Tottenham brushed off the absence of Harry Kane to banish painful past memories of Stamford Bridge and earn a come from behind 3-1 win at Chelsea – a maiden victory in west London in nearly three decades and a significant victory in the race for Champions League football.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side cemented their grip on fourth place and opened up an eight-point gap to the Blues in fifth – taking a major step towards qualifying for the Champions League next season while at the same time effectively ending Chelsea’s chances of playing among Europe’s elite.
CHELSEA’S SEASON AND CONTE’S FUTURE ON LIFE SUPPORT
Antonio Conte refused to be drawn post-match on whether he’d be in charge at Stamford Bridge next season. But it’s abundantly clear to all that he won’t be.
He was hailed a king when turning around the debacle of the disastrous 10th-place finish in 2015/16 with a Premier League win the following year – the Blues fifth title and second highest points tally (93) in league history.
To then follow that with failure to finish inside the top four is unforgiveable. With seven games to go, Chelsea are six points better off than the paltry 50 they managed overall in Jose Mourinho’s final season, but 47 shy of last season’s title-winning total.
Having attained messiah status in his debut campaign, Conte has overseen a mess this term, with his side’s drop in form setting off alarm bells in west London.
It is Tottenham that have form for crumbling in the big games but they stood tall here and were particularly impressive, especially when faced with such a blistering start from the home side.
Chelsea dominated the first half and seized the initiative through Alvaro Morata’s opening goal. But they then surrendered the initiative and had little answer as Spurs surged through the gears in the second half.
King Conte’s rapid coronation will be followed just as quickly by his dethroning.
WILL EARNING CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOOTBALL MEAN A SUCCESSFUL SEASON FOR SPURS?
After Manchester City, Tottenham play the best brand of attacking football in England, perhaps one of most attractive in Europe. But it’s getting to the stage now where that has to translate into results and, more importantly, trophies.
For all their fans’ berating of north London rivals Arsenal’s recent travails, the much-maligned Arsene Wenger has still fired the Gunners to three FA Cup triumphs in four years.
Pochettino has been in situ at White Hart Lane for the same amount of time and, in terms of silverware, has nothing to show for it.
Spurs are undoubtedly moving forward under his guidance and while the relative inactivity in the transfer window garnered attention last summer, Pochettino instead chose to focus on developing what he had.
Retaining the crux of a very talented squad, and improving from within, cannot be overlooked.
But they must now take the next step. They challenged for the title in 2015/16 but fell away alarmingly and somehow finished third in a two-horse race.
They’ve also failed to turn their panache into progress on the continent – something they will likely get to rectify next season with the Stamford Bridge win seeing them take a huge step towards qualifying for next year’s Champions League.
Finishing in the top four, ahead of Chelsea and Arsenal, would be a feat. But silverware of some sort must follow next season.
ERIKSEN IS EVER-RELIABLE
Once asked to name his best Manchester United XI, Sir Alex Ferguson famously said of left-back Denis Irwin: “I called him an eight out of 10. I would say Denis Irwin would be the one certainty to get in the team.”
The affable Irishman was Mr Reliable, the perennial 8/10 player, a man who never let anyone down.
Add in a tad more style, substance, goalscoring prowess and playmaking ability, and you could say the same of Christian Eriksen.
Tottenham have the best striker in England in Harry Kane and an embarrassment of attacking riches in Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela.
But Eriksen is the metronome that makes them tick and is arguably the team’s best and most vital player.
Even when it appears he’s having a quiet game, he can still affect proceedings, with either a special strike, mesmerising piece of skill or sublime pass to unlock a defence.
Two of these bookmarked his 90 minutes, his venomous equaliser was the turning point for Tottenham and he played a killer ball through to Son which in turn led to the game-clinching third goal for Alli.
Like Irwin, the dynamic Dane is Tottenham’s Mr Reliable, the perennial 8/10 player, a man who never lets anyone down. The only difference is he’s absolutely world class.
The relegation-threatened Potters more than matched their hosts for much of Sunday’s game before the Gunners were awarded a debatable penalty when Bruno Martins Indi appeared to win the ball as he challenged Mesut Ozil.
Referee Craig Pawson gave the 75th-minute spot-kick, which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted to break the deadlock.
Aubameyang, Arsenal’s £56million record signing, soon added a second, before substitute Alexandre Lacazette marked his return from a seven-week injury layoff by completing the scoring with another penalty after he was fouled by Badou Ndiaye.
VAR’s use in England has so far been restricted to cup competitions and Potters boss Lambert believes Pawson’s decision shows it is required in the top flight.
