Advantage Arsenal after Spurs fail to win at Stamford Bridge
Visitors came from behind twice against Chelsea but trail Gunners by a point with two games left
Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: Tottenham Hotspur would normally celebrate a result like this to the rafters, not least in praise of their team’s powers of recovery after they twice trailed in an arena that has tended to choke their resolve. Yet, in only drawing across the capital at Chelsea, André Villas-Boas’s side have surrendered the initiative to Arsenal in the race for a top-four finish. Their destiny is no longer in their hands; this result could prove damaging.
The visitors’ sense of disappointment felt somewhat perverse. They had come from behind twice and, as the hosts wavered late on, even hinted at the win that would have propelled them back into those coveted places. They could take heart in the character displayed on their manager’s first return to the club who had sacked him 14 months earlier.
Yet, in avoiding defeat, it is Rafael Benitez’s team who have edged closer to achieving his primary objective. Chelsea remain third; one more victory will effectively be enough while London rivals squabble at their back.
Villas-Boas had emerged from the mouth of the tunnel before kick-off to a chorus of boos from the locals, a reaction he steadfastly ignored as he beamed his way through handshakes with those on the home bench and, more notably, the Chelsea substitutes seated in the row behind. Their number included John Terry, a player who had benefited from the Portuguese’s support in the immediate aftermath of his infamous clash with Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road in October 2011, and also Frank Lampard. His relationship with the latter had been far more fractious and, effectively, at the heart of the ill-feeling and scepticism about the young coach’s credentials in the dressing room.
Smiles were exchanged, the visiting manager apparently untroubled by the reception even if, by the interval, his mood was darkening. Spurs trailed by then, their rearguard having been flooded at either end of the period to douse all the encouragement that had flared briefly just before the half-hour when Emmanuel Adebayor, from nothing, conjured an equaliser. Chelsea had actually been attacking then, threatening from a corner, when Eden Hazard over-played and Ramires surrendered possession for Adebayor to collect inside his own half, glide unchecked downfield and, with Gary Cahill reluctant to advance and stifle, curled a shot over Petr Cech and into the top corner.
It was a stunning effort, his fourth league goal of the season utterly out of keeping with so much of the fitful form that has typified his campaign, and it also bucked the overriding trend of the half. The home side had been the more menacing, Juan Mata spitting a shot over the bar early on before they scored at a set-piece. Mata’s corner was nodded on by Cahill, out-jumping his markers from a standing start, for Oscar to touch in at the far post after eluding Scott Parker. The Tottenham defence appeared ramshackle, pulled out of position far too easily. Those traits would return to undermine them after Adebayor’s goal.
It was the home side’s movement that cut Spurs so deeply. Hazard was a blur, irrepressible as he darted from flank to centre, with Mata conjuring at his side. When Chelsea were allowed to build from a throw-in inside their own half, David Luiz, Ramires, Oscar and Fernando Torres took touches before the striker slipped a fine pass beyond Jan Vertonghen and the retreating Spurs back-line. Ramires, so effective up to then in shackling Gareth Bale, burst through before Michael Dawson or Parker could react and toe-poked a splendid finish across Hugo Lloris and into the far corner. Villas-Boas sank back to his bench in frustration.
His team’s predicament felt increasingly desperate, the need to conjure a first victory in this arena in 23 years – since Gary Lineker rose to meet Nayim’s cross and nod a late winner through Dave Beasant, a goal from a bygone era – acute and the onus was on Bale and Aaron Lennon to wound the European champions. The England winger never made his mark and departed prematurely. Bale, perhaps hampered by that ankle injury sustained against Basel, had also been peripheral, his only chance suffocated by Cahill’s block. The Welshman was granted more licence to wander from the wing as his manager, pounding the technical area as he once did in front of the home bench here, whistled and hollered instructions from the sidelines.
Chelsea continued to eke out the better opportunities. Hazard might have scored the goal his display merited after Dawson’s slip on the stretch, the Belgian’s control as immaculate as his finish was wild. The flick to liberate Mata into the Spurs half soon afterwards was beautifully crafted, the Spaniard sprinting into enemy territory and, once Dawson had caught up, squaring for the unmarked Ramires on the charge only for the Brazilian’s right leg to give way as he prepared to convert. The midfielder sprawled on the turf, whether injured or merely embarrassed, and it felt the kind of miss upon which contests can turn.
Sure enough, as the contest lurched into its final stages and the recent weight of games started to catch up with the hosts, David Luiz wearily presented the ball to Spurs with Benoît Assou-Ekotto’s cross back-heeled by Adebayor, suspiciously behind Cahill and the Chelsea rearguard, for the substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson to convert.