So much talk had been of the individual in the run-up to this encounter – that
There were also individual failings, and another former
There was another individual mistake at the end, with Kyle Walker woefully surrendering possession allowing Chelsea to score a fourth goal but by then, as Villas-Boas said, the game was up.
“We lost the opportunity to bring them down,” Villas-Boas admitted. His analysis centred on that mercurial triumvirate of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard playing behind a lone striker, in this instance Fernando Torres.
“Amazing,” was Villas-Boas’s verdict and Mata, who scored two and should have claimed a hat-trick, was especially deserving of praise, with Gary Cahill – another of Chelsea’s goalscorers – hailing the Spaniard as a “magician”.
He certainly bewitched Gallas and Co in what was a mesmerising encounter.
The hosts were hampered by losing Moussa Dembélé to a late hip injury and the absence of Gareth Bale to attend the birth of his child. Without their two most decisive and dynamic players, Spurs’ task grew all the greater.
Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon picked up the baton and the way in which the hosts flew out of the blocks in the second-half, turning a deficit into an advantage, was gripping. But this Chelsea side are developing into something special, with Villas-Boas suggesting their early form is similar to that shown by Manchester City last season.
There will be encouragement for Chelsea’s rivals in their continuing vulnerability. They were without John Terry, who was serving the first match of his four-game ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, and his galvanising qualities were missed.
Ashley Cole, who has had his own troubles, was superb at times as Chelsea claimed a victory that showed that they are real title contenders. This was their first win at White Hart Lane since 2005 and brought to an end Spurs’ record of not having been defeated in 20 London derbies.
All of that will hurt Villas-Boas, but he was scrupulous in not making it personal. Spurs have their own goals this season, he said, and if losing this match yet reaching those targets is what he achieves, then he will be satisfied.
His successor at Stamford Bridge, Roberto Di Matteo, talked of Chelsea passing a “big test of character” after another difficult week, although he added: “This [the Terry racism saga] has been going on for a long time and we have managed to get the players to focus. They were not distracted.”
They certainly were not. When the ball is played up to Mata, Oscar and Hazard, all hell can break loose. Such is their trickery, fluidity, comfort in possession and sharpness of thought, that Chelsea will always have an opportunity to damage their opponents. Torres played well too, but it’s undeniable that with a more lethal striker, this Chelsea forward line would be pretty much unstoppable.
Unstoppable is the only way to describe Cahill’s goal. Gallas erred – weakly heading a corner back across the box and the ball plopped down to Cahill, who struck the sweetest and fiercest of volleys past unsighted goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
Gradually Spurs eked out chances, with Petr Cech spilling a Defoe drive and Gylfi Sigurdsson screwing a shot wide on the turn. Mata should have added a second though when his first-time effort was saved by Friedel only for him to sky the follow-up.
Villas-Boas clearly had words at half-time, and his side were transformed. First Jan Vertonghen retrieved a free-kick and Gallas – who had earlier scuffed a volley when unmarked on goal – turned it over the line. Then Lennon ran at the defence, his mis-hit shot fell to Defoe who fired the ball home.
But as Villas-Boas implored his players to calm things down, Chelsea stepped on the gas. After Gallas was fortunate not to concede a penalty, the defender half-cleared a cross straight to Mata, who shot into the corner of the goal. There was then a wonderful, incisive pass from Hazard to pick out Mata’s run – which was unchecked – and he steered the ball around Friedel for a sixth goal in five games.
Spurs attempted to come back and a low shot from Walker, from fully 35 yards, was just about turned around the post by Cech. In injury-time, substitute Daniel Sturridge ended any doubt as he tapped in from Mata’s low cross after Walker made the final individual mistake.
A sad post-script to the match was that Walker felt forced to delete his Twitter account last night because of abuse from disgruntled supporters reacting to his indifferent form this season
Walker tweeted: “If I said what I thought to these people I would get done. Humans make mistakes.”