It is easy to win at Chelsea, José Mourinho had announced on Wednesday, loading the pressure on the club’s new manager, Thomas Tuchel. Mourinho pointed out that he had won more than one Premier League title in west London while Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte had each done so once.
Tuchel had an obvious retort after getting the victory to ignite his tenure: it was easy to win here against Mourinho’s Tottenham. Chelsea’s goal came from the penalty spot midway through the first-half, rammed home by Jorginho, who was back on spot-kick duties after three misses earlier in the season.
But Chelsea were tactically and technically superior for almost all of the evening, save for a late surge by Spurs when Carlos Vinícius, on his first league start, nodded an 88th-minute header wide. It was a good chance from Serge Aurier’s cross and it would have represented the greatest of escapes.
The cold truth was that Spurs were creatively dismal and the defeat came hard on the heels of those against Liverpool and Brighton when they also contributed little in attacking terms. It is no coincidence that Mourinho has been without his talisman, Harry Kane, since half-time against Liverpool but the team’s problems run deeper than the absence of one player. Too many others have mislaid their form, including Son Heung-min, while this was not a game when Tanguy Ndombele could get on the ball in dangerous areas.
What about Eric Dier? He conceded the penalty in clumsy fashion, swiping at the ball from a position on the ground, having jumped into a slide challenge on Timo Werner before catching the Chelsea forward on what looked like the third attempt.
At one point in the second-half, Dier overhit a backpass so badly that the goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, had to head clear from an awkward position and only narrowly avoided sending it straight to Mason Mount. Mourinho lost himself in a funk. Dier had been his defensive rock earlier in the season. He looked over-played and lacking confidence here. He was not the only one.
Spurs needed to win to allow themselves to look up towards the top four again but instead Chelsea leapfrogged them into sixth as Tuchel enjoyed a third clean sheet in three matches at the club. The only criticism that he could legitimately have was the lack of cutting edge in front of goal.
Tuchel’s dirty secret about liking Spurs as a kid was out – it was the fancy name and Jürgen Klinsmann – and everybody was more concerned with getting further clues as to his Chelsea vision; areas of consistency to swell the sample size for judgment.
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The major constant so far has been his back-three shape, although he would lose the class of Thiago Silva to a muscle injury in the first half and the flexibility of his front three. This time, Mount, the game’s outstanding performer, played in a deeper central role between Callum Hudson-Odoi and Werner, and he roamed to good effect, ever alert to the potential to create overloads. Reece James and Marcos Alonso, meanwhile, pushed high in the wing-back positions, leaving Spurs’s wide forwards, Steven Bergwijn and Son, unsure whether to track them. Chelsea’s dominance of the first half was pronounced.
For most of it, Tuchel could enjoy the neat trick of appearing to have more players on the field. Mourinho had reverted to 4-2-3-1 after three league games with three at the back, with Aurier restored to right-back after his half-time stadium walkout against Liverpool. He was probably the pick of the Spurs team. But whereas Chelsea’s players had the spaces and options on the ball, those in white were suffocated. They had nowhere to go, particularly before the interval.
Mourinho dropped Gareth Bale to the bench and did not bring him on, with the hope being that his team could play off Vinícius up front. It did not happen. Spurs’s only first-half flicker came on 42 minutes from a Son free-kick that Aurier nodded wide.
The penalty was a mess from Dier’s point of view, his fourth such concession for Spurs and England since football’s restart last June, and Jorginho abandoned his usual big jump before the connection and simply swept it into the bottom corner.
Tuchel is an animated touchline presence and twice in the first half he howled when Mount failed to supply a decisive action. On the second occasion, Dier leapt in to block his shot.
Spurs had to be better in the second half but it was Chelsea who continued to look the sharper in possession. Mount played in Werner only for Aurier to put him off, while Mateo Kovacic prodded wide and Lloris saved smartly from Mount after he had darted around Dier. Érik Lamela brought a bit of intensity off the bench for Spurs and he would extend Édouard Mendy while Vinícius’s last-gasp header was off target.