Tottenham 0 Chelsea 2
As if things were not bad enough for Tottenham, with their team trailing 2-0 to Chelsea and reduced to 10 men following Son Heung-min’s rush of blood, it was left to a moronic member of their support to take matters down into the gutter.
It was midway through the second-half when Antonio Rüdiger, over in a corner of the stadium, had a racist insult directed at him. The Chelsea defender knew what he had heard and TV pictures would show him indicating that it was a monkey chant.
The Chelsea captain, Cesar Azpilicueta, reported it to the referee, Anthony Taylor, who then went over to inform the officials on the touchline. Cue an announcement over the tannoy that '"racist behaviour from spectators is interfering with the game." It needed to stop. The announcement would be made twice more before the end of the game.
It was the latest racist incident to blight football on England’s shores and so utterly depressing. This ought to have been the day to salute Frank Lampard’s outfoxing of his old mentor, José Mourinho; to lavish praise on Chelsea for how they pulled themselves out of a slump to maintain a hold on fourth place in the Premier League table; to revel in a host of stand-out performances from those in blue.
Instead, we were left to ask once again what had happened; how, in one of the world’s greatest and most multicultural cities, it had come to this.
Spurs could not get off the field quickly enough at the end and that was down to their display, which had been wild and uncoordinated – epitomised by the rush of blood from the goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, in first-half stoppage time. What was going through his mind as he charged off his line to deal with a long ball forward?
Gazzaniga looked certain to catch the ball, which would have been a good idea, or he might have left it, allowing it to run out, which would also have worked. Instead he launched himself into a side-on kung-fu kick, his boot dangerously high, missing the ball and clattering into Marcos Alonso. It was a clear penalty, even if it took the intervention of VAR to award it. Willian converted for his second of the game and Chelsea could cruise to a victory that was fully deserved.
Lampard felt that he had to try something different in the wake of Chelsea having lost four of their previous five games and his switch to three central defenders added up to a radical move. The 3-4-3 was not a system that he had used too often at the club; the last time he started with it was in the Champions League win at Lille on October 2nd.
The manager could be delighted at how it worked. With N'Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic dominant in central midfield and Tammy Abraham holding the ball up nicely in the No 9 role, Chelsea had an easy balance in front of a solid defence. There would be groans from the Spurs support after just 20 minutes – which was music to Lampard's ears – and, by then, Chelsea were ahead.
The breakthrough goal owed much to Lampard's plan to target the Spurs right-back, Serge Aurier, who likes to play high and, consequently, leaves spaces in behind. Rüdiger tested him with the first of many long diagonals in the 12th minute, which Aurier tried to head back to Gazzaniga only to get it wrong and give away a corner. From it, Chelsea went ahead.
It was a concession that infuriated Mourinho. Chelsea were quick and sharp on the short corner routine; Spurs dozed. Willian, who Lampard had started on the left to attack Aurier, played the ball into Kovacic, with Lucas Moura nowhere near to the Chelsea midfielder. When Kovacic returned it to Willian, Aurier was extremely slow to get across and the Spurs right-back was then outfoxed by a Willian trick. Aurier was yards off Willian as the Chelsea winger glided inside before unfurling a beautiful curling shot that beat Gazzaniga to the far corner. It was a moment of the highest class from the Brazilian.
Chelsea played with a confidence that belied their recent run and there was a sequence that summed up their supremacy in the 39th minute, when they worked the ball into the Spurs area and, when the move broke down, they pressed and harried Dele Alli into a clearance that returned possession to them. Alli's decision to make an elaborate move on his own byline followed by a difficult pass was possibly not the best decision. On the touchline, Mourinho crouched and winced; Lampard saluted the collective drive of his players.
Spurs lacked coherence and authority in midfield and they had nothing more than flickers in the final third before the interval. Harry Kane lifted high from Moussa Sissoko's cross and Son did likewise from a tight angle beyond the far post from a Kane cross. Chelsea had much the better of the first-half. Abraham could not get enough purchase on a free-ish header; Mason Mount was crowded out after a positive dart; Abraham failed to control when well-placed inside the area and then came Gazzaniga's aberration. There were loud boos from the home fans upon the half-time whistle.
Could Spurs react? Mourinho sent his players out early for the second period and Eric Dier did not reappear. In his place was Christian Eriksen. Spurs had been over-run in midfield in the opening 45 minutes and it was plain that Mourinho had to try something. He adjusted to 3-4-2-1, with Lucas at left wing-back. Things would get worse.
The frustration had been bubbling. Witness Alli’s clash with Kovacic towards the end of the first-half, which ended up with both players booked. Alli could get nothing going, although he was not alone in terms of Spurs’s attackers.
They rushed to the surface for Son just after the hour, when he tangled with Rüdiger and, from a position on the ground, pushed his studs up and into the Chelsea defender's rib cage. Rüdiger went down a little theatrically but it was a moment of madness from Son, which invited the VAR official to make the decision. It was Son's third red card since May, although the one for his tackle on Everton's Andre Gomes was rescinded.
Arrizabalaga had a missile thrown at him from the South Stand, which narrowly missed him, but it was the abuse hurled at Rüdiger that would leave the bitterest of tastes.