Tottenham 1 Chelsea 2
Has a team ever gone a full season without a single home win and not been relegated? Asking for friend.
I jest. I'm over it. We've been here before, right? I took some time out post-game and decided not to start writing immediately. Let the pain soak in and clot my blood first. Process it before vomiting the suffering back out. It's Chelsea. It's always a thousand times worse because it's them. Because of the history. It's what they do and it's why we hate them and sort of kinda hate ourselves for never quite finding a way though. If this was a Hollywood movie and we played the protagonist, at some point in the story you'd expect us to take sweet revenge. Experience that uplifting moment before the end credits roll. Turns out we're not quite in the final act. We're somewhere in the awkward middle, struggling through adversity and waiting for ascendancy. Same old same old.
Chelsea. Champions. Turn up and defend for the 0-0. Grab a 1-0 and then get gifted a 2-1.
Chelsea, champions, well drilled with an ultra defensive stance. Self-preservation the priority. Calm and purposeful with patience, waiting for one or two holes to appear to take advantage. Because one or two is all they require. Ruthless.
Chelsea, the champions, still with that edge. Conte with the psychological advantage. Still.
Conte was proactive with selection and strategy after seeing his team lose to Burnley. He made multiple changes in what was considered a makeshift side (lol, makeshift to the tune of around £270M) and tactically out smarted us. Well, sort of, considering the winning goal was birthed from individual errors we gifted them. Do we organise ourselves like this when up against a rival that might cause us problems? Do we make astute sacrifices? We have in the past but perhaps at Wembley we should have considered the reality that our plan usually gets upstaged - and the record books will tell you this happens aplenty against them lot.
We lacked a reactive approach once the game settled (esp when going 1-0 down). Is this the difference? Yes. A consequence of their meticulous preparation and delivery of stale but effective containment, paying off thanks to their bright start and set-piece goal. Even though we kept coming forward they were the ones that seemed more at ease with their football.
This was the champions, rocking up and sitting back for most of it. They probably would have settled for the steal (1-0) or a point. They got it all when it looked like they might get nothing. Hence why they are champions and we remain contenders. Pretenders. They had two efforts on target. Both goals. A game of inches. A song of little fire from us and ice cold killer instincts from them.
The Poch reshuffle in the middle didn't work. It was strange. We obviously worked on something but the execution was probably not what we witnessed with the end product. We never truly owned the tempo even if we bossed the possession. The centre wasn't controlled, it was more Wild West. Bodies everywhere. No rhythm. No spark. Industrious, yes. Sexy, no.
So with the dynamic being messy it meant that linking into the final third wasn't representative of our more fluid natural play. It was repetitive and not decisive. We didn't test their keeper often but we had opportunities. Kane off the woodwork was because it's August. It goes in, any other month. But those opportunities were focused on attacking space (or delivering the ball into space) rather than inventive little passages of play opening them up. The congestion was far more comfortable for them than it was or us. When we countered it was almost refreshing, allowing us another way to perhaps penetrate (ooh) their defence. Not that we did. That's not to say we didn't deserve our goal when it came. We broke them down eventually, something that is probably lost in the post-match anguish.
Eriksen was kept quiet, still doing his utmost to get involved but not allowed to get anywhere near finding a mojo that would benefit us. Dier and Dembele were played out of position. The latter still doing what he does best, carrying and protecting the ball and winning it back. Dier and especially Wanyama didn't have great games. Although football being football, when Eric was subbed for Son in the second half, Chelsea started to see more of the ball. Big Vic had a proper 2/10 performance. Touch, control, composure - all missing. Unfit? Shattered towards the end? Probably. Off the pace without a doubt. Poch, I'm looking at you gaffer. Two DM's might seem like overkill but again, it's Chelsea and perhaps in a game where the away side come at us with attacking intent - the extra muscle in the middle could dictate control. It seemed wasted here.
I'll have to wait for the more tactically obsessed bloggers to inform me what was happening centrally with us. Poch does love an experiment. Talking of which is Kieran Trippier one? He was completely ineffectual where we needed him most. Perhaps he'll be more successful against lesser teams but THESE games are the ones that need winning most. He's no Walker even if he can do a lot more than Kyle can when it comes to delivery. Width and pace stretches the game. You still require the capabilities to get into the position in the first place. At least with Kyle he'd cut the ball back for a midfielder.
