Tottenham Hotspur 2 Chelsea 4
The irony of it all will not be lost on Andre Villas-Boas. On a day when its sweetness pirouetted across his own tongue, a revenge he had endeavoured to avoid talking of was denied him by a Chelsea team playing the football he had sought to bring them12 months ago.
Short-handed by injury and the untimely advent of Gareth Bale’s first child, Villas-Boas’s Tottenham Hotspur turned a goal deficit into a 2-1 second-half lead that threatened to stretch still further. The double pumped fists, the shouts of elation, revealed the coach’s emotions. Then Chelsea recovered themselves. Led by Juan Mata, a Villas-Boas signing, and abetted by Eden Hazard and Oscar, the visitors excelled.
They pressed high and hard (another Villas-Boas method), and passed their way to chance upon chance. Mata scored two, then harried Kyle Walker into an error that saw him set up a fourth.
So fertile was Chelsea’s second attacking line, they could even afford the one-hand-tied-behind-the-back profligacy that Fernando Torres now resides in.
“It was a game full of emotion,” said Villas-Boas. “I would say we became very strong in the second half and full of desire to turn things around, which we did. But I think through the individual brilliance Chelsea has they always unlock defences. In the end, creativeness and brilliance solved the game and Oscar, Hazard and Mata were brilliant.”
Reluctantly dismissed by Roman Abramovich in February, rapidly hired by Daniel Levy in June, Villas-Boas was asked to reacquaint himself with Chelsea minus the services of his two most creative players. Bale was granted leave of absence before kick off when his partner went into labour. Moussa Dembele missed out with injury.
Chelsea’s big “miss” was one that actually strengthened them. Against the pace of Tottenham’s attackers, the belated beginning of John Terry’s suspension for using racist language brought Gary Cahill into central defence, exchanging a slow central defender for one fleet of foot.
Though spared potential on-field travails by his grudging acceptance of the English Football Association’s four-match ban, Terry still accrued headlines. Chelsea’s internal disciplinary process added a “very, very heavy fine” to the governing body’s £220,000 (Dh1.3 million) financial punishment, yet resisted stripping him of captaincy or job.
“We can say very simply that with John Terry as captain we can move forward from this incident, but we won’t forget this incident,” Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said.
“John Terry apologised to everybody and in my mind that means an apology to Anton Ferdinand.”
If only Terry’s apology contained the conviction of his replacement’s finishing. The timing of Cahill’s spinning volley off William Gallas’s weak, headed clearance imparted compelling power to a ball directed straight back at goal. A slight deflection off Kyle Walker steered it above Brad Friedel’s hands and in.
Tottenham required a half-time teamtalk to invigorate their response. A minute into the second-half, the excellent Jan Vertonghen stretched to turn a free kick back from the byline to Gallas, who equalised off forehead and arm.
Now dominant, Tottenham soon made it 2-1 when Ashley Cole backed off Aaron Lennon once too often allowing Jermain Defoe to clip in the winger’s angled pass.
Defensively, though, Tottenham were never comfortable. Twelve minutes later another poor Gallas clearance enabled Mata to pass into Friedel’s bottom corner. When Oscar, John Obi Mikel and Hazard combined to place Mata one-on-one against the French defender another goal ensued.
Though Gylfi Sigurdsson, Defoe and Walker all came close to equalising, the last goal was to be Daniel Sturridge’s as Walker ran himself into in the corner, allowing Mata the space to lay on a simple finish.
“It was a test of character today ... but the answers we gave today were perfect,” said Di Matteo.
“Andre, Andre, what’s the score?” chanted the ever-generous Chelsea support. There is one the Portuguese still has to settle.
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Updated: October 20, 2012 04:00 AM