What looked like being a bridge too far for Tottenham in search of Champions League qualification has proved to be anything but.
An immensely tricky run of fixtures against the three Premier League title contenders had few people expecting Spurs to pick up many, if any, points as they clung on to diminishing hopes of fourth place. Harry Redknapp’s men had looked capable of beating most teams on their day but facing Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in successive games would be a massive ask for any side. The beauty of football is that no-one is writing the scripts and a club can have a hand in their own destiny, and Tottenham have had a massive say with their sterling performances in the first two parts of their blockbuster trilogy. Having outgunned the Gunners last Wednesday, Spurs put on an even better showing to destroy Chelsea, who were massively flattered by the tight final scoreline of 2-1. The Blues looked to be strolling to the league title but did themselves no favours with a lacklustre performance on a day when their White Hart Lane hosts were rampant.
Chelsea have been a major bogey team for Tottenham over the years but the history books went well and truly out of the window on Saturday. Making just two enforced changes from the team that started against Arsenal three days earlier, Spurs began full of confidence, with Gareth Bale in particular virtually unplayable. The experienced Paulo Ferreira was ran ragged by his youthful opponent. Florent Malouda has enjoyed a resurgent season on the left-flank at Stamford Bridge but he was completely outshone by his Tottenham counterpart who was a constant menace. Many expected the likes of Bale to be tired after a massive week and a huge performance to oust their north London rivals, but instead they seemed to grow in energy as the game wore on. The concept of momentum is widely debated in football, but this was an advert for those subscribing to theories that form from one game can be carried into the next match. Having gone from the big blows of denting their Champions League hopes in a poor defeat at Sunderland and crashing out of the FA Cup to troubled Portsmouth, the contrasting highs of beating their fiercest rivals in midweek proved considerable enough to carry Spurs through 90 pulsating minutes against Chelsea.
At one end of the field, England’s first choice centre-back John Terry was busy blotting his fading copybook with two unnecessarily rash challenges in the space of three minutes that saw him dismissed. With his team folding around him, Chelsea needed their captain to be a rock but instead he let them down. At the other end of the pitch, someone too low down the national team pecking order to have been mentioned in World Cup squad dispatches regularly was showing him how it should be done. Michael Dawson has not always convinced in his time at the Tottenham, and was hardly a regular feature last season, but more and more he has grown in maturity and consistency this term. With Ledley King unable to play regularly, and Jonathan Woodgate a long-term casualty, Dawson has found himself playing the senior partner alongside Sebastien Bassong and his displays suggest he has relished the added responsibility. Whilst King played against Arsenal and bossed the defence, he was unable to play another game so soon in succession but was hardly missed. Dawson was dominant, coping with Didier Drogba and substitute Nicholas Anelka with consummate ease. On this form, the 26-year-old has to be a part of Fabio Capello’s World Cup plans, and the watching Italian will have had plenty of food for thought seeing the pretender outshine the supposed master.
Having previously missed seven penalties out of 11, and all of his last four, Jermain Defoe showed considerable poise to ram home the early spot-kick that set Tottenham on the way. It was an impressive show of faith in his own ability from the England striker with so much potentially riding on the kick, the chance to take the lead in a game Spurs were expected to lose too important to spurn. If his strike partner Roman Pavlyuchenko had shown the same composure in front of goal, then the final score would have been as emphatic as the team performance, the Russian fluffing his lines on several occasions. Whilst not wanting to see his teammate fail, Defoe will have been buoyed by the boost of outshining his fellow striker after a period of seeing Pavlyuchenko grab the headlines with his scoring exploits. If Redknapp can keep the likes of Bale, Dawson and Defoe in this kind of form, then fourth spot looks to be back on the cards.
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