Dele struggled. The suffocation of time and space meant a frustrating afternoon for him, unable to get on the ball enough and few opportunities for him to run into space. Although he was involved, it was all untidy. We wasted a fair few moments with balls into the box straight into the hands of the dwarf Courtois. Kane was sharp and mobile and desperately unlucky.
It was disappointing in the end. Plenty of the ball, not enough clear cut chances. A couple players had stinkers. The set-piece was blatantly going to go in the moment we gave away a cheap free-kick. The own-goal (for us) was thanks to the sheer momentum of effort dished out to claw our way back. What happened next was just atypical. Vic and Hugo doubling up for a tag-team nightmare. Poor throw, non-existent touch, then clumsy reactionary keeping.
Conte the genius or Conte the jammy, it matters not. They did what champions do. It remains the difference between the two clubs. They find a way no matter what. Then again they've spent hundreds and millions so it shouldn't come as a surprise. Now you might moan and hate on Levy and do the usual song and dance about depth (we do need more quality in the squad) but this game is under the microscope more than most because of the occasion, opposition and timing.
No chance I'll over-react to it.
We should have got a point and might have won but individuals ballsed it up. It happens. It happens very rarely for Spurs these-days. Yet when it does, it hurts more than any other type of defeat.
Also, just as a footnote - even though Chelsea sat back and soaked it up they still produced strength in the right places. For all our perseverance they extinguished the hope without remorse. Brutal. Almost 70% of the possession and a total of 18 shots on goal and countless corner kicks but 0 points to show for it. BRUTAL.
This Tottenham side (with only Danny Rose and Erik Lamela missing) and all the not-yet-to-be-signed players is still managing to compete. Or over-achieve. Take your pick. We didn't shame ourselves in defeat. We didn't get out played. We were not awful or looked inept or whatever. In fact, even with players 'out of position'. Even with Trip and Davies doing a bad tribute act of Walker and Rose. Even with Vic looking flaky. Even with all these things, we still matched them. Like I said, it hurts. There is no Wembley curse. There is, however, naivety that needs eradicating.
The point is, when we add to the squad, the excuses and rationalising won't be relevant because we'd f**king put these ***** to the sword next time. Ah...next time. Always next time.
Poch said if we play like that we'll win 9 out of 10 games. He's right. We'll smash most at Wembley or anywhere. Conte reckons teams will be inspired at our home away from home. Most came to the Lane and defended like dogs. Do these teams plan to do the same at the national stadium? Sit back? Is that the mantra for inspiration? If they attack with pomp we'll open them up. Chelsea kept the ball very well in the opening exchanges. They were hardly set up to attack us, hardly inspired. I don't buy the mind games and the Spurs players should be confident of redemption next weekend. It's easy to patronise after a win.
Still, 9 out of 10 is an issue because losing to the one team that matters most is why we might end up 2nd again. Most punishing stat? In our last six outings at Wembley we've conceded twelve goals from a total of fifteen shots on target. Insane. We need enlightenment. We need to have a defining moment. Perhaps playing Chelsea in our first game, even with the defeat, was a godsend. We can play there. We just have to win there now. 'Just'.
Burnley next. Ideally, three points so this whole fallacy and myth over Wembley dies a death (hopefully along with the tannoy echoing drums beats in an ill judged attempt to create atmosphere). A Kane goal in August would also be a decent way to enjoy the Bank Holiday.
There's also the transfer market and with rumours of more arriving, you wonder if the opening two games will influence any potential incoming acquisitions. The suggestion is more defenders but will that involve wing-backs? Ross Barkley is injured (and apparently requires surgery). The Danny Rose matter seems to be unresolved and I have a bad feeling about it.
Do Spurs evolve or attempt to regain the lost in-game momentum with pace and width? It was practically imperative to our style last season. My predication? We're in for some readjustment and then it will be forgotten because the new style and tempo we have will be just as capable. Poch teams never stay still. From pressing to swarming to swashbuckling.