Chelsea moved seven points clear at the top of the Premier League table after two quick-fire second-half goals sent them on their way to a 4-0 victory to continue their dominant record against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
Spurs, without a win in 24 years at the home of their London rivals, enjoyed the better of a tight first half, although the clearer chances had fallen Chelsea’s way. And within the space of three minutes early in the second-half Chelsea had once again ruthlessly turned a game decisively in their favor.
Samuel Eto’o, who had been a last-minute inclusion in the starting lineup following an injury to Fernando Torres in the warm-up, proved to be the game’s key performer. It was he who pounced on Jan Vertonghen’s desperate back pass to put his side in front 11 minutes after the interval. With the visitors still reeling from that blow, their deficit was doubled and their numerical equality was ended. Eto’o went down under challenge from Younes Kaboul as he was about to pull the trigger and Tottenham’s defender was not only punished by the award of a penalty but a red card. It certainly looked harsh, but any Spurs complaints could be met by Chelsea pointing to an erroneous offside flag against Eto’o in the first minute that saved Hugo Lloris from a certain red card.
Once Eden Hazard rolled home the penalty, the game was all over as a contest. At that stage Tottenham could still take some solace from the evening, but it became one to forget in the final two minutes when errors from Sandro and Kyle Walker allowed Demba Ba to score a double off the bench.
It was another trademark Chelsea win. They weren’t at their best, certainly not in the first half, yet there was still a sense of inevitability about the victory. While their rivals have games in hand, Mourinho would not swap them for the points his side has on the board. The pressure is now firmly on Manchester City who need to win their three games in hand just to keep pace.
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After his late inclusion, Eto’o had a dramatic early involvement in the encounter. The man who played 90 minutes for Cameroon in midweek was played through onside, but the flag was raised before Hugo Lloris took him out with a reckless challenge on the edge of the box. Had the flag been correctly left down, Tottenham would surely have been down a man.
Spurs recovered well from the early scare. While their personnel looked fairly defensive, with Kyle Walker playing ahead of Kyle Naughton on the right, they played with the positive outlook that has been a feature of their play under Tim Sherwood. It was the visitors who were doing more both with and without the ball in the opening 45 minutes. Yet, they struggled to create openings against a well-organized Chelsea side. A rare moment of poor defending allowed Nabil Bentaleb to break through into the box but drag a tame shot wide, while Sandro had Petr Cech at full stretch with a superbly struck volley.
Meanwhile, while doing little, Chelsea still created two further chances in transition. Good play from Andre Schurrle and Eto’o sprung Hazard in behind the Tottenham back line, but having skipped past the lunge of Lloris he couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball and sent it wide. Later in the period, Bentaleb’s poor giveaway led to Eto’o shooting wide after he elected against passing to the well-placed Schurrle.
There was a sense that while Tottenham had been the better team in the first half, Chelsea also had their increasingly confident opponents right where they wanted them. In order to make to give his side a greater ability to advantage of their opportunities on the break, Mourinho brought on Oscar for Frank Lampard at the break. And not for the first time this season, indeed reminiscent of their win over Fulham last time out, Chelsea played with more purpose after the break.
Their crucial opening goal, though, was the product of an awful Tottenham error. Having slipped in the left-back position, Jan Vertonghen tried to atone, while his backside was on the turf, by knocking the ball away from Schurrle in the hope of finding his goalkeeper. Instead, he found pouncing supremo Eto’o, as alert as ever, who calmly slotted the ball through the legs of Lloris.
Now with the bit between their teeth, Chelsea did not have to wait long before effectively sealing the three points. There was some fine play by the hosts in the buildup, culminating with a superb cross from Hazard to find Eto’o. There appeared minimal contact from Kaboul as the Chelsea striker received the ball, and his aghast reaction at first referee Michael Oliver pointing to the spot and then sending him on his way appeared to have some justification.
Hazard’s conversion meant any faint hopes of a comeback were extinguished. Still, Sherwood will not have been happy with the self-inflicted wounds his team suffered late on. After Oscar was played in behind Ezekiel Fryers, the Brazilian’s cross should have been cleared by Sandro, but he slipped and Ba took advantage with a simple finish.
And the former Newcastle striker then trebled his previous Premier League tally for the season just a minute later. After Ba had half-blocked Lloris’s clearance, Walker incomprehensibly tried to head the ball back to his goalkeeper. Ba easily got there first and put the seal on what turned out to be a resounding victory.