Dele Alli double puts an end to Chelsea’s record attempt
Blues’ 13-match winning run ends at White Hart Lane after absorbing contest
Tottenham’s Dele Alli heads home the first of his two goals as his side overcame Chelsea at White Hart Lane. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Chelsea 0
The most damaging part for Chelsea, suffering their first defeat since losing to Arsenal in the final week of September, has nothing to do with the fact it stopped them establishing a record in the Premier League era of 14 successive wins in a single season. It would have been a nice one to chalk up, but they will be far more distressed about what it means for the league table and the confidence it might give Spurs, seven points back, to think they can still play a considerable part in the title race.
Dele Alli’s goals certainly ought to encourage Spurs on a night when their supporters endured songs poking fun at the fact they “won the league in black and white,” referring to the fact that the last time the team from White Hart Lane finished champions was in 1961.
Alli scored one at the end of the first half, and another early in the second period. Both were headers and the England international has managed two goals in each of his past three games. Alli is in the best scoring form of his life and his latest brace was the most important of the lot given its impact on the top four and the braking effect it had on the league leaders, arriving here with their chests puffed out after 13 wins in a row.
The more staggering statistic is that Spurs began this match with a mere four wins out of their 49 Premier League assignments against Chelsea. Yet Pochettino’s men were also on a productive run of form, after winning their past four league fixtures and knew that if they could extend that run to a fifth game it would mean supplanting Arsenal in fourth position.
Both teams had plenty of incentive, even discounting all the sporting enmity and lingering bad feeling from their wild and infamous encounter at Stamford Bridge last May, and that made it a spiky, absorbing contest, simmering with occasional tensions and what felt like a number of thinly disguised late challenges.
At one point Diego Costa, having shown more restraint than usual at times this season, seemed to forget he was supposed to be irritating the opposition defenders and turned on Pedro for not being on the same wavelength to receive a pass inside the penalty area. The players were still chuntering away at one another when the play next stopped. Perhaps inevitably, Costa was doing most of the talking. It never looks good when two team-mates are arguing on the pitch but, at the same time, it was a measure about how much this match mattered to Chelsea.
They looked the more rounded team in the opening stages and a player with Eden Hazard’s gifts probably ought to have done better with the chance that came his way, four minutes in, while the home side were still trying to get to grips with their experimental 3-4-2-1 system. Hazard, running on to Nemanja Matic’s ball over the top, snatched at his shot and that turned out to be their only clear opportunity during the opening 45 minutes.
It had been an evenly contested first half, with three minutes of stoppage time ticking down, when Spurs took the lead with a simplicity that must have pained Conte. Kyle Walker was unable to get enough space on the right to cross the ball but, playing as a right-sided wing back, he had managed to draw over Matic to double up on him with Marcos Alonso. Christian Eriksen was in a better position to clip the ball into the penalty area and when Walker turned the ball back to the Dane the cross picked out Alli eight yards from goal. Alli scored with an expertly angled header and Chelsea were left contemplating a second half where their durability would be in question.
Within two minutes of the restart, Costa’s low drive had forced Hugo Lloris into a save at his right-hand post. That was followed by a headed chance for Hazard, perhaps the wrong player in the right place. It was a tentative effort but it had quickly become apparent that Chelsea were going to give everything in their attempt to rescue themselves. Nobody could possibly doubt their effort or that we were watching a side who seemed mortally offended by the idea of losing.
Yet the wave of apprehension that descended over this old stadium – bringing us one of those nights when it felt like a tremendous pity White Hart Lane, as we know it, is being lost to the bulldozers – was lifted as soon as Alli doubled the lead in the 54th minute.
Aside from the fact the goal arrived at the other end of the stadium, there was a considerable amount of deja vu attached to this moment. The same three players linked up – first Walker, then Eriksen and, finally, Alli. Eriksen lifted the ball into the penalty area and, just like the first goal, Alli had found space in between César Azpilicueta and Victor Moses.
Alli has scored seven goals in his past four games and the latest gave his team some valuable breathing space just at the point when Chelsea looked capable of finding an equaliser.
Spurs were seldom threatened again, and they will miss these nights when the stadium changes forever.