Chelsea 3 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs fail to Bridge the gap again

September 20, 2009
By Kevin Palmer
(Archive)

Any side with ambitions of wrestling the keys of power away from the Premier League's big four will need to dismantle mental barriers that have taken many years to establish.

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Jermaine Jenas
GettyImagesJermaine Jenas reflects Spurs' disappointment as that last win in 1990 grows ever a part of history.

As the two primary contenders to break the dominance of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal attempted to prove they have what it takes to unseat Premier League superpowers on this thrilling Sunday of Premier League football, the psychology of a side who believe they will win and those hoping to succeed was highlighted once again.

Manchester City's gallant attempt to usurp local rivals United in the epic encounter at Old Trafford was a commendable effort from Mark Hughes's men and Tottenham were equally committed in their task as they attempted to confirm the fear factor would not block their ambitions at Stamford Bridge.

However, the final analysis of the day confirms that the pretenders were put in their place once again. As has been the case time and again in the last few years, the class, confidence and good fortune enjoyed by the "big four" is generally an irresistible combination and so it proved to be again.

Most of us at Stamford Bridge couldn't help but feel we had picked the wrong game to cover prior to kick-off as it was always inconceivable that this London derby would match drama and tension of the match that had it all at Old Trafford.

Reporters may claim to be unbiased as they sit in their privileged seats, but there was a clear favouritism shown towards the blue half of Manchester from hacks watching the Manchester dust-up in the press room. Some of Britain's top reporters yelped with delight as Craig Bellamy apparently secured a point for City against their nearest foe, only to gasp in despair as Michael Owen snatched his dramatic winner.

The general consensus was that this Manchester domestic will go down in history as one of the greatest Premier League games of all time and yet Tottenham's bid to end their 19-year wait for a victory here at Stamford Bridge ended in predictable failure.

This stadium still had a vast dusty track around it when Gary Lineker scored Tottenham's most recent winner here back in 1990 and while optimism for their class of 2009 has been running high, it seems as if another false dawn may be about to rise over White Hart Lane.

Earning the respect of the seasoned winners is the first target for any wannabe and the truth was Tottenham blew their chance to dent the unblemished Chelsea machine in the opening exchanges of this game. Jermain Defoe should have given Spurs a lead as he raced clear on goal in the 11th minute before Jermaine Jenas then blasted a shot inches wide. After that, the Spurs fire was extinguished all too easily.

Against lesser opponents, Tottenham have long had the capacity to look like world beaters, yet their extended record against the "big four" suggests that confidence ebbs away when they step up in class. Their impressive start to the season has not come without a healthy helping of hard-working endeavour and it was on show again in the first 20 minutes at the Bridge, with the energy oozing from the visitors giving Carlo Ancelotti's men some concern.

The trouble is, you need so much more than bluff and bluster to unsettle a crack side like Chelsea and Tottenham's failure to retain possession was to be their chief failing. The likes of Jenas and Aaron Lennon could have been a threat breaking from the midfield, but their pressure only came in brief bursts due to their inability to hang onto the ball.

Chelsea went in at the break a goal ahead after Ashley Cole sneaked in on the blind side of Vedran Corulka to convert from close range after 33 minutes, and a gulf in class was confirmed as Michael Ballack and Drogba added further goals.

"I felt we matched them well in the first half an hour, but we were in trouble once Ledley King went off injured," said Redknapp, whose lost both of his central defenders in a second half that saw Sebastien Bassong stretchered off with a head injury.

"Even at 1-0 down, I felt we could win the game, but we couldn't handle Drogba's power once we lost Ledley. As everyone knows, Ledley doesn't train and that is why he is going to pick up hamstring and groin problems. He is that good that Ledley is worth persisting with, but these little injuries make it difficult for him in the long run."

Sebastian Bassong
GettyImagesSebastian Bassong's suspected head injury has lessened Spurs' defensive options

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti was content as he faced the press. "Tottenham changed their formation in midfield as they went in with a diamond and it gave us some trouble early on," said the Italian. "Once we understood how they played, we played well and this is an important win against a very good team."

Ancelotti revealed his pre-match viewing of the Manchester derby was the ideal warm-up to his clash with Tottenham. "I watched the Old Trafford game and it was fantastic," he confirmed. "You get games like this in England and this is why everyone loves the Premier League."

After two such comprehensive defeats, it may be impossible for Redknapp to close the gap on the big four as his side's early season optimism has drifted. While it is hasty to suggest as much in mid-September, Tottenham's dreams of breaking into the top four may this term may well have been dashed already.

For now, the jury is still out on Manchester City's top four credentials, yet this was not a day that suggested the established order of the Premier League is about to change any time soon.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ashley Cole

Cole struggled to find his best form in Chelsea colours for a time, but he is bursting with life again now. Adding goals to his repertoire is a pleasing aspect this season.

NICE TOUCH: Supporters generally jeer and abuse any former player returning to an old haunt, but Chelsea went out of their way to ensure keeper Carlo Cudicini would not suffer such a fate. Presented with a silver plate by Blues chairman Bruce Buck before the game, the Stamford Bridge hordes showed him respect throughout.

KEANE CONTROVERSY: Spurs skipper Robbie Keane tumbled in the box under a second half challenge from Ricardo Carvalho, but referee Howard Webb gave neither a penalty or warned the striker for diving. Not giving either decision was a baffling decision. "If he felt he dived, why not give him a red or yellow card," argued Spurs boss Redknapp. "That decision could have changed the course of the game."

CHELSEA VERDICT: Let off the hook by Spurs early on, Ancelotti's men made them pay as they put their foot on the accelerator and swept their ambitious rivals aside. Their perfect start to the season means their status as title favourites is justified.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Games like this suggest Tottenham's claims to be top four contenders will come to nothing. After their humbling at the hands of Manchester United last weekend, the scale of this thumping created further mental hurdles that they will struggle to overcome.