EPL

All brawn, no brains Spurs turn in lukewarm nightmare before Christmas

By Sports Desk December 22, 2019

During his prime years, Jose Mourinho was frequently credited with bringing opponents under his spell.

That certainly was not the case during the first half of Tottenham's thundering reality check against Chelsea, although some other mysterious force appeared to have bent the mind of referee Anthony Taylor towards another dimension just before the interval.

Passed, prodded and paraded wearily across their home turf by a slick and purposeful Chelsea, Spurs turned towards those derby-day favourites of physicality and aggression in an attempt to overturn Willian's well-taken opener.

Those are qualities common to all of Mourinho's best sides and, although this version of Spurs are presently light-years away from being seen as such, they gave their best approximation. It was one they will want to forget quickly.

Harry Kane blasted over from his team's first clear opening in the 28th minute, with Son Heung-min similarly wayward shortly afterwards.

Booming clearances by goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga were deployed as an attacking weapon, while opposite number Kepa Arrizabalaga had to contend with a hulking Moussa Sissoko clattering through him when an under-hit Marcos Alonso backpass piqued the midfielder's interest.

Dele Alli then leapt on Mateo Kovacic's back. The ensuing fracas ended with both men being booked, meaning a suspended Kovacic has Boxing Day off – a relatively positive outcome from a very weird incident, as far as the Chelsea midfielder was concerned.

Anyone concerned Taylor had become a little too comfortable with the hosts' increasingly roughhouse approach would still have been baffled by what followed.

Only Gazzaniga will have the foggiest idea what on earth he was thinking during first-half stoppage time. As it's the season for giving, let's charitably suggest he was relishing his new role of launching route-one attacks. Alas, instead of booting the ball down field, he careered kung-fu style into Alonso.

Taylor's response was to give a free-kick against the assaulted Chelsea wing-back. After Tammy Abraham's remonstrations with the official suggested he should be a shoo-in for any Christmas Day game of charades, a VAR review gave Willian the chance to clinically double his tally from 12 yards.

Eric Dier's festive goodwill was severely tested by being hooked early once again by Mourinho but, while Christian Eriksen's introduction against Olympiacos last month sparked a turnaround, all Spurs could offer was increasingly impotent fury and petulance.

Son's kick out at Antonio Rudiger to be sent off was entirely in keeping with a ragged and ineffective performance, where wretched individual decisions festered within the general malaise.

Of course, the severe wrong-headedness of a Tottenham element off the field then took centre stage. Objects were thrown at Chelsea players and three stadium announcements asked for racist behaviour to stop after Rudiger appeared to be targeted by abuse.

Racism is a sickeningly visible cancer in British football and society right now, making conversations over tactical setups and styles of play feel entirely redundant. Yet this remains the day-to-day requirement for Mourinho and Frank Lampard, the pupil who comprehensively out-thought the teacher here.

If we are told the league table at the end of the season does not lie, then the form table is the delinquent child who tells Santa they've been good in order to score some extra presents.

Chelsea's four defeats in five Premier League games heading into this contest meant little when Spurs were confronted by a side with solid foundations and a commitment to intelligent passing and positional play.

Mason Mount and Abraham, youngsters publicly questioned by Mourinho at the start of the season, shimmered and asked questions to perplex Tottenham throughout, while N'Golo Kante was effervescent, excellent and absolutely everywhere.

Tottenham had four wins from five under Mourinho and were within touching distance of fourth-placed Chelsea. Yet, on the field there was a yawning chasm between the sides. It is to Lampard's credit that he has imbued a belief resilient to fickle mid-season fortunes during his first campaign in charge.

His old boss' challenge is to lay similar foundations and display a vision beyond the all brawn, no brains pragmatism that amounted to a Christmas gift for Chelsea and an ecstatic Lampard.

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