By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
It was the perfect storm. The premier league champions had lost their first game of the season to Burnley FC, who’d barely avoided relegation last season. They also had four starters out to suspension and injury, and their next game was an away derby against Tottenham. Their manager had signed a new contract on increased wages, but ominously, no extension.
Ex-Chelsea players Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Kevin de Bruyne and Mo Salah were showing themselves to be among the best players in their respective positions in the premier league – playing for Chelsea’s title rivals. And want-away striker Diego Costa sat above the entire dismal mess, firing furious demands and accusations at his club from a distance, like thunderbolts from some angry Azteca god.
Many Chelsea fans adjusted their expectations for the Tottenham game accordingly – hoping for a good game at least, maybe a draw, anything that wasn’t a hammering from the home side. The team sheet wasn’t much consolation – three first ever EPL starts for Alvaro Morata, Andreas Christensen and Tiemoue Bakayoko, who’d been rushed into the side even though not fully fit.
Chelsea’s formation had been reshuffled as well – they started in a 3-5-2, with Cesar Azpilicueta, Christensen and Rudiger in center back, Bakayoko, Luiz and Kante in midfield, Willian and Morata up top. There was at least some good news for this game – Victor Moses had returned from suspension, and was back in his familiar spot at right wing back. And Antonio Conte was wearing a sharp-looking suit again – always a good sign for the Blues.
Tottenham Hotspur made two changes to the side that had won 2 – 0 away at St. James’ Park. Kieran Trippier and midfield powerhouse Victor Wanyama returned to replace Kyle Walker-Peters and Moussa Sissoko respectively. Looking at their team-sheet overall, this was very much the settled, quality Tottenham first eleven that had pushed Chelsea so hard in the title race last season. Spurs were of course hosting the first ever English Premier League game at Wembley Stadium, their new, temporary home ground.
Lloris, Davies (Sissoko), Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Dier (Son), Trippier (Janssen), Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli, Kane
Subs Vorm, Walker-Peters, Wimmer, Winks, Sissoko, Janssen, Son
Courtois, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso, Bakayoko, Luiz, Kante, Moses, Willian (Pedro), Morata (Batshuayi)
Subs Caballero, Kenedy, Tomori, Scott, Musonda, Pedro, Batshuayi
Big Chance For Morata
Surprisingly, Tottenham started the game tentatively, and Chelsea showed more enterprise and confidence on the ball. Early on in the game they challenged Tottenham’s defence with a couple of crosses. The first of these was not entirely accurate, but the second was perfectly placed from Azpilicueta. Morata got away from Alderweireld for a free header, but somehow headed it past the far post. It was the perfect opportunity to go one nil up, but was sadly wasted.
FIFA Free Kick
Chelsea have been dangerous on set pieces for years, and even more so recently from direct free kicks. Both Willian and Marcos Alonso are deadly in these situations, and both were available when David Luiz was brought down just outside Tottenham’s penalty area. Alonso took the free kick, and it was absolutely delightful, a FIFA video game special basically. He whipped it over the wall and in the top right corner of the net. On the replay, you could see Lloris stretching for it, then retracting his arm when he realized there was no hope of reaching it.
Relentless Home Pressure
After their goal Chelsea sat back to guard the narrow lead. Normally this is a pretty risky tactic, but somehow today they looked like they could pull it off. It resulted in wave after wave of Tottenham pressure though, all the way up to half time. In their best chance of the half, Wanyama released Alli on a quick counter, and he raced up the pitch, then released Kane on the left with a pass. Kane cut in past Christensen, and struck a beautiful grass cutter past Courtois, but off the far post.
Somehow Chelsea weathered the relentless pressure. Bakayoko was a tank today frankly, almost impossible to get off the ball. Rudiger and Christensen were also extremely effective. Kante was his usual self, zipping all over midfield and sometimes even out to the wings to take the ball out of danger. And unlike the last game, Chelsea were brilliant at defending crosses, the center backs and defensive midfielders all playing their role to intercept or head them out. Chelsea went in at the break one nil up.
Back and Forth
In the second half, after an initial spell of pressure, the game began to ebb and flow a little bit more. Tottenham had most of the possession, but Chelsea were able to break forward more on the counter. Kane had a good chance off a corner, getting past Christensen and connecting a header, but it came off Luiz’s back and went out again.
On one of the occasions in which Chelsea did get forward, Bakayoko and Morata combined to set up Willian on the edge of the area. Willian saw the defence standing off, did a step-over and struck it, but could only hit the post with his shot. Morata also had a great chance to make it two nil, but his shot was intercepted at the last second and it spun out for a corner.
On 78 minutes Conte sent Pedro and Michy Batshuayi on for Willian and Morata respectively. Morata had had a relatively quiet game, but did show excellent movement and intelligence as Chelsea’s sole striker. He’d missed his two best chances, but only by a little, and he’d been invaluable to Chelsea’s defending on set pieces.
When Bakayoko bowled Dele Alli over just outside the left corner of the penalty box, it looked like a pretty good opportunity for Tottenham. And it proved to be the case, with Morata off the pitch. Christian Eriksen swung it in, and Michy Batshuayi redirected the ball perfectly with his header… into his own net. It was another example of the kind of “self-made bad luck” Chelsea had been having this season, with tough referee decisions, and now with own goals from their own players.
Although there were only eight minutes of normal time left after Batshuayi’s OG, that wasn’t the final major event of this game. Courtois had been dominating his area all game, and he was the catalyst for a great Chelsea move in the last few minutes. He claimed the ball off a Tottenham corner, and released Kante for the counter with a quick throw. Kante raced a full sixty yards up the pitch, shrugging off Kane, who had tried to hold him back, and slid the ball through for Batshuayi. Moussa Dembele somehow managed to muscle Batshuayi off the ball though, and Lloris claimed the ball.
Lloris must have been trying to start a similar counter, because he threw the ball out early as well. Unfortunately Luiz had pushed up, and he immediately stole the ball off Wanyama. He passed it to Pedro on the left, who spotted a run inside from Alonso, and played the ball ahead of him into the penalty box. Although it was an acute angle, Alonso made another perfect strike, and somehow the ball went in under Lloris for a late winner.
Final Score Tottenham 1 – 2 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Mirror
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