SPURS STILL A BRIDGE TOO FAR

The Star (Kenya) - - Sports International -

ight now, no team sur­passes An­to­nio Conte and this Chelsea side. They can win with a swag­ger, as they did against Manch­ester United and Ever­ton; they can tough it out on in­hos­pitable away trips, as they did at Mid­dles­brough; and they can come from be­hind, re­dress­ing the bal­ance of play when asked se­ri­ous ques­tions, as they did on Satur­day.

Where they floun­dered a year ago, now they blos­som; where egos were crushed in the past, now they flour­ish. Pe­dro wilted last sea­son amidst the heat of dys­func­tional Chelsea, seem­ingly un­able to bloom out of Cata­lan soil; Vic­tor Moses was in ex­ile, con­demned to an­other loan spell, un­wanted by the pre­vi­ous man­ager.

Yet both goal-scor­ers were ex­cel­lent, re­born by the warm em­brace of Conte’s love and nur­ture.

And Chelsea, right now, ap­pear to have it all. In Diego Costa, who was out­stand­ing in the sec­ond half, and David Luiz, they have a world­li­ness that secures vic­to­ries, even af­ter wholly in­dif­fer­ent first halves, which is what they pro­duced on Satur­day.

Luiz lin­gered on Satur­day on the pitch, mix­ing with fans, re­ceiv­ing their em­brace, giv­ing back not just a shirt to a fan, but a re­paired re­la­tion­ship be­tween play­ers and crowd. Not only is he de­fend­ing well; he brings charisma and a char­ac­ter to a side that was be­gin­ning to look short of both.

It is seven suc­ces­sive wins since the 3-0 calamity at Arse­nal and just one goal con­ceded since Conte’s back three was in­tro­duced.

“Now we are an­other team com­pared to Liver­pool and Arse­nal games, for sure,” said Conte. “If we were the same team we would lose the game for sure. Now we are an­other team. And I am pleased for the play­ers. We have an­other type of con­fi­dence. We are work­ing a lot and en­joy this type of foot­ball. On Satur­day we won and I am pleased be­cause it wasn’t easy. It was a big test for sure. Spurs is a re­ally good team.

“They started bet­ter than us but I liked a lot our re­ac­tion. It wasn’t easy. Af­ter the first half we spoke. I al­ways speak with my play­ers and we found to­gether the right so­lu­tion to try to win the game.

“In the sec­ond half we ex­ploited the sit­u­a­tions we didn’t ex­ploit in the first game.”

For Tot­ten­ham, twenty-nine fruit­less vis­its to Stam­ford Bridge be­comes thirty; 1990 re­mains the bench­mark per­for­mance here for a Tot­ten­ham.

But it was hard to shake off the mem­ory of melt­down Tot­ten­ham had when they lost both the league and their heads here last sea­son. It felt that the hard lessons learnt that night were un­der­scored on Satur­day evening: that this Tot­ten­ham side re­mains a lit­tle short of know-how and qual­ity.

Not far short; they have it in mo­ments and in the first half they demon­strated that in the qual­ity which ex­ists in the side. But re-en­force­ments look nec­es­sary if they are to be the side that be­comes a reg­u­lar Cham­pi­ons League par­tic­i­pant.

Mauricio Po­chet­tino chose to dwell on the pos­i­tives, of which there were plenty.

“There is no worry,” he said. “Af­ter that game, I feel proud; the ef­fort was bril­liant. We come from Monaco and it was tough to be out of the Cham­pi­ons League, but the an­swer of the play­ers was clear. The right men­tal­ity, good per­for­mance, we were bet­ter. But we lost.”

Tot­ten­ham were un­doubt­edly bet­ter early on. Where there had been in­er­tia in Monaco, there was en­ergy un­bounded here, with Vic­tor Wanyama muscling his way to dom­i­na­tion in the mid­field, Chris­tian Erik­sen and Dele Alli mak­ing dart­ing, cre­ative runs, Harry Kane a con­stant nui­sance and Kyle Walker in­de­fati­ga­ble. They con­firmed their mo­men­tum in the 11th minute, when Erik­sen picked the ball out 20 yards out from a Dele Alli pass. It seemed harm­less but Erik­sen saw a gap which Chelsea hadn’t covered. He un­leashed a fe­ro­cious strike, off the edge of his boot, spin­ning away from Thibaut Cour­tois, to open the scor­ing.

Chelsea couldn’t wrest back con­trol of the game. /Still, when their equaliser came, it was ex­cep­tional; wholly against the run of play, but a joy to watch none­the­less.

Po­chet­tino will be ag­i­tated at the amount of space Pe­dro was af­forded, but the con­trol, lit­tle drag back, turn and ex­quis­ite strike, curling into the top cor­ner from 20 yards out, was out­stand­ing.

Po­chet­tino would have been even more con­cerned about Chelsea tak­ing the lead early in the sec­ond half. With Tot­ten­ham losing the ball cheaply in mid­field, Chelsea swept up-field with Costa charg­ing down the left and cut­ting the ball back to Moses.

In their dash to de­fend, Spurs ig­nored the spa­cious gaps on the op­po­site flank, so Moses had time and space to make his strike and though Lloris got a foot to it, he could only de­flect into Jan Ver­tonghen, who in turn could only help the ball over the line on 54 min­utes.

The roar which greeted vic­tory was an in­di­ca­tion of a cer­tain de­gree of re­lief. But, for now Chelsea re­main their mas­ter.

Tot­ten­ham’s Chris­tian Erik­sen cel­e­brates scor­ing their first goal with team mates.

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