Chelsea played as though affronted by the criticism that has engulfed them over the previous week. Their season has lift-off and, though it would be stretching the truth to say one result resolves all their issues, they barely looked recognisable from the team that finished against Burnley looking in need of smelling salts.
Antonio Conte’s men have had to withstand an awful lot of scrutiny since capsizing against the team from Turf Moor. Their response was the kind of performance that should answer a lot of the questions about their character and powers of endurance. For a team apparently teetering on the brink of crisis, they looked an awful lot like the side that had left everyone in their wing-mirrors last season.
They had to do it the hard way, missing key personnel against the team that chased them harder anyone to that title success. Yet the aberration against Burnley feels almost freakish given the story of this follow-up win and the strength of personality shown by a newly assembled and experimental side. Another team might have wilted after Michy Batshuayi, one of Chelsea’s second-half substitutes, had headed in the own-goal that provided Spurs with an 82nd-minute equaliser. Not Chelsea. The decisive goal, Marcos Alonso’s second of the afternoon, was a personal ordeal for Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal, but what does it say about Chelsea that they could recover from Batshuayi’s misfortune to conjure up a winner in the 88th minute?
The answer, almost certainly, is that nobody should entirely write off the idea of a successful title defence just yet. Chelsea had to withstand some long spells of pressure after Alonso’s elegant free-kick had given them a first-half lead and, totting up the number of chances for Harry Kane alone, it was difficult even to keep count of the number of occasions when last season’s golden-boot winner let fly from all sorts of distances and angles. Kane hit the post with one first-half effort and there were other times when Chelsea were grateful to Thibaut Courtois’ goalkeeping. They defended with great resilience, in complete contrast to that 3-2 defeat on the opening weekend, and in the process they made it a demoralising way for Mauricio Pochettino’s team to begin their tenancy of Wembley.
Spurs, lest it be forgotten, went unbeaten at White Hart Lane last season for the first time since the 1964-65 campaign. After one game at Wembley, they have already been defeated and this result will advance the theory that it is not going to be easy for last season’s runners-up to adjust to life at the national stadium. Spurs have now lost eight of their last ten games here, if penalty shootouts count. Four have come against Chelsea and the latest must feel particularly galling given the sense beforehand this was a ripe moment to face the champions.
It certainly looked that way given Chelsea had a new-look defence, with David Luiz pushed forward into midfield, and three players on the bench – Fikayo Tomori, Charly Musonda and Kyle Scott – who would not ordinarily have been involved but for the combination of injuries, suspensions and transfer-market frustrations that have darkened Conte’s mood lately.
Alvaro Morata had a stodgy afternoon, including one miss early on – unchallenged inside the six-yard area – that would embarrass any professional footballer, let alone one who had cost an initial £58m. Otherwise, Chelsea’s new recruits all demonstrated their worth. Antonio Rüdiger excelled alongside the equally impressive Andreas Christensen, deputising for the suspended Gary Cahill. Tiémoué Bakayoko played with great energy and, though Spurs had plenty of the ball in promising positions, it was also the case that when Batshuayi headed Christian Eriksen’s free-kick into his own net to make it 1-1 it was at a point of the game when the home side were looking short of ideas.
It was an embattled, streetwise performance from Chelsea, but they could also reflect on Willian skimming a second-half shot against the post and when it comes to Alonso’s contribution the first goal, in particular, was a beauty. Spurs had a five-man defensive wall in place and the players making up that protective barrier could not be accused of deserting their positions. Alonso still had the guile to beat everyone with the trajectory of his curling left-footed shot. It was the perfect combination of bend and leverage and it finished with the ball arcing into the top corner of Lloris’s goal.
Unfortunately for Lloris, Alonso’s second goal was the result of some poor goalkeeping on the part of the France international. To start with, his throw to Victor Wanyama put his team-mate under pressure in a central area of the pitch, inside the Spurs half. Wanyama should still have done better but Spurs, with too many players out of position, were vulnerable as soon as he lost possession. Pedro, another of Chelsea’s substitutes, slipped the pass into Alonso’s path and his low, powerfully struck shot inside the near post seemed to catch Lloris by surprise.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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