Chelsea consolidated top spot in the Barclays English Premier League with an impressive 4–2 win over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in Saturday’s early kickoff.
Any hopes Andre Villas-Boas may have had of putting one over on the club that sacked him last March were ironically dashed by a man of the match performance from a player that he himself had brought to Stamford Bridge. Spanish international (although not during the most recent break) Juan Mata scored two and set up his team’s fourth for substitute Daniel Sturridge to turn the game around after Spurs had gone ahead 2–1 10 minutes into the second half.
“We are a team with belief in our confidence and level. We are playing really well with the ball, trying to give assists and movement for midfielders,” Mata told ESPN after the match.
“[It’s] too early to think of winning the Premier League,” Mata cautioned.
A London derby that is always one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures on the calendar was given extra spice on this occasion being the first time Villas-Boas had faced Chelsea since his unceremonious departure. The fact that his assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, had been appointed his replacement and then gone on to win the FA Cup and European Champions League must indeed have been a bitter pill swallow.
The task of the Spurs manager was not made any easier by the loss of star player Gareth Bale whose wife is expecting their first child. The Welsh international is one of those players that cannot really be replaced.
Tom Huddlestone got the nod, but would look to solidify midfield rather than playing in Bale’s position wide on the left. It would be Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson who would slot in on the left side of midfield and attempt to provide some width down the left in Bale’s absence
Chelsea skipper John Terry was of course absent, so Gary Cahill joined Mata as the second Villas-Boas signing in the Chelsea lineup. One of the Portuguese manager’s most controversial actions while at Chelsea was his persistent tendency to leave Frank Lampard on the bench. So it was something of an irony that Ramires was preferred to the England man for this lunch time derby in the capital.
First Blood to Di Matteo
The game was open from the outset and played at high pace in keeping with Premier League tradition. Chelsea looked the more dangerous going forward during the opening 15 minutes, whereas Spurs initially appeared somewhat lacking in inspiration.
In fact, the scoring began on the quarter-hour mark when an ill-directed William Gallas defensive header went back into a central position right into the path of Cahill who was lurking on the edge of the Spurs area. The England international connected with one of the sweetest and most powerful volleys you will see this season—and that from a central defender.
Brad Friedel, who had been preferred to French international Hugo Lloris between the posts, stood no chance and the visitors were one up.
Spurs attempted to make good the deficit and the lively Jermain Defoe gave Petr Cech his first test of the encounter five minutes later. Cech failed to hold the shot but Ashley Cole was on hand to clear the loose ball to safety.
Aaron Lennon started to come into the game and his first meaningful cross found Sigurdsson at the far post but he dragged the shot just wide. In fact, as the half drew to a close Tottenham built up a real head of steam, but could not come up with that elusive equalizer.
So a fast and furious first period came to an end. Referee Mike Dean had booked no less than five players during that first 45 minutes which was ample testimony to the passion with which the match was being played.
Second Half Goal Feast
The home team carried their momentum from the end of the first half into the second. Just two minutes after the restart, Huddlestone curled a free kick towards the far post. Jan Vertonghen knocked it back across the face of goal to Gallas coming in at the back post.
Slow motion replays suggested that Gallas had put the ball in with his arm but it was hard to criticize the officials as it certainly looked like his head in real time. So the goal stood and Gallas appeared to have made amends for his earlier error that led to Chelsea’s goal.
Sigurdsson could have twice put his team ahead with a pair of right-footed shots cutting in from the left, but both times Cech was up to the task. Then on 54 minutes, Lennon found Defoe in the center of the box with a cross that may well have been meant as a shot. The sharp England striker fired a first-timer into the net for his 200th career goal.
A sweet win for Villas-Boas looked on the cards, but not for long. Gallas was having a strange match by his usually reliable standards, and on 66 minutes, he cleared an incoming cross weakly straight to Mata on the edge of the Spurs area. The Spaniard pounced on the ball gleefully and dispatched it past Friedel into the net accurately.
This was end-to-end stuff and two minutes later Cech was saving one-handed at full stretch from Defoe. Back up into the Spurs half and Eden Hazard slotted a glorious pass through to Mata who found himself with only the keeper to beat, which he did with ease.
Chelsea had turned the game on its head in the space of three minutes. Remarkably, all three of their goals had come from the two players signed by Villas-Boas.
Spurs brought on Emmanuel Adebayor for only his fourth appearance of the season as a substitute. Last season’s top scorer has yet to start a match this campaign. He made little impact and may well be off on his travels again before too long.
Cech was called upon once more to execute a fine fingertip save from a long range drive that caught him by surprise, but it was the visitors that would find the net for a fourth time to finally put the game beyond Tottenham.
It was that man Mata again who seized on a mistake by Kyle Walker and directed a pinpoint cross to Daniel Sturridge who had only to tap the ball into an open net to seal the points for the league leaders.
This was a pulsating encounter with never a dull moment and the best possible advertisement for the English Premier League.
Notwithstanding the undoubted quality of the two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, it is not hard to see why, on this evidence, the Premier League is universally hailed as the world’s most entertaining football competition.
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