Tottenham fail Chelsea test again as Tuchel's team revive title hopes

Spurs suffer fourth defeat of the season against their capital rivals

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Perhaps Antonio Conte’s past, both recent and more distant, came back to haunt him. Or perhaps this is simply what happens when Chelsea face Spurs. “Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again,” the European champions’ fans chorused as they inflicted a fourth defeat of the season on their capital rivals.

It was a third in January alone, following both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final, and Conte lost his unbeaten record with Tottenham in the Premier League to his former employers. He picked a particularly defensive side, but it served as no protection in a destructive eight-minute spell at the start of the second half when Chelsea scored two goals and came close to getting two more.

A first league victory in five games for Thomas Tuchel means his team, now 10 points behind Manchester City, retain their faint interest in the title race. At least they know that, even if Spurs win their games in hand, they will still trail Chelsea.

It was a contentious, fractious affair but in a game when two managers who prefer to use a back three each started with a four-man defence – and for the first time since 2016, in Conte’s case – Tuchel had more to savour from his choices.

Some of his decisions have backfired of late and he rarely uses touchline-hugging wingers but opted for 4-3-3 and Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech, who combined for the first goal, were pivotal. Defender Thiago Silva soon added a second and, once again, the gulf between them felt sizeable.

The deadlock was broken in beautiful style. Hudson-Odoi made a driving run before playing a pass to his fellow winger. Ziyech’s perfect curler from 20 yards left Hugo Lloris motionless as it nestled in the back of the net. The Moroccan had not celebrated his goal at Brighton on Tuesday.

This time, it was more evident he was happy. Suitably buoyed, he almost had a second, unleashing a fierce effort from a similar position. Lloris reacted this time, making a diving save. Hudson-Odoi also flourished, giving Japhet Tanganga a torrid time as the Tottenham defender flirted with a second booking, and winning the free kick for Chelsea’s second goal.

Spurs disputed its award, but Eric Dier caught Hudson-Odoi. Mason Mount whipped in the resulting free kick and Silva applied the final touch. Tottenham’s irritation may have been increased by the identity of the scorer.

The match revolved around the veteran Brazilian’s contributions at either end and when Harry Kane seemed to have put Spurs ahead, tucking in a finish from Ryan Sessegnon’s pass, the goal was instead chalked off. Kane had nudged Silva in the back, he took the opportunity to go flying and Conte was visibly aggrieved that a foul was awarded.

Nevertheless, Tottenham got a reprieve when second-half substitute Oliver Skipp rugby-tackled Cesar Azpilicueta in the box and, strangely, no penalty was awarded. By the time Skipp came on among more attacking changes the damage had been done. Conte had begun with wing-backs playing as unadventurous wingers in a 4-4-2 formation and his side had just 25 percent of possession before the break.

They struggled to adjust as Romelu Lukaku hooked a shot over the bar after 30 seconds, Hudson-Odoi headed wide three minutes later and Mount found space with ease.

Lukaku powered Conte’s Inter to last season’s Scudetto; he has lost that scoring touch and missed his kick with one chance, though he later drew a fine save from Lloris.

But another drought must concern Conte more. Kepa Arrizabalaga’s late save from Kane meant Tottenham have failed to score in their last six games against Chelsea. Tuchel could enjoy the normality of it. Conte could lament it.

Updated: January 23, 2022, 6:51 PM