Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Arsenal, and Now Chelsea, Super Spurs Go Marching on Towards Fourth in EPL

While volcanic ash from Iceland reduced flights all across Europe, high-flying Tottenham Hotspur picked up their second significant win in a week by easily beating current Premier League leaders Chelsea 2-1 at White Hart Lane.

With Manchester United having beaten Manchester City 1-0 in the lunchtime kickoff, Spurs duly returned the favour and beat the Red Devils' title rivals as they moved back into fourth, two points ahead of City.

Spurs swept the Premier League leaders aside with a performance of sheer brilliance and it was only an 92nd minute Frank Lampard effort that put any kind of gloss on the game for Chelsea.

Goals from Jermain Defoe, his 30th of the season, and the in-form Gareth Bale had given Spurs a two-goal lead before John Terry was sent off for a selfish, arrogant challenge in the corner as Bale threatened to break clear. The English international mouthed the words "that's the second time I touched the ball" to the referee. In truth, Terry could have received three or four yellow cards today, such was his wayward defending.

Defoe and Pavlyuchenko were superb up-front and their partnership bordered on telepathic, as one chose the perfect moment to drop deep while the other occupied the Blues' defence.

With the two forwards dropping off into the inside-right and inside-left channels Chelsea were exposed, as Tottenham always seemed to have a spare man through the middle and their play, both on and off the ball, was simply outstanding.

It left Terry and Alex stranded time and time again as they struggled to follow their opponents. Both players were more than aware of their lack of pace against Spurs' most potent threats.

To say Tottenham dominated the game is an understatement, and the manner of their last two victories will have many pundits reaching for their thesauruses to describe the breath-taking nature of their play.

The energy levels shown from Tottenham were incredible. To a man they ran their hearts out and put Chelsea off their game thanks to a high-tempo, high-level, closing-down game. None more than the phenomenal Gareth Bale, who put in twice the average work rate of a normal player.

It left the Blues rudderless, as they simply did not know what to do with the ball when they eventually did have time on it. Chelsea's lack of creativity from central midfield stifled their play as much as Spurs' good defending.

In a tight game, having leaders and players who can create something from nothing is crucial, and today Chelsea were lacking in both departments. Frank Lampard is a phenomenon at coming on to the ball and there is no one better than him in the English game at arriving late in the box and scoring from nothing. But he is not the man to turn to when the chips are down, his range of passing is average at best while he is by far the best midfielder Chelsea have available to them.

To win any game you have to first win the battle, and central midfield is always the most important part of the field to win. Today, Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modric did everything right, just as they did against Arsenal.
They out-battled, out-fought, and most importantly, out-thought Chelsea's entire midfield time and time again, releasing Gareth Bale, David Bentley, Defoe, and Pavlyuchenko to great effect.

Meanwhile the disinterested Didier Drogba barely received a pass from any of his midfielders.

In defence, Michael Dawson was once again immense, and he shepparded Drogba throughout the match, leaving the Ivorian striker little more than a spectator.

When Chelsea did briefly get into the final third they crashed upon a glass wall of which their was no way through.

While at the opposite end of the pitch, Spurs ran amok.

They really should have wrapped the game up and won by three, four, or even five goals before Frank Lampard's late consolation.

Chelsea were rattled by Spurs, and as their game plan went out the window they resorted to giving away needless free kicks, as Deco picked up a yellow card for himself in a particularly petulant challenge on Huddlestone.

Prime evidence that the hulking youngster was bossing the game over his international peers, Luka Modric's intelligence was there for all to see and the little Croatian's passing was sublime as he picked the ball up in tight situations and spread it wide time and time again.

With players like Huddlestone and Modric willing to take responsibility in tight situations Spurs look like a completely different team. Opponents are never given a rest, because they have to remain vigilant at all times. If they don't then these two can cut a team open with one swift move.

Such was Spurs' dominence even the Chelsea fans acknowledged them somewhat unknowingly when they started singing "Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. We're going to Wembley, que sera, sera." This was after just 20 minutes...

One of Tottenham's biggest criticisms over the years is the lack of a mental aptitude for the game. Today it was Chelsea's players who shirked the responsibility and honesty needed to win the game, while Spurs denied everyone the chance to write the expected headlines by producing their best performance in years.

It has moved them two points clear of Manchester City with both sides having four games left. City travel to the Emirates next week while Spurs make their way into the lion's den that is Old Trafford.

Having dumped Arsenal out of the title race on Wednesday, Spurs allowed their North London rivals a glimmer of hope by beating Chelsea today. Next week they take on Manchester United, and a win either way will have a huge say in the destiny of the title.

Beating Arsenal and Chelsea will mean very little if Spurs do not travel to Manchester and keep their performance levels high.

Victory is not imperative against United, although the three points would be more than welcome. No, Tottenham and Harry Redknapp's main task will be to keep the momentum going, to play well at Old Trafford, and to keep the resounding manner of their recent performances going strong.

There are only four games to go for Spurs this season: away to Manchester United next weekend, home to Bolton a week later, then another trip to Manchester when they take on City in what will be one of the league's most important matches of the season, and finally Burnley at home.

Taking three points from United will be incredibly tough, but so was taking six points from Arsenal and Chelsea.

However, if Spurs can keep the momentum going there is no reason why they cannot take a maximum of points from their remaining fixtures.

Manchester City remain in pole position to finish fourth, but Spurs have only lost once in their last 10 league games, and qualifying for the Champions League is very much in their own hands.