Yesterday I got out of bed at 5.30am to watch the Premier League match between Tottenham and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Not wanting to have such dedication go to waste, here are five talking points from the game (with acknowledgement that I’ve ripped off the “5 things” format from Guardian Sport. And that I’m a Tottenham fan, so will inevitably be focusing on them a little more). I haven’t watched a great deal of Premiership football this season, so apologies if some of this seems obvious to those who are regular watchers.
1. Gary Cahill is John Terry’s long-term replacement. You know how at the end of Men in Black, Tommy Lee Jones says to Will Smith: “I wasn’t training a partner. I was training a replacement.”? Feels kinda like that with Cahill and Terry. Terry still has a few decent seasons in front of him but he was never that quick and is beginning to creak physically. Watching both Spurs-Chelsea games this season revealed a neat bit of symbolic baton-passing. In the late stages of the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane just before Christmas, Spurs managed to spring Emmanuel Adebayor into the box. He opened his body and stroked a side-footed shot past Petr Cech towards the opposite corner of the net, but John Terry had somehow got back and slid across to block the shot with his back. Midway through the second half in yesterday’s game, Luka Modric popped a ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for Adebayor to run on to once again. He knocked it past Cech at the edge of the box with a slightly heavy touch, forcing him wide, but reached the ball comfortably and made to stroke it into the net. Now, though, Gary Cahill had got back for Chelsea and threw himself into the path of the shot, which bounced off his back. You can see him comfortably moving into that leadership from the back role that Terry has made his own over the past decade. I also noticed a similarity to Terry in Cahill’s confidence bringing the ball up over the halfway line to help build attacks. Neither of them will do that very frequently but it offers the team a useful alternative going forward.
2. Spurs are coming out of their slump – but maybe too late. Harry Redknapp has tried hard to spin the events of the past few weeks as not a big deal: as he would have it, the team played badly against Arsenal but were simply unlucky not to collect more points against Man Utd, Everton and Stoke. I thought the collective brain-freeze against Arsenal was more ominous, and the team’s failure to convert their periods of dominance over United, Everton and Stoke into goals quite likely to have been brought on by the loss of confidence that resulted. The injury-time equaliser against Stoke and the display against Chelsea – in which they created much the best chances and should have won against a team they’d not beaten away since 1990 – seems to indicate that they’re getting some belief back. The relatively kind fixture list between now and the end of the season (there’s a big game away against Sunderland, though) should see them winning the majority of games, but with Arsenal three points clear and playing supremely I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs have to settle for 4th and a play-off to make it into the Champions’ League for 2012/13 (although it would be absolutely typical for Chelsea to win the damn thing and claim England’s last qualifying spot for themselves).
3. Adebayor will be missed. I was going to say that Adebayor was the best player on the pitch in yesterday’s game – and he was magnificent – but it’s difficult to make a striker man of the match when he doesn’t score. Suffice to say that he was immense in possession: receiving and retaining the ball high up the pitch, frequently gliding away from his marker with quick feet and surprisingly good acceleration, and worrying defenders with his movement and physical presence. It’s difficult to see what Tottenham can do about the front positions for next season, though. I very much doubt that Manchester City would acquiesce to the same loan terms for him that they did this season – paying over half of his near-200,000 pound a week wages themselves – given that for much of the season Spurs were a rival to them at the top of the table. He may be sold – in which case Spurs might be able to afford the transfer fee but certainly not the wages – or loaned to a foreign club. That leaves Tottenham with Jermain Defoe and Louis Saha as their only recognised strikers, with Rafael van der Vaart more a deep-lying forwarrd/advanced midfielder than a true goalscorer. Rumours suggest Spurs are hard at work scouting prospects to fill that gap up front, but I just worry that the competition for top players is so intense at the moment that they won’t be able to get in anyone of Adebayor’s quality.
4. Juan Mata was one of the buys of last summer. He was the opposition player I wanted to see on the ball least of all. He never seemed to give away possession – either up front or when finagling the thing out of tight situations at the back. Wonderful, delicately struck free kick had Friedel nonplussed and came back off the post. The curious thing is that he would probably still be in Spain if Tottenham hadn’t been so steadfast in their determination to hold on to Luka Modric. I love Modric and hope Spurs manage to fight off the interest in him again this summer, but yesterday Mata certainly looked the more dangerous player. If there’s one element of Modric’s game that’s lacking, it’s a goal threat and you feel Mata is more likely to get in positions to score, and more likely to finish when he gets the opportunity. In truth, they’re not completely comparable players – especially as used by their managers – but I’d have thought that Chelsea fans will be more than happy that the club turned to him after failing in its pursuit of Modric (and had about 15 million quid to spare as well).
5. Hair clash of the season. When David Luiz came on at right back for Chelsea, I was so happy. We got to see him and Benoit Assou-Ekotto up against each other a couple of times, and it was wonderful. Couldn’t find a picture of them both at once, so I’ll just juxtapose them and you’ll have to imagine the awesomeness.