Chelsea secured an emphatic 2-0 victory over a Tottenham Hotspur side that was reduced to 10 men, but Willian’s superb double was overshadowed by the latest allegation of racism in the Premier League.
Willian put Chelsea deservedly in front just 12 minutes into the contest through his own quickly-taken corner kick, with the Brazilian trading passes with Marcos Alonso before beating defender Serge Aurier and curling a sweetly-struck effort beyond the reach of goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
That lead was doubled just before half-time by the first in a series of controversial flashpoints. Moments after Dele Alli and Matteo Kovacic clashed to earn themselves yellow cards, Gazzaniga idiotically attempted to kung-fu kick the ball in a failed clearance that resulted in him charging into Alonso, and although referee Anthony Taylor initially awarded a free-kick in Tottenham’s favour, VAR overturned the decision and gave Willian the chance to double the lead from the penalty spot, which he duly took.
Jose Mourinho stormed down the tunnel as the ball struck the back of the net, but things would only get worse afterwards for two very different reasons.
Minutes later, Taylor halted the game to report an allegation of racism made by Rudiger, who appeared to claim that he was targeted by a supporter with monkey taunts or gestures. At the same time, an individual among the home support launched a drink at Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, and while the game played out without any further incident, the repercussions are sure to be felt in the coming days.
Here are five things we learned.
Chelsea’s biggest vindication yet
The appointment of Frank Lampard as manager received its biggest vindication yet as the former Chelsea midfielder got one over a manager who, despite his great successes, is no longer thought of so fondly at Stamford Bridge. Off the back of two straight defeats in the Premier League, it would have been easy for Lampard’s young team to wilt under pressure.
And yet not only did they stand up tallest to impose themselves on the home side, but they did so knowing that their manager had tactically outsmarted ‘the master’. Lampard switched to a starting line-up of three at the back, with Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta able to boss the wide areas in a way that Serge Aurier and Jan Vertonghen were never going to. For the majority of the match, Chelsea never looked very threatened – and that says a lot against a side who before kick-off had looked rejuvenated beyond belief.
Aurier will not last long under Mourinho
One recognisable trait of Jose Mourinho’s successful sides is work rate. They may not be the most gifted players or the best team in the league, but the way they stick to the task given and execute the gameplan is normally second to none.
The way that Aurier switched off for the opening goal – not only allowing the short corner to be taken but not even looking when it was – will not have gone unnoticed with his manager. To back it up with his slow jog out to Willian and getting beaten so easily on the inside will only compound his cause. The way he almost combusted in anger when not getting a decision go his way midway through the second half summed up not just his day, but that of Spurs.
If Mourinho is given the funds, Aurier will be heading elsewhere.
Gazzaniga’s moment of madness shows the worth of good goalkeepers
The likes of Alisson and Ederson are heralded for the way they can distribute the ball like no other goalkeepers in the league, but there is a reason why the best between the sticks still come at a premium. Hugo Lloris may no longer be the best in the league these days, but what his absence has reminded us of is his reliability.
The same cannot be said of Paulo Gazzaniga. The back-up goalkeeper has not done an awful lot wrong in his time deputising for Lloris, but it’s big moments in the big games that matter the most, and he got this cataclysmically wrong. Why he elected to try and kung-fu kick the ball instead of catch it only he will know, but it provided Mourinho with a timely reminder of why No 1 goalkeepers are exactly that.
Give VAR the credit it deserves
When the Video Assistant Referee makes a correct call, albeit by the slimmest of toe nails or armpits, its critics explode out of the woodwork and rail against ‘the good old days’ and how the sport is now taking away from those who matter most: the fans.
Yet when it makes a much-needed decision, such as the one to award the penalty against Gazzaniga after Marcos Alonso was pole-axed by the Spurs goalkeeper, the critics remain silent. There will have been a genuine grinding of teeth across the land when VAR interjected once again to send Son Heung-min off for needlessly lashing out at Antonio Rudiger as Spurs lost their cool. It was to Chelsea’s gain that VAR was there to give them what they deserved … no thanks to Anthony Taylor.
Fans need a long hard look at each other
This is supposed to be five things we learned from the match, but unfortunately there is a recurring theme at football matches that tarnishes the game: racism. Gary Neville was left asking what will the football authorities in this country do to tackle racism after Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger was allegedly targeted with monkey taunts.
One way that the issue can be addressed, though, is by the fans themselves being proactive. In some cases, supporters have been unwilling to point out alleged suspects to authorities because they are standing in the same end or wearing the same football shirt as them.
Making fans aware that there won’t be repercussions for reporting these instances will help the sport take an important step forward in fighting racism. Right now, the lack of action among certain corners of the game gives the impression that this issue simply isn’t being taken seriously enough.