After their Champions League defeat against RB Leipzig last week, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho said that leading his team into the tie had been like going to a fight with a gun that had no bullets.
At Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Spurs and Mourinho didn’t just turn up at his old stomping ground for their crucial clash with Chelsea without the bullets. This time, there was no sign of the gun, either.
This time, in fact, there was no sign of anything at all. After this limp 2-1 defeat that left Spurs four points adrift of Frank Lampard’s team in the battle for fourth place, Mourinho appeared in full melodramatic mourning garb at his press conference, his expression sad and glum so that he might fully convey the abject misery of Tottenham’s parlous injury situation.
It is a tired old act but Mourinho is still flogging it for all it is worth.
By the time he had finished bemoaning his fate, it felt less like Spurs were still competing on three fronts this season and more as if their manager and players were being led in wooden carts towards the guillotine. ‘It is going to be three long months,’ Mourinho said, shaking his head.
Any Spurs fans – or players – expecting a rallying cry after a significant setback like this would have been sorely disappointed. All that was missing was a dirge for a soundtrack and sackcloth and ashes for his props.
‘It is an incredible negative situation,’ he said of the injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. He should have bought some back-up in January. But he didn’t.
‘We had zero strikers on the pitch, zero strikers on the bench and zero strikers in the stand,’ he said. He didn’t mention that he had left the team’s best attacking talent, Dele Alli, on the bench but that didn’t fit the deprivation narrative. Maybe Alli had exhausted himself by throwing a bottle and a boot around the dug-out after he was substituted against Leipzig.
The truth, of course, is that at this stage of the season every team is coping with injuries and if Spurs are struggling it is because of a lack of foresight from the manager and more particularly, Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy. Lest Mourinho forgets, Chelsea did not furnish Lampard with any reinforcements in January and yet Lampard shuffled his pack and reaped the rewards.
Chelsea: Caballero 7; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 6, Rudiger 7; James 6, Jorginho 7, Kovacic 6, Marcos Alonso 7.5; Barkley 6.5 (Willian 77 6), Mount 7.5; Giroud 7 (Abraham 72 6).
Substitutes not used: Arrizabalaga, Loftus-Cheek, Zouma, Emerson, Gilmour.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris 6; Davinson Sanchez 6, Alderweireld 6 (Aurier 78 5), Vertonghen 6; Tanganga 6, Ndombele 3 (Lamela 62 6.5), Winks 5, Davies 5; Lo Celso 4, Lucas Moura 5; Bergwijn 5 (Alli 78 6).
Substitutes not used: Gazzaniga, Dier, Sessegnon, Gedson Fernandes.
Referee: Michael Oliver 6
But the second rebound fell to Giroud and this time Lloris could not stop his fierce left foot shot. It was the Frenchman’s first Premier League start since November and his first goal since April.
Ten minutes before the break, Spurs briefly shook off their inertia and began to press for an equaliser. Azpilicueta made a fine block to deny Lucas Moura and Caballero had to stretch to tip over a looping header from Davinson Sanchez.
Spurs fans, grouped in the away section at the Shed End, thought they had scored when Japhet Tanganga ran on to a raking pass from Alderweireld.
He miscontrolled the ball on the volley but Caballero had come racing out of his goal and was caught wrong-footed. It seemed for a moment as though Tanganga would only need to tap the ball into the net but it had too much pace and he could not quite reach it before it ran wide.
Three minutes after the interval, though, Chelsea went further ahead. They broke down the right and moved the ball across the face of the Spurs box, Mount spreading it on to Barkley and Barkley moving it on to Alonso. Alonso met it as sweetly as anyone could and the ball sped unerringly beyond the outstretched left hand of Lloris.
Tottenham were fortunate Lo Celso was allowed to stay on the pitch soon afterwards when he stamped on Azpilicueta as he lay on the turf but Spurs’ reprieve made little difference to the impetus of the match.
Chelsea nearly went further ahead when Mount tricked his marker on the right and played in a perfect cross for substitute Tammy Abraham.
Abraham tried to guide it past Lloris but the France goalkeeper got down quickly to smother it. A few minutes later, another Lo Celso foul, this time on Mount, gave Chelsea a free kick on the edge of the box. Alonso curled it over the wall but it cannoned off the face of the
Spurs pulled a goal back two minutes from time when substitute Erik Lamela’s shot hit Antonio Rudiger’s trailing leg.
The deflection wrong-footed Caballero and trickled inside his near post but Spurs did not deserve anything from the game and time ran out before they could threaten Chelsea any further.