Killing them softly
Tottenham 2 Chelsea 0
Well hello there my dear old friend momentum. I've missed the warmth of your big bosom. Never leave me again. It's cold without you.
Oh happy days, giving back some love to Chelsea for all the personal attention they've paid us in recent years. Doing so with not a hint of petulance or brutality either. Controlled and contained through-out, tactics this time taking precedence over emotionally charged passion. A standing ovation for our commander and chief, Mauricio Pochettino. Everything in preparation and execution played out nigh perfectly. It was a masterclass.
This is Tottenham at their very finest.
Professional and disciplined. Patient and precise. The last time we produced football so compact and clinical was against Manchester City. Another 2-0 win. However, looking back now, that was an anomaly in terms of form. We've had to dig deep since but at no point have we collapsed or panicked. We've had disappointments and been untidy in presentation. When some were nervously suggesting we hit a brick wall and that Poch had run out of ideas/Daniel Levy failed us in the transfer market/some of our key players were over-rated - the squad and coaching staff just carried on with it all. Faith and belief rolling the carpet out for returning confidence.
No surprise the change in form also coincides with the majority of our first eleven being available. What we've done is gradually pull ourselves up and reclaim some of the zest and continuity in our transitional play. We're looking like a collective again and not a fragmented shadow of our peak endeavours from last season.
Five wins on the trot. Up to third place. The media suggesting we've done the other challenging clubs a favour, not realising the only team we've truly helped is ourselves. Eric Dier and Dele Alli post-game summed up the attitude we have, not getting overly carried away with it all and already focusing on the next one. I mean, come on, if you honestly think this isn't the best set of players / coach / team we've had in generations then I feel for you. Your mindset is becoming borderline irrelevant. Feel the love man, don't be afraid, you'll be lonely over there without this heaving bosom to sleep on.
I'm not sat here salivating at beating Chelsea like the days of past lifetimes when a win against a big team was rare and cherished. I'm simply proud we have a team that can rise above expectancy and redefine what we may choose to desire. I'm buzzing with just how great we are at functioning at a high level when required to do so (beating the likes of bogey team WBA is altogether another problem for another day). What impressed me so much about the Chelsea win (much like the City one) was that simply put, on their day Spurs can beat anyone in this league. We just need to remember two things. We are still a young maturing side. We need to beat 'rival' clubs consistently to evolve further.
The game itself was intense.
It's an easier viewing second time round. You know how Sky Sports have often called tightly contested games a 'chess match', usually an attempt to mask how boring and mundane the entertainment is. In this case, it was the complete opposite. Sure, it was still tightly contested but there was nothing boring about it. A dynamic physical game of chess, every move having you sat on the edge of your seat because you weren't quite sure if this was the move that would knock a piece clean off the board.
Chelsea pressed brilliantly but the only concern I had was the manner in which we played the ball out from the back. Constantly passing it back and then Hugo Lloris distributing it forward with a hint of the erratic. Of course, second time (viewing) round you can see that the aim was to retain control (even if Hugo's feet said no more than yes). Draw them out, then play it out. The visitors front-men persisted with pushing us back and waited for an opportunity/mistake. We kept it relatively clean. The other end, Harry Kane and Dele Alli worked their socks off pulling defenders left and right but struggled to hold onto the ball and craft and create with the ease bestowed in games against lower tier sides. The graft still vital to retaining the tempo, everyone still playing a vital part.
Dele in particular was relentless with stretching their back three. I guess against one of those lower tier sides (or away from home when the game is open) it would be more obvious to point him out as a second striker. But it was clear (with how the game was panning out) he would have to spend more time running into pockets of space alone rather than perhaps running with the ball at his feet into the same pockets of space. Force an error or grasp an avenue that isn't robustly defended. A second here, an inch there and that's when you craft and create simply by being available. If teams are not willing to open up and allow mistakes to play out (by virtue of taking more progressive risks) then you're left looking for micro-transgressions. An opposing defender not too bright with the head height? Then work yourself in-between and hope that in the moment, the ball is planted towards your head. Alli causing mischief.
We defended supremely well all over the pitch and in midfield Victor Wanyama was back to his best, dominantly roaming the central turf, anchoring us with enough dictation of the ball to allow the likes of Christian Eriksen to attack the patches available, to look for a telling pass or cross.
