An 80th minute equalizer from substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson earned Tottenham Hotspur a point that keeps alive the club’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
However, they must now rely on their two London rivals, especially Arsenal, dropping points. With two home games left, and a superior goal difference, Chelsea look certain to claim one of the two qualifying places, leaving the two North London arch-enemies to fight it out for the remaining spot.
Villas-Boas Back at the Bridge
Wednesday night’s game was Spurs’ manager Andre Villas-Boas’ first return to Chelsea since he was sacked by the club in March of last year. When asked about his feelings on going back to Stamford Bridge Villas-Boas was somewhat guarded in his remarks saying to Fox Sports, “I’m not sure if enough time has passed for me to feel anything. I was just another manager that passed by.
“At the moment it means absolutely nothing; it’s just another opponent in our quest to try to get the nine points that we have to play for.”
Scott Parker missed the Southampton game after injuring his ankle in training, while Aaron Lennon and Mousa Dembele both had to come off during the match due to muscle problems.
Two out of the Spurs doubtfuls were fit to play with Parker and Lennon making the starting line-up. Dembele’s hamstring ruled him out while Jermain Defoe, though named as a substitute, was rumored to be some way short of 100 percent.
Consequently, Emmanuel Adebayor was picked to lead the line with Lewis Holtby filling the hole behind him. Clint Dempsey was relegated to the bench.
Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard was able to play for Chelsea after missing the trip to Old Trafford with a calf problem. David Luiz was given a holding role in midfield in partnership with Ramires behind the “three amigos” of Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata, meaning there was again no place for Frank Lampard.
His fellow English veteran John Terry also missed out, with Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic the preferred combination at the center of Chelsea’s defense.
Chelsea Takes the Initiative
Chelsea was fastest out of the blocks and began the game full of energy. Mata manufactured the opening opportunity of the night with a delightful first touch on the edge of the Spurs area with his back to goal, but his shot on the turn flew over the bar.
Four minutes later the home side won a corner which was flicked on by the head of Cahill to Oscar coming in at the far post who nodded the ball past Hugo Lloris to put his team into the lead.
On 16 minutes, Mata again contrived to put the ball over the top—this time from several yards closer in around the penalty spot. Indeed, Chelsea was asking all the questions throughout the first 25 minutes or so with Hazard, Oscar and Mata constantly interchanging positions and causing havoc in the Spurs defense.
The visitors were having trouble keeping the ball for any length of time and could not get star player Gareth Bale into the game, with the Welshman somewhat isolated out on the left flank for much of the time. Rafael Benitez’s side was certainly playing like a team that had won six of its last eight games in the league, collecting 19 out of a possible 24 points in the process.
Then on 26 minutes, as has often been the case in recent times, came a Tottenham goal out of nothing—but the architect was not Bale on this occasion. Adebayor picked up the ball inside his own half as Spurs cleared their lines following yet another Chelsea attack.
With those long legs of his, the Togo striker seems to eat up the ground when in full flight. The Chelsea defenders backed off and before they knew it the Togo striker had reached the edge of their box and unleashed a wonderful strike that curled past Petr Cech into the top corner of the Chelsea net.
Notwithstanding Adebayor’s wonder-goal, the home side continued to dominate. On 39 minutes, they worked the ball nicely down the right flank before Torres played a delightful pass into the stride of Ramires who escaped the attention of Parker to finish clinically.
Spurs Draw Level Again
The visitors were more successful at breaking up the Chelsea rhythm in the second period while not creating too much themselves. However, that changed just 10 minutes from the end of normal time.
The ball came to Adebayor on the left-hand edge of the Chelsea box and the big man’s clever back heel wrong-footed the defenders finding Gilfi Sigurrdsson in a great position. The Icelander grabbed his opportunity, beating Cech low down to the keeper’s left.
What price for another dramatic Spurs come-from-behind victory? Cue Gareth Bale who, deep into stoppage time, won a free kick in his favorite territory just outside the area.
But on this occasion there would be no grandstand finish. Bale managed to get the ball over the wall and on target but it was straight at Cech who made a routine save.
“We showed that fighting spirit and got a point,” said Spurs captain Michael Dawson to Fox Sports after the match. The man-of-the-match award was given to Adebayor.
The latter has had a patchy season at best, but his excellent display tonight was certainly responsible for keeping his club in the mix for those Champions League places. But Chelsea and Arsenal now have the matter in their own hands and Tottenham must rely on one of them slipping up.
A Legend Retires
The last Spurs player to score a winning goal at Stamford Bridge was Gary Lineker back in 1990 when the manager was Terry Venables. Spurs have had 13 managers since Venables while at Old Trafford there has only been one—Sir Alex Ferguson.
Most of Manchester United’s older supporters thought nobody would ever match the standards set by the great Sir Matt Busby, but they were wrong.
Sir Alex Ferguson has created a position for himself in the game that is unique. There is no need to list all the trophies here, but it is worth noting in these times, where new managers are invariably given one season, or less, to prove themselves in the job, that Sir Alex was at the helm for nearly four years before winning the FA Cup in 1990.
It was another three years before United’s first league title since 1967 was secured, and of course the rest is history. It is difficult to see a manager being given that amount of time in the modern era where loyalty is transitory at best—just ask Roberto De Matteo.
Villas-Boas paid tribute to Sir Alex saying that his retirement was “surprising and sad news” but that the Scot was “a reference point for all coaches” having provided “a legacy that we can all cherish.”
Benitez, who clashed swords with Sir Alex on many occasions, not least when he was manager of United’s bitter rivals Liverpool, said, “I liked to compete with him and hope he can enjoy his retirement.”
We wish Sir Alex Ferguson a long and happy retirement. He was one of a kind and the Premier League will not be the same without him.
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