Tottenham have arrived. Again.
Spurs’ rise to top four regulars and borderline title contenders has been dogged by questions over whether they are “for real”. They’ve finished in the top four for three straight seasons, and been at least nominal title contenders for two of them. The third, last season, saw them finish as the best-placed London club for the first time since 1994-95.
But they have been dogged by criticism over the lack of trophies during the Mauricio Pochettino era, and this season that disappointment has been compounded by the delay over their stadium move. The new White Hart Lane was supposed to be ready to move into at the beginning of the season, but now that may not happen until February.
Their Champions League status not quite bearing fruit – they squandered a good chance to qualify for the quarter-finals last season, and failed to win all of their first three games in the competition this season, likely killing their chances of qualifying from their group this season.
On top of that, they became the first team to not make a single signing in the summer window in Premier League history – when it seemed clear that they’d need to reinforce the squad just to keep up with their rivals.
That, plus continued questions over their prowess in games against the rest of the “big six”, has meant every fixture like Saturday’s derby encounter with Chelsea has served as a referendum on their status among the Premier League’s top sides. They beat Chelsea last season, and then Manchester United earlier this season, two consecutive away wins to answer questions about their prowess in big games on the road – only to lose to Liverpool and then Manchester City at Wembley after that.
And then, on Saturday, they ripped Chelsea to shreds.
Only poor finishing and lax defending in the final stages prevented their 3-1 win from turning into a 4-0 or 5-0 rout. Even at 3-0, Tottenham were looking at their biggest win over Chelsea in the Premier League era.
Instead, they had to settle for winning two straight against their London rivals for the first time in 31 years. They ended the Blues’ unbeaten start to the season, and did it with such comfort that the doubts over status as title contenders have shifted from Tottenham to Chelsea.
This is the sort of performance which showcased Spurs at their best. Their faith in young players, in building from the ground up through astute rather than splashy signings, saw Dele Alli score his sixth goal against Chelsea, Harry Kane plunder one long-range goal, somehow pass up a simple chance for a second, and torment the opposition defence throughout, while Christian Eriksen ran the show in midfield against Ballon d’Or nominee N’Golo Kante and the man unofficially declared as one of the signings of the summer, Jorginho.
Heung-min Son’s industry and brilliance ensured Tottenham’s star trio were ably supported, as he scored a brilliant solo goal which should start the obituaries on Chelsea defender David Luiz’s top-level career – if the way Luiz moved out of the way of Kane’s goal-bound shot wasn’t enough to do that.
Juan Foyth handily won his duel with Blues starting striker Alvaro Morata. Serge Aurier – who’s not even Tottenham’s first-choice right-back – turned questions about whether he could deal with Eden Hazard into renewed doubts over Hazard’s big-game credentials. Moussa Sissoko, so long derided as a luxury signing who contributed nothing, helped Eriksen control proceedings in midfield.
All around the park, there were Spurs players shining and Chelsea players looking bereft of ideas. All the disappointment of the summer transfer window has begun to dissipate because their team, with its admirable squad depth, is fighting off its challengers anyway.
At their best, that’s what Tottenham do to teams. Through a cadre of homegrown players, young signings, and Pochettino’s brilliant managerial acumen, north London’s “other” club, so long in Arsenal’s shadow, have shown they’re here to stay.
They gained no ground on City or Liverpool yesterday – the league’s top two remained unbeaten, and City are the sort of side that makes the five-point gap between them and Tottenham look unsurmountable.
But it’s still only five points. And Tottenham have shown, again, that they can beat the Premier League’s best. In case anyone still has any doubts, Spurs are for real.
The victory should silence some of the criticism surrounding Spurs this season, as they tore their derby rivals apart in a dominant display.
Here’s how the players rated.
Hugo Lloris 7 – Barely had anything to do, but the few times he was called into action, he acquitted himself well.
Serge Aurier 8 – Aurier would have expected a tougher test, matched up against Eden Hazard, but he handled the threat of the Belgian with surprising ease.
Juan Foyth 6 – Lucky not to give away a penalty when Spurs’ lead was just one goal, but defended well otherwise. Won his duel with Alvaro Morata handily.
Toby Alderweireld 7 – Alderweireld was largely untroubled in defence, showing how toothless Chelsea were. He and Foyth have struck up a good partnership that handled whatever little Chelsea could throw at them.
Ben Davies 8 – An excellent display from Davies on the flank, the Welshman was calm and composed in possession and got forward regularly.
Eric Dier 8 – One of the England midfielder’s best displays in a long time, as he helped Tottenham control the game from the middle of the park. Didn’t let Chelsea, and Jorginho especially, settle into any sort of rhythm.
Moussa Sissoko 8 – The Frenchman’s resurgent season continued on Saturday as he put in a dominant display in midfield, haranguing Jorginho and supporting both attack and defence with aplomb.
Christian Eriksen 9 – Pulled the strings in midfield with his usual array of passing, and set up Tottenham’s win by assisting the first goal with a typically brilliant free-kick.
Dele Alli 8 – Scored one, probably should have had another, and picked up an assist as well. Alli loves playing against Chelsea – that’s now six goals and two assists in six games against the Blues – and this was another stellar display.
Son Heung-min 8 – Missed one easy chance in the first half, but made amends with a stunning second-half goal. Chelsea couldn’t handle his pace and trickery in support of Kane.
Harry Kane 8 – Loses marks for an incredible second-half miss from six yards out. Apart from that one, particularly shocking, blemish, Kane was excellent, scoring with a good strike and driving Tottenham forward.
Erik Lamela 7 – Came on and delighted the crowd with some cheeky dribbling, as he reveled in Spurs’ dominance.
Harry Winks N/A – Brought on as a late substitute with barely any time left to have an impact.
The Spaniard replaced Arsene Wenger at the Emirates Stadium in the summer and has undergone intensive courses to improve his English.
Emery, 47, has spoken in English at all of his press conferences since being appointed and has clearly become more comfortable in recent weeks.
He takes his side to Bournemouth on Sunday looking to extend their unbeaten run to 17 matches, although the Gunners have drawn four of their last five games.
The former Paris Saint-Germain boss spends much of his down-time watching football, with Bournemouth counterpart Eddie Howe telling the BBC earlier in the week that he is “addicted” to the game.
Emery admits he is driven to work hard but will relax in front of a box set of the Birmingham-based crime drama and that it is also working as a learning aid.
“I don’t know if it (football) is an obsession,” he said.
“In each profession, you need to feel passion for that in order to give it your best performance. football is my passion.
“It’s my work, but I don’t think every day that it is my work, it’s my best hobby. I feel very big the passion. I am doing my work with my desire.
“I can stay with my family, with my son, with my friends. Now I am watching English series to improve my English. Peaky Blinders. It is good but it is difficult (to understand), from Birmingham. And it’s very aggressive. But it’s good, it’s good.”
Emery and Howe followed a similar path into management – both having their playing careers cut short through injury.
While Emery retired due to a knee injury at the age of 32, Howe was three years younger when a similar problem ended his own career.
Both have impressed since moving into the dugout and Emery believes a premature end to a career on the pitch makes managers more determined to succeed.
“I think, yes,” he said when asked if moving into coaching in such a manner makes you more hungry to do well.
“In my personal experience, in my home, when I was very young all my family was in football – my grandfather, father played as a professional in Spain. I felt all the time football in my home. And when I could not be a player, my focus was: I want to continue in this world and in this professional activity.
“I started like a coach and today I am here. I think a similar situation may have been experienced by the Bournemouth coach.”