Chelsea produced a stirring second-half fight back to secure a 1-1 draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane, despite playing out the closing stages with 10 men following Fernando Torres’s sending off. In a match that near faithfully abided the “game of two halves” cliché, the home side had been considerably the better in the opening 45 minutes and deservedly went into the break ahead courtesy of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 19th minute strike.
But, helped by Juan Mata coming on at the break, Chelsea had a renewed sense of purpose in the second half. Few at White Hart Lane could complain when John Terry duly restored parity in the 65th minute. But the intensity that helped propel Chelsea level, boiled over in Torres and, having already been booked for a clash for Jan Vertonghen, the Spaniard was shown his marching orders for a second yellow card with nine minutes remaining after jumping into the same opponent.
Tottenham may have been disappointed at not being able to make their numerical advantage count, but in a first clash between the two former colleagues, Andre Villas-Boas and Jose Mourinho may both reflect on a satisfactory point. Tottenham remain two points clear of Chelsea in the Premier League table, while Mourinho has now led his side into away games with Manchester United and Tottenham and emerged unscathed.
And leaving north London without defeat appeared to be Mourinho’s priority heading into the encounter. Despite Chelsea’s array of attacking midfield talent, Ramires was pushed up on the right flank. The visitors, as they often have since Mourinho returned, played like a team devoid of a real identity.
After initially struggling to break the slow pace encouraged by Chelsea and not helped by the early kick-off, Tottenham got into their stride. Christian Eriksen, not for the first time in still incredibly young Tottenham career, was at the heart of things and played a big part in his side going in front. The recent arrival from Ajax turned neatly before showing his uncommon awareness to pick out Roberto Soldado on the edge of the box. The ball was cleverly laid off by the Spaniard into the path of Sigurdsson, who beat a challenge from John Terry and just maintained his balance sufficiently to get in a shot to beat Petr Cech.
Tottenham’s intensity continued unabated. Indeed, they may feel that their half-time lead should have made Chelsea’s task after the break far tougher. Andros Townsend again justified his selection over summer signings Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli and twice came close to helping his side increase their advantage.
First his ball across the six-yard box looked set to be converted by Paulinho, before Branislav Ivanovic made a saving challenge, and then the same combination led to the Brazilian hitting the outside of the near post after Townsend supplied him cutting in from the left.
There were just signs that Chelsea were beginning to come into the game more as the first half came to a close and they picked up on that dramatically after the interval. Mourinho’s decision to bring on Mata for John Mikel Obi was instrumental. Suddenly, Chelsea were playing into Torres’s feet and getting the likes of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in support, rather than lofting hopeful balls into the Spaniard’s path.
A newly fired up Torres embodied Chelsea’s improved performance in the second half. In the opening stages he was inches away from setting up Oscar for a simple finish after a strong run down the right, while he made light work of Michael Dawson before just being closed down by Hugo Lloris.
Chelsea were now matching their opponent’s intensity of the first half, while Tottenham had just dropped a level. At the same time, Villas-Boas’s side continued to push up and consequently give Chelsea the opportunity to prosper going forward.
With Tottenham unable to redress the balance, on 65 minutes Chelsea got an equalizer that their second-half showing justified. Mata provided a further example of what he can bring to the team with a perfectly flighted free-kick that Terry was somehow allowed to escape his marker to meet and head down and into the corner of the net.
Torres came close to setting up substitute Andre Schurrle to put Chelsea in front too, but Lloris came out well to once more close out the chance. Yet Torres’s fervency came at a cost.
The all-too-often timid Spaniard had already been booked for somewhat strangely scratching the face of Vertonghen in an incident that on most days would have already have seen Torres sent to the dressing room. When the seemingly inevitable did happen, the contact made by Torres didn’t warrant the theatrical reaction from Vertonghen. However, given what had gone before and the fact that he appeared more interested in his opponent than the ball, referee Mike Dean’s decision to produce a second yellow was justifiable.
Despite having the numerical upper-hand, Tottenham couldn’t regain their first-half drive and Chelsea comfortably saw the remaining minutes as the first bout in what could be a long and engaging rivalry between Mourinho and Villas-Boas ended level on points.