“I’ve seen VAR work. I saw it in Germany and it worked seamlessly, absolutely no problem at all,” he said.
“We bring it over here and it seems to be confusing. In those sort of instances (the first penalty), absolutely (it should be used).
“Because the way the game’s going, the referees maybe need a little bit of help as well.
“I just spoke to Craig not long after the game and asked him what he saw.
“In big moments in big games, I think you’ve got to be 100 per cent right to call them, especially in the magnitude of the game. It was a game-changer.
“I know we’ve got the benefit of the replay and Craig doesn’t but I just think big moments you have to be so precise that it is a penalty.”
Stoke remain second bottom, three points from safety with six games to play.
Despite the latest setback, Lambert is convinced his team will avoid the drop.
Asked if the Potters will stay up, the Scot, who replaced Mark Hughes in January, replied: “100 per cent.
“I thought that when I came in and nothing’s changed my mind that we’re not going to do it.
“The only thing I think is missing is the luck.”
Arsenal, perhaps with one eye on Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final with CSKA Moscow, produced a below-par performance in front of a sparsely populated Emirates Stadium.
There were jeers from the home supporters at half-time before the three late goals spared Arsene Wenger’s blushes.
Gabon international Aubameyang passed up the opportunity to claim his first hat-trick in English football by allowing Lacazette to take the second spot-kick and Gunners manager Wenger feels that decision shows there is a positive relationship between the two big-money signings.
Asked if he was surprised Aubameyang did not take the second penalty, Wenger replied: “No, because I know they have a good understanding.
“I like that because it can only make the team stronger and Lacazette came back from a long injury and I think it’s great.
“That shows well the state of our society because when people are generous we are surprised.
“When it’s strikers even more.”
Asked if Lacazette, who had been sidelined by a knee problem, and former Borussia Dortmund forward Aubameyang can play in the same team, Wenger added: “Yes, I think they can play together.
“I think Aubameyang played a long part of his career on the left at St Etienne and in the first two years, I think, when (Robert) Lewandowski was at Dortmund, he played on the left.
“And, after when Lewandowski moved to Bayern Munich, he played central.”
Maligned England attacker Dele Alli scored twice in the second half as Tottenham roared back from behind to win at Chelsea for the first time since 1990 and inflict serious damage to the hosts’ hopes of finishing in the Champions League places.
Spain striker Alvaro Morata beat France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to a cross to head the hosts deservedly ahead on 30 minutes. But Spurs’ comeback began in first-half injury time through Christian Eriksen’s superb 25-yard shot.
The stage was then set for Alli. In four second-half minutes just past the hour mark, he first converted calmly off the post from Eric Dier’s divine long ball and then slotted in after a goalmouth scramble.
This encouraging 3-1 win left Mauricio Pochettino’s visitors – who also reintroduced striker Harry Kane as a substitute after injury – eight points and one spot ahead of fifth placed Chelsea in the race to make Europe’s premier club competition.
Here are our player ratings:
Hugo Lloris – 6: Was badly beaten in the air for Morata’s goal. Made up for this with succession of saves.
Kieran Trippier – 6: A non-descript outing for England’s current starting right wing-back. Made just two crosses, one tackle and one interception.
Davinson Sanchez – 7: Partnership with Vertonghen at the back continues to develop. Only man to make it into double digits (10) for clearances.
Jan Vertonghen – 7: A true leader of men. Shared five interceptions each with Sanchez. Only bad mark was late tackle on countryman Hazard.
Ben Davies – 7: That’s now six assists in the Premier League this term, thanks to his pass to Eriksen. That doubles 2016/17’s previous best.
Eric Dier – 8: This could be a breakthrough match in defensive midfield for the England man. Vision and execution for Alli’s first was exemplary.
Mousa Dembele – 7: Such a busy presence at Stamford Bridge. Made four interceptions and his pass accuracy was a respectable 86.2 per cent.
Erik Lamela – 7: Floated around the front line and found pockets of space. But another run-in with Fabregas left a bad taste in his mouth.
Dele Alli – 8: First top-flight brace since January 2017 saw him take his first superbly and show great feet for second.
Christian Eriksen – 7: A sensational player. Swerve on his leveler was unstoppable. Slid in Son in build-up to Spurs’ third.
Son Heung-min – 5: The electric South Korea forward suffered a rare short-circuit. Made greedy decisions that nearly ended killer third goal.
Harry Kane – 6: Got minutes in the legs after his sidelining by injury. Not a bad player to have back in the ranks.
Victor Wanyama – N/A: Completed 100 per cent of his passes and made one clearance in 10 minutes on pitch.
Moussa Sissoko – N/A: Barely had any time to make an impression, good or bad.