It’s a rare occasion in my experience, where a game that I looked forward to as much our match yesterday at White Hart Lane, will deliver so spectacularly. Yesterday was the best Chelsea game I have seen for a long time. As a tactical battle, as an open and fast-paced, end to end contest, and as an exhibition of individual skill – it was just as good as it gets.
After making the stupid mistake of trying to say nice things to Chelsea fans about Andre Villas-Boas in my last article, I feel oddly compelled to do it again. The Portuguese was dignified in defeat and I think summed the game up perfectly when he called it an even contest, ultimately decided by that extra bit of quality our squad possesses. (I’m paraphrasing)
I think we have to be honest though – another very crucial factor was the absence of five of Tottenham’s key players. Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Spurs’ two most reliable defenders over the past few seasons) were both out injured; arguably their two most important midfield players in Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele were also unavailable, whilst Gareth Bale was on paternity leave.
However, that isn’t to detract from our performance at all. I thought Chelsea, as a collective, were exceptional yesterday. Going forward we displayed all of the flexibility and creativity and ingenuity that is becoming the trademark of this new-look side. Whilst at the back, aside from one dodgy 10 minute spell, we showed all of the solidity and compactness that has been the trademark of Chelsea now for almost a decade. It’s a fantastic balance that we’ve found, and while this team still may be in its formative stages, they are at times an absolute pleasure to watch.
Brad Friedel: He made one good save in the first half but with all due respect to Friedel, as goalkeeping legend of the Premier League, at 41, he shouldn’t be Tottenham’s #1 anymore. Also, a young keeper as good as Hugo Lloris is far too talented to be sitting on any bench – let alone Tottenham’s. 5/10.
Kyle Walker: It was a very impetuous performance given by Walker yesterday. He was completely outclassed at times by Mata and Hazard and he let his frustrations show. His lack of composure on the ball and in making tackles was a liability to Spurs all game. 3/10
William Gallas: He scored Tottenham’s equaliser with a tap-in that hit his hand, but defensively was not at his best. Most of his clearances were ineffective and he got pulled out of position too easily at times by our attackers. Spurs need Kaboul back ASAP, if they want to finish top four. 3/10.
Steven Caulker: Unlike Walker, he showed a lot of composure and intelligence with his play, tracking Torres’ runs excellently. Already an important part of Spurs’ defence. 6/10
Jan Vertonghen: In comparison to other games, Vertonghen was relatively quiet, rarely getting forward outside of Tottenham’s dominant 10 minute spell. He should’ve been offering more. 5/10.
Sandro: Tottenham’s best player in my opinion -frequently winning the ball, holding it up well and easily picking the forward pass. Like a lot of holding midfielders in England, I think he’s underrated. 7/10
Tom Huddlestone: He kept the ball moving quickly in midfield but failed to show any of the directness or incisiveness that an AVB team needs from its midfield, and that Moussa Dembele would’ve doubtlessly provided. The Belgian’s absence may have been even more crucial than Bale’s. 3/10
Aaron Lennon: At times was Spurs’ biggest threat and provided a good assist for Defoe, but as the 2nd half progressed he just moved more and more narrow and became too easy for Ash Cole to mark. 5/10
Gylfi Sigurdsson: I’m a fan of Sigurdsson and I think he should be ahead of Dempsey in Spurs’ pecking order for that central midfield spot. So far, he’s yet to hit top form however and missed some good chances yesterday. 5/10.
Clint Dempsey: Was just terrible by his standards - constantly giving the ball away and rarely picking up any decent attacking positions. He gave Ivanovic no problems whatsoever. 3/10
Jermaine Defoe: He continues to vindicate Villas-Boas selection of him by scoring goals. I still feel Adebayor offers more as CF and may regain his place in the XI soon. I was relieved to see Defoe starting but he played well in fairness. 6/10.
Petr Cech: Despite conceding in the second half for the first time this season, Cech captained the side well and made some very good saves. He was let down by his defenders for both goals. 6/10.
Branislav Ivanovic: After a week of presumably worrying about Gareth Bale, Iva had an easy day dealing with Clint Dempsey and a quiet Jan Vertonghen. He did all the simple things well. 5/10.
Gary Cahill: In swapping John Terry for Gary Cahill, we aren’t trading in a less talented defender in my opinion. Attribute for attribute Cahill is probably at least the equal of our captain these days, however Terry was clearly missed during that frantic 10 minute spell after half time, where we lacked a calming influence at the back to deal with the constant pressure. He opened the scoring with his best Chelsea goal so far. 6/10.
David Luiz: He could’ve done more to prevent Gallas’ goal and almost let Defoe score in the first half, leaving the ball for Cech. Otherwise, he was solid. I still feel better with John Terry in the back line, but my confidence in Luiz and Cahill as a partnership keeps growing. 5/10.
Ashley Cole: Was no less world-class than you’d ever expect, making blocks and clearances and keeping Aaron Lennon in check throughout. 7/10.
Mikel John Obi: Like Cole, was his usual composed self and completely unshakable off the ball. I noticed him lose possession a couple of times trying to be more adventurous than usual, but otherwise did his job immaculately. 6/10.
Ramires: The Man on the Match against Arsenal did less to impose himself this time, but all of his running and grafting was as important as ever in our transition of the ball and build up plays. His partnership with Mikel could quickly become invaluable. 5/10.
Eden Hazard: His incredible through ball assist for Mata’s second goal was the Belgian’s highlight of the season so far. His recent performances haven’t been as flashy as his first few in the PL, but his influence is only increasing. 7/10.
Juan Mata: MOTM without question. On current form, he is the best midfielder in the Premier League. He was a revelation last season but the addition of Oscar and Hazard has taken him to next level. On a pitch with a lot of special talents yesterdays he was a clear cut above everyone else. 9/10.
Oscar: Once again he showed his full value yesterday as an attacking creator, a ball winner and even an extra defender towards the end, making some crucial blocks. He held the ball up ridiculously easily at times yesterday, being pressured by men at least 10kg heavier. 7/10.
Fernando Torres: A performance very typical of the way he’s played this season – confident, hard-working, flashy at times, but still missing good opportunities to score. 5/10.
22 points from our first 8 games may not have made us favourites for the title in most people’s eyes, but it’s certainly made us contenders. A home win against Manchester Utd next weekend may very well make us the official ‘team to beat’ this season. Even with all the controversy surrounding certain players in the side, we continue to perform week after week, putting external issues aside in true Chelsea fashion.
Finally, I think the news that broke before yesterday’s game, that John Terry was to remain club captain, was definitely good news. I think had he been stripped of the armband that would’ve been totally unnecessary, especially after Lord Ouseley (chairman of the Kick it Out campaign) publically requested that Terry continue to be a visible advocate and supporter of the charities work. As for Rio Ferdinand, Jolean Lescott and Jason Roberts, I thought their decision not to wear the t-shirt yesterday was completely misguided and inappropriate. Regardless of how they feel about the current system, their issue is not with Kick it Out. I find it unfortunate that the success of a relatively small charity has made them ‘the public emblem of all efforts to fight discrimination in football’ and as a consequence they’ve become the anvil on which the likes of Roberts and Ferdinand have chosen to wrongly beat out their point. It makes no sense to me.