1-0; but in reality it was hard to be certain the Belgian intended to handle as he fell to the floor and cupped the ball with his hand as he went down.
In fact it was Chelsea’s own defensive errors that cost them — and they were also fortunate Gary Cahill was not sent off for kicking Kane in the back as he lay on the floor, an action that could yet see him punished retrospectively.
Chelsea seemed in control of the game early on following Costa’s opener, tapping home after Hazard’s effort on the break rebounded off the upright and Oscar slipped it back across goal. But they proceeded to throw away the advantage as their normally reliable defence — and Cahill in particular — suffered a nightmare.
Kane began the home revival by shrugging off a weak challenge from Oscar and firing home superbly from distance; and, remarkably, it was 3-1 by half-time thanks to two quick-fire goals just before the break. The first followed a sweeping move that ended with Rose shooting home after Chadli’s effort hit a post, and the second was a Townsend penalty after Kane was tripped by Cahill.
Mourinho hauled off Oscar at the break, replacing him with Ramires, but Spurs responded with a second goal from Kane after 52 minutes — turning Matic before firing home — and then made it 4-1 thanks to a driven finish from Chadli. Chelsea did respond — both Hazard and Terry adding late goals — but were deservedly beaten as Spurs move up to fifth.
“Congratulations to my players, we deserved to win. We were better than Chelsea,” said Pochettino. “We’ve started to improve a lot in the last few months. I think that we are more strong now.”
As for Mourinho, who has already hinted at a “media campaign” against his side, he insisted conceding five times was “out of context” with the game and concentrated instead on controversial decisions he believes are costing his team points.
“I’m more shocked with other things than to concede five goals,” he said. “That can happen. I’m not saying five times a season, but you have a bad game, an unlucky situation when people are more tired... it can happen. We could have scored four, five or six ourselves. Both teams were really tired. But where I am shocked is that, in three days, we had two incredible decisions that punished us in a very hard way.”
That, in its own way, is a worry for Chelsea fans. Because, as always with Mourinho, when the conspiracy theories emerge, it’s a sign that something else is going wrong.
TOTTENHAM: Lloris 7, Walker 6, Fazio 7, Vertonghen 7, Rose 8 (Davies 75; 6); Bentaleb 6, Mason 5 (Dembele 13; 6); Chadli 7, Eriksen 7, Townsend 6 (Paulinho 66; 6); Kane 9.
CHELSEA: Courtois 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 5, Terry 5, Azpilicueta 6; Matic 6, Fabregas 6; Willian 5 (Salah 71), Oscar 5 (Ramires 45; 5), Hazard 8; Diego Costa 7.
Referee; Phil Dowd.
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