Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham: Spurs’s Stamford Bridge curse continues as Blues begin to click into gear after Kepa saga
As Tottenham slipped to a disappointing defeat tonight they knew their Stamford Bridge curse had not been broken.
Spurs have now won just once in the last 33 attempts away to their London rivals while the result also gave them the unwanted fact of four consecutive defeats away from home for the first time in 10 years.
Having mostly navigated their way through an injury-ridden spell untroubled, Tottenham have now lost two league games on the bounce and face Arsenal this weekend in another London derby, with their rivals just four points behind after thrashing Bournemouth.
Defeats on the road to Crystal Palace, Burnley and Chelsea twice means it is the first time Spurs have lost four away games in a row in all competitions since losing seven under Harry Redknapp.
Their frustrations were there for all to see as tempers boiled over throughout the game, with Danny Rose, Mousa Sissoko and Harry Kane all involved in heated moments.
Keeping Kepa out
The decision to leave Kepa Arrizabalaga out was a sign that Maurizio Sarri was trying to demonstrate he does hold some authority at Chelsea, but also served to further highlight how he was undermined in the Carabao Cup final on the weekend.
Despite Sarri’s obvious anger on the touchline during that game, he backtracked afterwards to say it was a misunderstanding, only for Kepa to be fined a week’s wages since.
The saga continued against Tottenham with Sarri saying it was his decision to drop the keeper because “we are a group, not 25 [individual] players”.
The lack of clarity in the aftermath of an already embarrassing scenario has done little to help Sarri’s cause, although the decision to bring in Willy Caballero proved inconsequential as the Chelsea keeper had relatively little to do.
Higuain helps attack
The inclusion of Gonzalo Higuain was notable from the off as he linked up with Eden Hazard and Pedro and fired a shot against the post after just six minutes.
The Argentine was not selected for last weekend’s cup final defeat but looked dangerous in and around the box during the opening stages.
Midway through the first-half he bent a shot just wide of the post after Hugo Lloris misplaced a pass and after 55 minutes he found the back of the net with a great one-on-one finish, only to be ruled offside.
But it was more than just his eye for goal that enhanced Chelsea’s attack; his all-round play, coming deeper to collect the ball and bringing others into play is a tactic that Chelsea cannot use when deploying Hazard as a false nine.
The heatmap showed the Belgian had being playing further forward than Higuain – such is the freedom Hazard is afforded when the Blues use an out-and-out striker.
Tottenham fans would have been worried before the match when it was revealed that Jan Vertonghen was missing with a hip injury, particularly with another London derby against Arsenal on Saturday.
But Davinson Sanchez returned to the starting eleven after being rested for the defeat by Burnley and put any concerns to bed as he cleared up almost everything that Chelsea threw at the Spurs’ defence.
Throughout the first-half he swept up balls intended for Hazard and Pedro and then beat Higuain to headers as Chelsea tried to get their Argentine striker to bring the ball down.
He was a bright spark in an otherwise tiresome evening for Spurs and was not to blame as Pedro turned Toby Alderweireld inside out to slot the opening goal through Lloris’s legs, nor as Kieran Trippier suffered a mix-up to comically pass it beyond his keeper.
After losing 6-0 to City and 2-0 to Manchester United, Chelsea have at least learned from those hard lessons.
Sarri’s position looked under threat, and while he is by no means safe, the last two performances have been encouraging, particularly from a defensive perspective.
Chelsea managed to keep City out for 120 minutes at the weekend and there was another clean sheet against Tottenham, who in truth had few clear-cut chances.
David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger appear to be developing a strong partnership in the centre of defence, but such is their inconsistency that it is impossible to know how it will last.
For now, at least, there is reason for Chelsea to be optimistic as they chase down Tottenham and Arsenal in third and fourth with a game in hand.