Juan Mata inspired Chelsea to see off a second-half fight back and defeat Tottenham 4-2 at White Hart Lane. The result, temporarily at least, takes the Blues seven points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Chelsea were good value for a first-half lead given to them by Gary Cahill’s fine volley, before a much-improved Tottenham soared back with two early goals from William Gallas and Jermain Defoe after the restart. But Chelsea were not to be denied and got was ultimately a deserved three points with a quality brace from Mata followed by a late strike from Daniel Sturridge.
There was bad news for Tottenham before kick-off with Moussa Dembele failing to recover from an injury suffered while away with Belgium and Gareth Bale a late withdrawal as his girlfriend went into labor. Tottenham missed both considerably as they struggled for cohesiveness or control, particularly in the opening half.
Despite their first-half-struggles, Tottehnham could, and perhaps should, have been ahead within the opening five minutes. Gylfi Sigurdsson chipped a free-kick over the top of Chelsea’s back line and found William Gallas, but the former Blue badly mishit his left-footed volley to send the ball tamely wide.
With Tottenham struggling, particularly in the midfield, Chelsea soon gained the ascendency. And they made their superiority count in the 17th minute. Gallas was again the culprit, this time at the other end, as he made a poor defensive header straight to Cahill on the edge of the box, who met the ball with a stunning volley that took a slight deflection off Steven Caulker and soared through the outstretched hands of Brad Friedel.
While far from their best, Tottenham were at least able to manufacture a couple of half chances. First Defoe struck a low left footed effort that was spilled by Petr Cech and Ashley Cole needed to be alert to clear the rebound away from the onrushing Clint Dempsey.
With the absence of Bale, Tottenham were reliant on the pace provided by Aaron Lennon on the right. It was the winger’s cross that Cahill could only half clear and Sigurdsson struck wide of the near post when he perhaps should have done better.
But it could have been 2-0 to Chelsea in the 39th minute. Mata’s first time shot from the edge of the box was parried by Friedel before the Spaniard put the rebound over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
It was a missed opportunity that Chelsea will have been ruing as Tottenham turned the match on its head at the start of the second half. Instantly coming out of the traps with more verve and deliberation, Tottenham gained an instant reward. Jan Vertonghen did well to hook a free-kick back from Huddlestone back across the face of goal and Gallas was on hand to get the merest of touches with his head to send the ball into the net.
The pressure kept coming from Tottenham in the early stages of the second half. Sigurdsson could well have put Tottenham in the lead as he did well to turn inside Cahill but put his shot too close to Cech.
Chelsea would not survive for long. Lennon was, not for the first time, the instigator, as he was allowed to drift to the edge of the box before firing what was a poor shot across goal but one that allowed Defoe to show his striking instincts once more to sweep the ball past Cech at his near post.
It was a lead that would last only 12 minutes, though, as Chelsea settled and regained the ascendancy in a rollercoaster of a second half. Gallas, who had in part redeemed himself for his earlier error, was the culprit once more for Chelsea’s equalizer. With Tottenham’s defense dropping worryingly deep, Gallas again failed to properly clear a cross and the ball went straight to Mata on the edge of the box, who drilled an excellent low shot through a mass of bodies and into the corner past an unmoved Friedel.
Just three minutes later, the home crowd was stunned as Chelsea retook the lead. The Blues scored what is almost becoming a typical goal of the new-look Chelsea as Eden Hazard caught out Gallas with a fine through ball to Mata and the diminutive attacking midfielder grabbed his second goal of the match with an assured left-footed finish.
Both sides came close to further goals. For Chelsea, Torres, from an inside left position, tried to curl the ball inside the far post, but put it just wide of the upright. Tottenham were close to an equalizer too as a long range effort from Kyle Walker, seen late by Cech, was just pushed wide of the post.
With Tottenham increasingly pouring forward, a fourth Chelsea goal looked a distinct possibility and it duly arrived. Juan Mata brushed off Walker far too easily on the touchline and drifted into the box before laying it across goal where substitute Sturridge was on hand to tap in from close range.