Tottenham’s Dele Alli strikes twice to seal the points against Chelsea
Tottenham Hotspur had been waiting 28 long years for this moment. Not since Gary Lineker wrestled himself free of a scrum of bodies at the far post to nod a late Nayim cross down and beyond Dave Beasant had their travelling fans, on an exposed terrace that afternoon in February 1990, been able to revel in this arena at Chelsea’s expense, or bounce their way gleefully through the post-match crowing while the locals skulked away.
Spurs have since seen a title challenge wrecked, and far too many humiliations for comfort. Their team have been put to the sword almost as a matter of course, a succession of managers and lineups thrashed out of sight. In that context this must have felt exquisite, even before the extension of the gap from fifth to eight points – such a healthy advantage with seven games to play – had been taken into account. “I will celebrate the win like I celebrate any win,” said Mauricio Pochettino, whose half-hearted attempts to play down the achievement fooled no one. “But winning at Stamford Bridge again is a massive thing for our fans and for Tottenham.”
It was Dele Alli, born more than six years after this club’s last win in these parts and making his 100th top-flight appearance here, who capitalised on the hosts’ shortcomings to exorcise the ghosts of 27 winless visits to this stadium. Chelsea had been punctured by Christian Eriksen’s fine equaliser and never really recovered their poise, though it was Alli whose calm ruthlessness in front of goal put them to shame. Just after the hour a straight pass, lofted from inside the centre circle by Eric Dier, bypassed the hosts’ backline and the midfielder, darting into a hint of space between Andreas Christensen and César Azpilicueta, controlled wonderfully with his first touch and finished emphatically with his second.
It was a flash of brilliance to encapsulate the midfielder’s qualities, and a reminder of his capabilities after a difficult week with the national team. He celebrated it with gusto, cupping his ears to the Shed End as the abuse rained down – and he had more pain still to inflict. Four minutes later Eriksen’s cute flick sent Son Heung‑min sprinting beyond Marcos Alonso down the right. Willy Caballero smothered the South Korean’s attempt, but the ball was never properly cleared in the confusion which ensued. The goalkeeper and Christensen were unable to repel it from the goal mouth as Son attempted to hack it home, with Alli – a calm head amid the mayhem – eventually squeezing out enough space to prod away his shot from close range.
He has now been involved directly in 60 goals over his century of Premier League games. “People will still be disappointed with the way I played,” he said, “but I don’t think I had a point a point to prove. I just had to get in the starting XI and help the team.” In the end, Harry Kane was required for just the last 17 minutes, and his return from an ankle injury with the game already won almost felt like Pochettino taking his chance to rub Chelsea’s noses in it.
This had all been achieved as he sat with his feet up on the bench. That said much. Antonio Conte had kicked over a cage of drink bottles in his exasperation at the sloppiness at that concession, bemoaning the inability of inexperienced players to “shoot the ball into the stand”. This defeat will have scarred the Italian. That chasm to Spurs feels unbridgeable, and success in the FA Cup alone would appease neither the head coach nor the board. A slog of a season is heading towards a painful denouement. The divorce is imminent. Conte had actually spied promise in his team’s incision on the counterattack early on, and had seen them bask briefly in a lead when Hugo Lloris missed a punch at Victor Moses’s cross and Álvaro Morata guided a header easily into a gaping net.
Had they retained that advantage at the interval then they might have prospered further on the break as anxiety mounted in opposition ranks. Yet sloppiness, not for the first time in recent weeks, ended up costing them in stoppage time at the end of the period, Moses surrendering possession weakly and deep inside Chelsea territory with the ball shifted to Eriksen, alone in a pocket of space around 25 yards out with N’Golo Kanté reluctant to engage. The Dane collected, sized up his options and belted a right-foot shot which Caballero initially thought would soar over his goal, only for the ball to dip viciously, kiss the underside of the crossbar and billow the net.
That was all it took to shatter the hosts’ conviction, reflecting the brittle confidence of a team who have now taken only 11 points from their 10 league games since the turn of the year. Spurs have plundered 27 from their 11 games in the same period, which reflects the shift in momentum. Chelsea’s entire project suddenly feels under scrutiny: the long-term planning; the reliance upon Champions League football; the levels of investment required in the squad; and, not least, the future of the head coach. The sight of Spurs progressing at their expense will have left the locals wincing.