Chelsea hit panic button in draw with Tottenham

Posted by Phil Lythell

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Albert Einstein coined that phrase in the early part of the last century and while he might not have intended it to refer to the game of football it perfectly encapsulates Chelsea's approach in the 2012/13 season, its apogee arriving in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.

Yet again, Chelsea embraced the two elements that have undermined them all campaign – failing to capitalise on the chances created and then conceding a costly late goal. The inability to kill games off has been an immense hindrance to the Blues' quest for success over the last months. Unfortunately the one thing that can assuage those shortcomings – namely a cohesive, compact defensive unit as the final whistle draws near - has been conspicuous by its absence.

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If a neutral had watched the first hour of this contest they would find it almost inconceivable that it would end with honours even given the glut of goalscoring opportunities that fell Chelsea's way. Unfortunately, all traces of composure and game management went flying out of the window as Chelsea gifted possession and momentum to the visitors with the kind of generosity normally reserved for Children In Need.

After 60 minutes, the score might only have been narrowly in the favour of the home team though the balance of play told a different story. Had just one of the array of chances been snapped up then the grandstand finish that eventually occurred would have been nipped in the bud which might not have been great for the neutrals but would have been wonderful for the majority of fans inside Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea could have been three goals to the good within the opening quarter of an hour had the usually flawless Juan Mata not spurned two excellent openings either side of Oscar's opener. Even putting those attempts to one side, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Fernando Torres could all have put daylight between themselves and Tottenham had they displayed a little more care at the crucial moment. Spurs were carved open on several occasions but the finishing touch was never applied and it came back to haunt the men in blue as everyone in the stadium knew it would.

As the game ticked into the final 30 minutes with the result still in the balance, the sense of panic among the home side became ever more palpable. The calm, calculated and incisive distribution that characterised the team in the first half was slowly eroded and afforded Tottenham a route back into a game that should have been beyond them. The lack of common sense from the Chelsea midfield was alarming as was the impulse to merely hack the ball away irrespective of the direction it was sent.

Tottenham had done very little from an attacking perspective – Emmanuel Adebayor's exquisitely taken breakaway goal aside – yet they were given constant bursts of confidence by the way their opponents continually gave them back the ball. It doesn't matter what type of team you play against, if you keep giving them them possession then they will eventually conjure up a chance and take it which is exactly what happened for Gylfi Sigurdsson's 80th minute equaliser. Petr Cech had barely had a save to make but the pressure was building and it was no surprise to see the ball hit the back of his net.

Adebayor might well have been offside in the build up though blaming the officials would be to deliberately obscure the reality. Chelsea bottled it and without decisive action from the manager the goal would have come sooner or later, irrespective of whether the linesman raised his flag or not.

With the midfield in such disarray in the second half - and Ramires particularly out of sorts – it beggared belief that Frank Lampard was not introduced. The team was crying out for some composure, surety and intelligence. Someone to put his foot on the ball and direct his team mates. Lampard – a veteran of the some of the biggest games in world football and a player who has excelled in adversity – was instead left on the bench. The decision not to start him had some validity with David Luiz and Ramires being natural bedfellows in that part of the field but not to bring Lampard on when all resistance and creativity in the middle of the park had crumbled was almost scandalous. Yossi Benayoun might not have deserved the brickbats directed at him upon his introduction though the decision to bring him on crystallised just why even the most generous of Chelsea fans have failed to warm to Rafael Benitez.

But despite the desperately disappointing finale, there was still plenty to be positive about. Eden Hazard was a class apart, casting player of the year Gareth Bale into the shade. The little Belgian was mesmerising, his touch and turn of pace leaving Sours players trailing in his wake. It was no coincidence that Chelsea's attacking thrust was blunted the moment that he was withdrawn from the action though having only just recovered from a calf strain his substitution was understandable if a little frustrating.

Both Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole put in peerless displays and for the first hour Luiz and Ramires bossed midfield. Unfortunately, their dominance could not last for the whole game.

Even though the game felt like a defeat, it has to be remembered that a draw was secured along with a point that, on the face of it, is not too shabby. It means that a win at Aston Villa on Saturday will guarantee Champions League football for Chelsea next season as well as making a third place finish more probable than possible.

Chelsea have let their first chance slip. Let's hope they put the issue to bed at Villa Park and show that they have finally heeded Einstein's pithy observation.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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