So, after a run of nine games undefeated in all competitions, AVB’s Spurs side slipped to only their second competitive defeat under his tenure against Chelsea at the weekend. In fairness, it wasn’t the most unpredictable of defeats; whilst the win against United might have given the team confidence of springing another relative surprise, I think secretly before the game we all would have been perfectly content with a draw. In the end, the real frustration was the manner in which we handed Chelsea the win, with defensive slackness playing a part in every Chelsea goal.
William Gallas, in particular, had an afternoon against his former club to forget. In terms of embarrassment levels, it might even rank up with that time he cried at Birmingham whilst at Arsenal. His goal at the second half can’t do much to cover the cracks in a performance from the Frenchman in which he looked every single one of his 35 years – especially disappointing considering that thus far into the season, his performances had defied that number.
Chelsea’s first goal came through an exquisite finish from the unlikely Gary Cahill, but from a header back into the danger area by Gallas when Walker was waiting to clear behind him. Should Walker have given him a shout? Probably, but Gallas should still have known better than to head the ball straight to the middle edge of the penalty area.
The second Chelsea goal again came from poor defensive work on Gallas’s behalf. A Chelsea attack that looked like amounting to nothing was awkwardly cleared by Gallas, again into the middle of the park rather than out wide or further upfield, and Juan Mata was waiting to gratefully receive the wayward ball. So far, two Chelsea goals, two Gallas assists, and the Frenchman is barely vindicated by having been involved in all three goals up to this point.
Goal number three is perhaps the one to which least defensive blame can be attached, but Gallas can still be criticised for failing to notice Mata’s run in behind him, even if Spurs’ midfield had failed to track the Spaniard’s run. After that, Gallas took a back seat and allowed Walker to take the ‘comedy defending’ reins, with the right-back inexplicably deciding to take on Mata rather than passing the ball out. A few stumbles and a failure clear later, and Mata escapes with the ball before setting up Sturridge for a fourth.
It’s frustrating that Chelsea’s performance, whilst clinical, probably didn’t deserve the margin of victory they emerged with. Spurs’ lack of cutting edge in the first half was remedied excellently after the break, and at 2-1 up they briefly looked in control of the game. However, after Chelsea’s quick-fire second and third goals, the match fell into a predictable groove, and the chance of victory was long gone by the time Sturridge concluded the scoring. Still, Spurs’ performance again showed the promise of progress under AVB, and it’s a shame that basic errors are what cost the side any chance of a point.
So, what can we take from the game? Well, Gallas may have had an unexpectedly effective start to the season, but I wouldn’t expect him to be getting anywhere near our defence once Kaboul regains fitness after Saturday’s showing. In fact, once BAE is match-fit, it seems likely Vertonghen and Caulker will form the first choice centre-back partnership. Until then, despite AVB’s obvious lack of desire to play Dawson, he might find himself being the best option in Gallas’s stead until those injured players recover.
Elsewhere on the pitch, the performance was hard to criticise. Perhaps we’re still missing a fully fit Adebayor, but Defoe is still chipping in with the goals, and in the midfield Aaron Lennon is in some of the best form of his career. We undeniably missed the presence of Bale and Dembélé in the middle of the park, and Clint Dempsey showed he’s still not quite back at the top of his game after his lack of pre-season, but we none-the-less still managed to carry an attacking threat – and became the first team to score against Chelsea in the second half this season.
The next three games or so will be of particular interest; we’ve seen, over the past weeks, that this new-look Spurs can measure up favourably against the big boys, or be it with a few kinks left to iron out. With Southampton and Wigan up next in the Premier League, along with a fixture against Norwich in the League Cup sandwiched in between, anything less than three wins would be considered a disappointment.
On Twitter: @AEFSpurs.