Chelsea never ever fails to surprise me.
Prior to the match against Spurs at Wembley, I was less confident than usual about facing our North London rivals. What was I thinking? It was Spurs and when it comes to Chelsea v Spurs history proves that is usually Chelsea who wins, especially at Wembley.
The talk before the game also centered on whom under siege Antonio Conte would pick to partner N’Golo Kante in midfield.
Well, I’ll be honest; the last thing I expected was a defensive midfield three of N’Golo Kante, David Luiz and new signing, Tiémoué Bakayoko. Less unexpected was the defensive three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. All would play huge roles in a welcome win for Chelsea which will hopefully give Chelsea and their beleaguered manager some respite from the press fuelled negativity.
Ultimately this selection and the 3:5:2 formation was the key to Chelsea’s success and yet another tactical master stroke by Antonio Conte.
Alvaro Morata should have put Chelsea 1-0 ahead with a guilt edged chance early in the first half, before the underrated and unfairly criticised Marcos Alonso buried a superbly executed free kick on 23 minutes.
Alonso is becoming something of a free kick specialist, no mean feat when the side also contains the Brazilian talents of Willian and David Luiz. If this was not enough, Alonso’s match winning goal on 87 minutes will surely be enough to cement his ‘cult hero’ status with the Chelsea faithful. Scoring last minute goals against arch rivals Tottenham is exactly the kind of thing to afford you such status as Bjarne Goldbaek and George Weah may well remember.
The fact that he sports a ‘Wham’ style feathered and lemon bleached hairstyle has also not gone unnoticed. He had an excellent game, which leaves me perplexed as to why many fans get on his case.
Alonso’s goals aside, this was a win made in Italy. Antonio Conte has brought many things to Chelsea since his arrival last year. The passion he exudes from the touchline means he has quickly embedded his place in our hearts. His charm and humility in press conferences has been a welcome anti-dote to what we have seen from recent Chelsea managers.
Arguably his most important contribution though, is the desire to win that he imbues his players with and the tactical nous with which to win tough games.
This was a tough game without question. It was considered wisdom that it was a good time to play Chelsea with injuries and suspensions hampering Conte’s ability to put out a decent team. Spurs tails would be up as they celebrated their first game in a party atmosphere (complete with musical accompaniment through the PA system) at their temporary home of Wembley. They would also remember how they dominated Chelsea in midfield to win 2-0 in the corresponding fixture at White Hart Lane last season.
This was all countered by Conte’s game plan of setting Chelsea up to play one of the best examples of the classic Italian game of ‘catenaccio’ you are likely to see by an English side. Conte bolted the door to Chelsea’s defence and Andreas Christensen in particular looked very much the exciting prospect Chelsea supporters believe him to be, as he intercepted and did everything to get a block or a foot in to halt the frequent and dangerous Spur’s attacks.
Tiémoué Bakayoko, although perhaps not yet match fit, showed enough in this game to suggest that he may well be a more energetic, able and forward thinking replacement for Nemanja Matic. But it was the ever controversial David Luiz who caught the eye. Repeatedly breaking up play; nicking the ball off Spurs player’s toes; being a nuisance all over the pitch. He assisted both goals by lulling Dele Alli into giving away the free-kick so brilliantly scored by Alonso and it was Luiz who stole the ball from Victor Wanyama before laying it off to Alonso for the winner.
Yes, Chelsea rode their luck with Harry Kane hitting the post and one or two other chances going begging. But for all Spurs possession and territorial dominance it was Chelsea’s counter-attacking and ability to finish clinically that counted for more on the day.
For Chelsea supporters there are few things as satisfying as beating Spurs. To do so at their first game at Wembley in the Premier League makes it even sweeter. We like ruining a party.
It is early enough in the season to have no more serious consequences than bragging rights, but in the longer run this may be seen as an important win for Chelsea and an unwelcome knock back for Spurs.
For Spurs, the psychological damage of losing to title rivals at a time when they expected to beat them may play on their minds as will their Wembley hoodoo continuing. For Chelsea, it gets our season off to a start but more important, it will hopefully make those within the Club who may have been briefing against Antonio Conte last week realise that in the suave Italian, we have one of the best managers in the game.
It would perhaps be wise to back him and give him what he needs to challenge on all fronts this season. I have a nagging suspicion, and I sincerely hope that this isn’t true, that the Club may use this result as an excuse to make Conte use the limited playing resources he has at his disposal, rather than make the suitable additions that are so clearly needed.
That, I believe, would be foolhardy.