Tottenham return to top of table after José Mourinho frustrates Chelsea

Tottenham return to top of table after José Mourinho frustrates Chelsea

José Mourinho has previous for spoiling 1,000th game celebrations at Stamford Bridge. Remember what happened to Arsène Wenger when he brought up the landmark in charge of Arsenal here? Mourinho’s Chelsea beat them 6-0.

This was Roman Abramovich’s 1,000th match as Chelsea’s owner and it was a time to reflect on how much he has brought to the club. Mourinho made sure that he could not celebrate with a victory to take Chelsea to the top of the table.

Mourinho was the happier with the stalemate, which returned his Tottenham team to first place, largely because, as everyone knows, he will always see the beauty in defensive resilience.

It is the quality upon which he has built previous title-winning teams and a point at this venue can never be looked upon as a bad result. Spurs almost pulled off what would have been a stoppage-time heist when Kurt Zouma gave the ball away and Giovani Lo Celso, the Spurs substitute, had a shooting chance. Instead, he crossed to no one.

That would have been too much. Although Spurs started brightly, Chelsea were the more forward-thinking team and they dominated the second half in territorial terms without ever truly looking as if they would score. Their best chance came moments before that for Lo Celso, also in injury-time, following a lapse from Joe Rodon, to whom Mourinho had given a full Premier League debut. Olivier Giroud, on as a Chelsea substitute, was in but his lob was weak. Some games have 0-0 stamped all over them.

Mourinho’s record as a visiting manager to Stamford Bridge had been uninspiring. After winning on his first return with Internazionale in 2010, it was four defeats and a draw in five visits before this one. He wanted to be difficult to beat, first and foremost, on this occasion; to punch hard on the counter.

Mourinho gave Tanguy Ndombele orders to push up alongside Harry Kane when Chelsea had the ball but it was more of a positional game from his team than a pressing one. The idea was to invite Chelsea on but to try to pinch the ball from them as high up as possible.

Chelsea thought they had gone ahead when they worked a quick transition of their own on 11 minutes after Tammy Abraham got the better of Rodon. Mason Mount played in Timo Werner and, when Moussa Sissoko slipped, the chance was really on for Chelsea’s left-sided attacker. He glided inside and finished beautifully off the far post only to be denied by a hairline offside decision.

Spurs looked comfortable in their gameplan at the outset, with Ndombele showing his class on the ball and Kane dropping deep to link up the play. Ndombele is a pleasure to watch – the control, the power, the quick feet, particularly in that trademark tight turning circle. It was a shame for the neutral when he was substituted midway through the second half.

Tanguy Ndombele in action for Spurs at Chelsea

The visitors had a couple of flickers inside the opening 15 minutes with Steven Bergwijn lifting high after a break featuring Sergio Reguilón and Kane. The second was when Serge Aurier worked Édouard Mendy from the edge of the area after Chelsea could not clear a corner. That would be as good as it got for them in attacking terms.

The onus was on Chelsea to break down their opponents, to make their possession count. It was hard going for them in the first half. They looked neat and tidy on the ball, with Thiago Silva displaying his own burgeoning confidence with one no-look back pass under pressure, but it was a back pass. Chelsea moved it sideways and back but they lacked the spark to get in behind Spurs, to make incisions. Mount and Ben Chilwell were each off target with shots from distance before the interval.

The focus from both sets of players was intense; they knew that one error could be decisive. But it was hardly a blood-and-thunder derby. Reguilón went down clutching his face after the faintest of brushes from Reece James and, to everyone’s amazement, the Chelsea full-back was booked. He was one of five to enter the notebook and yet it was difficult to remember a challenge.

Chelsea began the second half with greater tempo and purpose. They established a foothold higher up the pitch, with Hakim Ziyech enjoying a bit more prominence and James working a couple of openings up the right. His crosses were dangerous but, on both occasions, Abraham could not apply the headed finish.

The centre-forward seemed to lose his bearings on the first one and, in the context of the game, it went down as a decent chance missed. Abraham also missed a flick on the spin following a Werner cross, having wriggled away from Eric Dier, while Ziyech shot high after a Chilwell cross and Mount extended Hugo Lloris with a blast from the edge of the area.