Five talking points from Tottenham Hotspur’s historic 3-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge
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Ben Pearce reflects on the Lilywhites memorable and long-awaited league victory at their London rivals
Dele Alli struck twice following a Christian Eriksen screamer as Tottenham came from behind to triumph 3-1 at Chelsea, winning at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1990. Here are five talking points:
1. Harry Kane makes rapid return but Toby Alderweireld is overlooked
There were fears that Kane could miss a number of matches after he suffered an ankle ligament injury against Bournemouth on March 11, but in the end he was only sidelined for one game – the comfortable 3-0 win at Swansea in the FA Cup.
Making full use of the international break and recovering with miraculous speed – not for the first time – the 24-year-old was fit enough to take a place on the bench at Stamford Bridge and enter the fray in the second half.
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There was no room in the squad for Toby Alderweireld though, even though he played 90 minutes for Belgium on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old is one of the best defenders in the league, but Mauricio Pochettino opted to stick with the inconsistent Davinson Sanchez alongside Jan Vertonghen, and left Alderweireld out of the 18-man group entirely.
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It was not a huge surprise that Alderweireld was not given a place on the bench. Pochettino often chooses to have two full-backs in reserve rather than an extra centre-back, because Eric Dier can drop into the middle of the back line if necessary.
However, the fact that a fully-fit Alderweireld was entirely overlooked for such an important fixture only strengthens the suspicion that he will leave Spurs this summer, having failed to agree a new contract with the club.
All eyes were on Sanchez, therefore. And, while the Colombian largely defended well, he was partly at fault for Chelsea’s opening goal. While Hugo Lloris was mostly to blame after coming for the ball and missing it, Sanchez was also beaten in the air as Alvaro Morata headed into the empty net.
2. Tottenham are outflanked but Chelsea fail to fully take advantage
After a cagey start to the match, Chelsea got on top and began to cause problems through the middle and out wide.
The Blues managed to release runners into a gaping space between Spurs’ midfielders and back line on a few occasions, forcing the Lilywhites’ defenders to backpedal.
Meanwhile, wide men Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso provided a constant threat, repeatedly finding acres of space outside Spurs’ full-backs thanks to the mismatch between their 3-4-2-1 system and Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Tottenham paid the price for their inability to close down their hosts’ wing-backs as Moses set up the opening goal – he had all the time in the world to measure his cross towards Morata, although Lloris and Sanchez should undoubtedly have done better when the ball dropped.
On the other flank, Alonso forced a low save from Lloris in the first half and saw a low cross blocked after finding space on the left side of the box.
There was little improvement from Spurs in this respect after the break. Moments after the restart, Willian ran inside Ben Davies and had a shot blocked, while Cesar Azpilicueta then hared past the left-back on the outside before seeing his cross intercepted. Alonso also had a good chance in the 72nd minute as the ball dropped to him at the far post.
But Chelsea failed to make the most of these opportunities, and Pochettino will feel justified in his decision to stick with his initial formation.
3. Heung-Min Son struggles up front but Spurs still score three times without Kane
Son has looked like a capable deputy for Kane at times, notably in the 4-1 win at Bournemouth earlier this month when he scored twice in the No9 role.
However, leading the line away from home against a top-six side is a rather different proposition. And, having failing to make an impact up front at Old Trafford earlier in the season, he was also quiet in the first half at the Bridge this afternoon.
Tottenham were toothless in general in the first 45 minutes, lacking quality in the final third. However, Christian Eriksen stepped up and provided a crucial moment of magic just before the interval, sending a 30-yard strike past Willy Caballero.
It was the Dane’s 16th goal from outside the box since his Premier League debut in September 2013 – the most of any current player in the division.
Pochettino’s decision to move Son to the right flank at the start of the second half was also important as the South Korean quickly became more influential.
His curling effort was well saved by Cabellero, and it was his run through the right channel that created Spurs’ third goal.
Could Son become Kane’s permanent deputy up front, saving Tottenham from searching for another deputy No9? Perhaps, but he is yet to prove he can consistently and effectively lead the line against the top teams.
Nonetheless, Tottenham still managed to score three goals away against Chelsea while Kane was sitting on the bench so, as a collective, they have shown again that they can cope with their star striker.
4. Alli’s brace sends another message to his critics and Gareth Southgate
Alli went 15 games without a goal between January and March, but he has stepped up to the plate in Kane’s absence.
He scored soon after his team-mate was injured at Bournemouth, and he struck twice more against Chelsea today.
Alli has had critics this season, partly because of his lower goal tally, and he was overlooked by England manager Southgate for both of the Three Lions’ starting line-ups against Holland and Italy during the latest international break.
However, the 21-year-old has once again shown his ability to have major impacts on massive matches and hurt the top sides.
Those who question Alli’s importance will be forced into a rethink this evening.
5. Tottenham secure historic victory and an eight-point cushion
Stamford Bridge has long been a bogey ground for Spurs, with their previous league win at the stadium coming all the way back in 1990.
The Lilywhites had played 30 matches at the ground in all competitions without emerging triumphant, but that run has now come to an end.
It was also only Spurs’ second league win in 20 attempts away against a top-six club under Pochettino.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have taken a huge step towards a third successive top-four finish, moving eight points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea with seven games to go.
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