The first goal was the only way we could have scored. Whilst Chelsea worked the counter, arguing amongst themselves, Spurs persistently searched to get between their defence (what with a lack of traditional marauding). Eriksen (the brains of the team) found Dele with a wonderful cross. The wonder boy heading in for a 1-0 at the break scoreline. In the game at Stamford Bridge, their equaliser changed the dynamism of the narrative. In this one, it solidified our grip. It was fantastic timing. Uppercut on the bell, doesn't knock them out but leaves them dazed and confused on the stool.
To then go 2-0 up early in the second half after weathering what looked to be a storm (but turned out to be drizzle) was nigh gloriousness. A carbon copy. The Great Dane again taking an extra touch in the precious space around him to find Dele at the far post who punished Chelsea's hesitance. Our only two efforts on goal producing two goals.
Killing them softly. Got the feels.
A comfortable ruthlessness to which Chelsea failed to reply and thus kissed goodbye to the successive run record they were down to breaking post-match.
Our 343 variant was fire against Antonio Conte's unbeaten 343 powerhouse. Take a hold of the midfield and you've got yourself a springboard to claim the majority of the possession. Obviously, you need the players to be able to match them. Although I'm beginning to think they just about had the players to match us...until we scored.
Dier, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld at the back - cool and calm - allowing Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to throttle forward (Rose more successful than Walker for a time). Rose in particular was exceptional down the flank. He becomes a target for opposition players because if you don't target him he makes a target out of you. The fact that he's mostly up against it in games (because of how infuriating he must be to defend against, so they gang-up on him they do) is pure magic to watch. Bruising and brilliant is our Rose. Walker was given the freedom to eventually join him on the wing-back adventure in around the Chelsea pen area, thanks to astute covering in defensive positions. Everyone has your back at Spurs.
Mousa and Victor matched everything Chelsea gave in the middle. Dembele wasn't at his mazy best (he faded a touch in the second half) but guarded our backline and produced one special little run in particular (that has you begging him to do it more often). In fact, Mousa's standards are so grand that it's easy to think he wasn't effective when in actuality, he was pretty imperative to how we handled them in the first forty-five. His partner, Wanyama was destroying space and time like a villain from a Star Trek epic. Steel, backbone and bottle. Drink the kool-aid.
Eden Hazard had two chances but there wasn't a lot to do for either keeper (aside from Thibaut Courtois picking the ball out of the net twice). Both defences, the best in the league, both reluctant to surrender, only one able to puncture the opposing teams net.
The player interchanging and cover was delivered with detail and temperament. Jan pushing out of the defence and into the final third was one example of the measured flexibility we have. Don't misunderstand, this wasn't Chelsea playing poorly. It wasn't even Spurs completely outplaying them. We simply out thought them. We contained their own brand of patient play, nullified their change of gear and then continued to rule over our territory. When they upped their tempo we nerfed it with a second goal. This is us at near full strength and like I said, we can live with anyone in the league when we pull it together this well.
Even with Chelsea's excellence in suffocating the space Kane had, the work ethic (team over individuals) was ultimately king. Chelsea couldn't find a goal to get them back into it. Diego Costa was kept at bay and the likes of Hazard and co relatively subdued. Eden, silky skills and all, a player I wouldn't mind at the Lane but thankfully (this time) we kept his tinkering to a minimum.
Dele, after that low-key patch (along with Eriksen) is now back on point. The mark of a (to be) great player, is not getting frustrated, biding his time, knowing that players around might just be able to find him with a key pass. He doesn't have to be involved in the traditional sense. Sometimes the sacrifice is one the occasion demands. He's reached twenty goals in near record time (20 in 52) and he's still only twenty years old. Lap it up. We've got him. To pop up two huge goals in a huge game...I think it's safe to say we have the mentality to compete because our players perceive themselves as winners. Being able to produce performances like this regularly is the Holy Grail. The final transition is to actually win something. God only knows what we might be able to go on to achieve then.
Steady. I'm dreaming again. One step at a time, but don't mind me, Imma gonna keep on swaggering like Conor McGregor in the octagon. Sometimes hype and potential are one and the same thing. You should never be afraid to flaunt it if you've got it. And we've got it. We just need to flaunt it more often.
Sky Sports had a proper little compilation at the end of their coverage 'celebrating' Chelsea's run. They obviously had to edit Spurs into the ending. Gutted for them.
It's the half-way point of the season. Twenty games in. Seven points off the top. I think we're in the title race lads.