Tottenham Hotspur 0 Chelsea 3 - A tale of two halves and two managers
With last night’s comprehensive thrashing by title contenders Chelsea at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, whatever rush we felt after topping the table early in the season is now well and truly over.
While the loss to Crystal Palace a week ago could be explained away as a blip, as Spurs had been as lifeless as a zombie after a shotgun to its head, this match wasn’t.
WATCH: Nuno analyses why Spurs lost to Chelsea
Indeed, if one had watched the first half, one would think that Spurs were the ones most likely to go on and win the match - that was the equivalent of the ride upwards on the rollercoaster, where we were all holding our breath for the excitement to come.
While Chelsea had their chances in the first half, it was safe to say that Spurs had bossed them around without scoring. Tanguy Ndombele, finally returned to Premier League action, was a masterclass in midfield, showing the kind of creativity that Spurs had been missing for so long even as we were winning. Pierre Emile Hojbjerg, returned to the anchor position of the midfield trio, showed the kind of ball-winning strength that gobbled up Chelsea’s midfield attacking talent of Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. And for the first time this season, we finally saw a glimpse of that telepathic partnership between Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.
But the Chelsea players, even though they were on the ropes, threw their bodies on the line, kept their discipline and forced Spurs to be really clinical if they wanted to score, which they weren’t.
Now, I don’t know what happened during the half time talks, but I can speculate, because as everyone knows, speculation can make you a lot of money.
So this is how I think the team talks went during the break.
Nuno Espirito Santo: Good work, lads, just keep it up and we’ll win.
Thomas Tuchel: You lazy %#@%$#@%, %$@#@#%$*&.
Or maybe he adopted the team talk out of Roy Keane’s playbook and said, “Lads, it’s Tottenham”.
WATCH: Tuchel compares Lukaku with Harry Kane
And indeed, the Chelsea players came out of the break like men transformed. If they were a Peterbilt 379 truck in the first half, they were Optimus Prime in the second.
They were unrecognizable from the first half. Their passing was crisp and precise, they tackled harder and got to each loose ball first and the movement off the ball was dazzling, especially Marcos Alonso on the left who left Emerson Royal in his dust so many times that if this was a boxing match, Emerson’s coach would have thrown in the towel.
Spurs players didn’t know what hit them, and looked like a deer in the headlights.
Of course, it wasn’t down to just a motivating team talk, and that showed the difference between the tactical mastery of Tuchel and the lack of on Nuno.
Tuchel introduced N’golo Kante at half time and switched the formation from a 3-4-3 to 3-5-2, loading up the midfield where he knew the battle had to be won. He sacrificed Mason Mount, trusting that the attacking talents of Romelu Lukaku and Havertz would suffice once they could dominate the midfield. And he was right.
WATCH: Tuchel praises Kante for leading Chelsea to win over Spurs
Nuno, meanwhile, persisted with his 4-3-3 and oddly with Kane on the left, instead of Son who is more naturally a left winger. Every fan could see what was coming, even before Thiago Silva headed in the opening goal from a set piece.
Every fan who played Football Manager was screaming for him to switch to a 4-2-3-1, and bring in Bryan Gil for the ineffective Dele Alli, so that we could stifle the width.
But Nuno did … nothing. Even when he made changes at 2-0 down, it was pretty much sticking to the same formation, when it was clear that it wasn’t just the personnel that needed change, but the tactical formation as well. Hoping for the best when your system is clearly not working is the very definition of football insanity.
Pretty much from the 46th minute, the result was a foregone conclusion, the only difference is how many goals Chelsea would score.
The most optimistic of Spurs fans would say the first two Chelsea goals were from a set piece and a huge slice of luck when Kante’s shot took a big deflection off the unfortunate Eric Dier.
By the time Chelsea scored their third goal - a side-footed effort from Antonio Rudiger in the second minute of stoppage time - the Spurs players had all but given up on the game.
In truth, Chelsea had so many clear cut chances that had it not been for desperate and often nervy defending, the scoreline would have been a bigger embarrassment.
Nuno said after the match that Spurs have a lot of problems. They do indeed and I hope that when he does a review of the match, he also puts his own tactical knowledge as one of the many problems Spurs have to solve.
Palace was a bad day at the office, but Chelsea was not. Chelsea showed the difference between a title challenger and a pretender, and even though Spurs fans can take heart that the first half showed what they can do, they need to be realistic that if they don’t learn from this, then their top four ambition would go from improbable to impossible.