It was a moment that made all of Chelsea’s problems fade away. Suddenly, nobody was worrying about a draining fixture list and a worrying run of results. Stamford Bridge had come alive and even Hakim Ziyech was smiling after opening the scoring for Chelsea, who had looked short of inspiration before their mercurial winger gave them the lead with one of the goals of the season.
This was Ziyech at his absolute best: cutting in from the right, the ball on his left foot and a shot bent wickedly into the far corner. Hugo Lloris could only watch helplessly as the ball flew past him and Chelsea, who have looked so tetchy and tired lately, could finally feel their season coming back to life.
Spurs, on the other hand, were left with nothing but regrets after losing in the league for the first time under Antonio Conte. They came into this game with hopes of dragging Chelsea into a top-four battle, but the gap looked as big as ever in the end. Ultimately, for all the strides that Spurs have made under Conte, they had none of Chelsea’s individual quality; nobody who could open up a tight game quite as inventively as Ziyech, whose splendid opener at the start of the second half was followed by Thiago Silva settling the contest with a fine header from Mason Mount’s free-kick.
For Conte, this was a reminder of the size of the task ahead. For all that Spurs fared better than when Chelsea reached the Carabao Cup final at their expense earlier this month, they remain desperate for reinforcements before the transfer window shuts next week. They were competitive in the first half – Harry Kane was aggrieved to have a goal ruled out at 0-0 – but Conte’s squad still contains too much mediocrity.
A central midfield of Harry Winks and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was not good enough to deal with Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Mount. On the flanks, Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty delivered forgettable performances. Kane simply had too much to do in attack and although the Spurs forward kept trying until the end, forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga to repel a powerful header, he deserves to be surrounded by better teammates.
How Kane would love to play with someone as gifted as Ziyech, who did not even celebrate after scoring Chelsea’s goal when they drew with Brighton last Tuesday. That was the difference. Thomas Tuchel had so many options at his disposal – he could even afford to bring N’Golo Kanté on to see Chelsea over the line – and his side have fresh impetus after their first league win since Boxing Day.
Tuchel had tweaked his approach, lining Chelsea up in an expansive 4-1-4-1 system that featured Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ziyech pushing up on the flanks, yet conviction eluded the European champions at first. There was less than a minute on the clock when Romelu Lukaku missed his first chance, firing over after fine work from the enterprising Mount, and the worry for Tuchel was how Chelsea would cope with Spurs’ counterattacks, particularly when Steven Bergwijn found room to turn and run.
This was an opportunity for Bergwijn to build on his heroics against Leicester. One of his bursts led to Silva picking up a yellow card and there were openings for Spurs. Winks drove a shot straight at Arrizabalaga after peeling past Jorginho, who was the deepest of Chelsea’s midfielders, and Sessegnon was wasteful with a rare opening.
The key moment for Spurs, who used a compact 4-4-2 formation, came in the 39th minute. Sessegnon crossed for Kane, who was not subtle enough when he gave Silva a little shove in the back. Silva was far too wily not to make the most of it and the Brazilian defender’s fall was enough to convince Paul Tierney, who was already blowing for a foul as Kane turned and fired past Arrizabalaga from close range.
For all that Kane complained, though, Chelsea also had reason to feel aggrieved with the officials before the interval. The hosts easily could have been playing against 10 men after Doherty carelessly stamped on Malang Sarr – Darren England, the VAR, deemed the Irishman’s contact accidental – and they could also argue that they had dominated the opening 45 minutes in terms of possession and chances.
Lukaku missed another decent chance as the opening period wore on, kicking at thin air when he should have converted Mount’s cutback. Nothing was quite working for Chelsea and the frustration was building for Lukaku, who would later find his route to goal blocked by Eric Dier on two occasions.
Chelsea needed more intensity. Two minutes into the second half, they upped the pace. The move started with Hudson-Odoi surging past challenges on the left and spraying the ball to the right. The pass found Ziyech and when Sessegnon backed off, the Moroccan made the youngster pay by curling in a gorgeous shot from 25 yards.
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It was joyous for Chelsea and hugely irritating for Conte. Sessegnon would soon be taken off. Yet Ziyech was enjoying himself now, testing Lloris with a vicious drive, and it was not long before Chelsea scored again.
The second goal was a more straightforward affair: an inswinging free-kick from Mount, soft marking from Spurs and a lovely glancing header from Silva. Normal service had been restored. Chelsea had reminded Spurs of their supremacy with cutting efficiency and Tuchel, who celebrates one year in the job on Wednesday, will hope that this is the start of a surge.