The narrative seemed to call for a decisive intervention from Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku on the day when English football lost the great Jimmy Greaves. Instead it was all about the intelligence of Thomas Tuchel, who displayed his tactical acumen by taking this game away from Tottenham at half-time, the introduction of N’Golo Kanté for Mason Mount pushing Chelsea to another commanding win.
Sloppy and vulnerable during a testing first half, Chelsea were unstoppable once Kanté entered the fray. Tottenham, their early adrenaline fading, had no response. Chelsea created chances at will during the second half and although Lukaku did not manage to join in the fun, goals from Thiago Silva, Kanté and Antonio Rüdiger were enough to inch them above Manchester United and join Liverpool at the top of the table.
Once again Tuchel had taken control, outwitting Nuno Espírito Santo with his tweaks during the interval. Spurs had played well up until that point, threatening to end Chelsea’s unbeaten run, but they were outclassed in the end. Denied a move to Manchester City, Kane simply looked sad and irrelevant as he waited in vain for an opportunity to close in on Greaves’s goalscoring record for the north Londoners.
Nuno’s team, down in seventh after two consecutive 3-0 defeats, only found consolation in reminders of the glory days. At least they excelled themselves with poignant tributes for Greaves, who represented both teams with such distinction, scoring 132 goals for Chelsea and 266 for Spurs. Nostalgia filled the air as Tottenham heroes such as Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Martin Chivers, Steve Perryman and Ledley King stood by the pitch for a minute’s applause before kick-off and for a brief moment fans of both clubs were united, brought together by the purest finisher English football has ever produced.
Greaves would have loved playing in this game. He would probably have finished off some of the openings created by both sides during a frenetic opening period. The atmosphere was electric and there was no sign of Spurs holding back, pressing high and repeatedly testing Chelsea’s stingy defence.
Tuchel was soon fuming on the touchline. Sitting too deep, Chelsea made errors with their distribution during the early stages. Kepa Arrizabalaga, deputising for the injured Édouard Mendy in goal, looked susceptible with the ball at his feet and the home fans roared when Rüdiger was rushed into an early mistake, miscontrolling a pass deep in Chelsea territory.
Spurs, boosted by the return of Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso from their spells in quarantine, had a fluid attacking system. Son Heung-min darted through the middle, Kane confused his markers by pulling to the left, Lo Celso schemed and Chelsea looked confused at first, giving away more chances than usual.
Chelsea were under pressure, Andreas Christensen clearing from Kane in the six-yard box. Sergio Reguilón surged through from left-back, only to fluff his cross. It was promising for Spurs and they should have led when Lo Celso played in Son, whose heavy touch allowed Arrizabalaga to smother.
Yet Chelsea are good at holding firm and they also had threatening moments at the other end. Kai Havertz carries the ball up the pitch so gracefully and Spurs were relieved when he spurned two inviting opportunities, scuffing the first before producing an air shot with the second.
Chelsea had to show more care in the final third. At one point Mount, lethargic in recent games, skipped through the middle after Eric Dier left his fellow centre-back, Romero, exposed with a reckless lunge. Chelsea live for these moments – the times when they pounce after luring an opponent in – yet Mount was unable to capitalise, infuriating Tuchel with a poor pass to Lukaku.
It was not a surprise to see Mount removed at half-time. Having seen Spurs win too many of the loose balls, Tuchel reached for Plan B: Kanté. Few teams can boast such immense strength in depth; few managers, though, know how to use it so effectively. With Kanté snapping at their heels, Spurs no longer looked comfortable in defence. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic began to dictate the flow and Spurs escaped when Marcos Alonso, sprinting behind Emerson Royal on the left, drew a sharp save from Hugo Lloris with a spectacular volley.
Spurs were on the retreat and the breakthrough arrived in the 49th minute, Silva allowed to charge on to Alonso’s corner and head past Lloris. The insipid Dele Alli was no match for Silva, who was a calming influence at the back, and Spurs duly collapsed, conceding again.
This time Lo Celso was at fault, carelessly squandering possession. Kovacic found Kanté, who had space to shoot from 25 yards. A huge deflection off Dier left Lloris stranded and the main question for the rest of the game was whether the Chelsea substitute Timo Werner was going to be able to take one of many chances.
On this evidence, Werner could do with watching some old clips of Greaves. For all his misses, though, the striker still came up with an assist for Rüdiger to finish calmly in added time. Chelsea were utterly rampant.