Chaos reigned in north London, as Chelsea eventually got the better of Spurs in an extraordinary match to end Ange Postecoglou’s unbeaten start as a Premier League manager. The 4-1 scoreline wouldn’t seem too unusual, but with five more goals disallowed, two red cards and ending as the third longest match of the season (111 minutes, 19 seconds long), this was anything but normal.
Spurs needed a win to go back to the top of the Premier League table, and it started so well. Since Postecoglou’s first game, we’ve become accustomed to seeing his Spurs side constantly attack with purpose. They did that from kick-off tonight, so much so that you’d have thought it was first goal wins. It took just 321 seconds for them to go ahead through a Dejan Kulusevski strike, albeit taking a fortuitous deflection off Levi Colwill and giving Robert Sánchez no chance in the Chelsea goal.
Son Heung-Min thought he’d doubled Spurs’ lead eight minutes later, but an offside decision changed the game on its head. Then Chelsea woke up. Fired up after a naughty challenge from Destiny Udogie, which saw the Italian escape a red for a two-footed tackle on Raheem Sterling, Mauricio Pochettino side took charge.
After seeing a Sterling goal rightly disallowed for offside, Moisés Caicedo was denied his first Chelsea goal following a fine strike from range with Nicolas Jackson obstructing Guglielmo Vicario’s view from an offside position, but VAR went back to review a wild challenge from Cristian Romero on fellow Argentine Enzo Fernández in the build-up to Caicedo’s strike. Romero was sent off, and Chelsea were awarded a penalty. Cole Palmer dispatched his third Premier League penalty in four games, with his goal being Chelsea’s seventh shot of the game – those seven all coming after Spurs’ goal – with Postecoglou’s side only attempting one more shot in the first half.
It got even worse for Spurs before half-time, as two of their key players across their 10-game unbeaten start to the Premier League season were withdrawn with injury in the space of 12 seconds – Micky van de Ven’s hamstring being stretched too far by the pace of Jackson and James Maddison hobbling off with a knock.
The half-time whistle finally blew after 56 minutes and 26 seconds, of which just over half (23 minutes, 21 seconds) saw the ball in play.
Udogie was lucky not to see red early on in this match, but he joined Romero for an early shower just nine minutes into the second half after another foul on Sterling to make Spurs’ task even harder. Astonishingly, following substitutions of Dejan Kulusevski and Pape Matar Sarr on the hour mark, Spurs were left with just four of their starting XI on the pitch. Vicario, Son, Bissouma and Pedro Porro.
They, and the five substitutes tasked with saving a point despite their two red cards, performed miracles to keep Chelsea’s attack at bay. Spurs’ high line in defence was risky versus the Blues’ rapid attack, and it was a risk that paid off until Sterling broke the line and ran through to assist Jackson to slot the ball into the back of the net with 15 minutes remaining.
It was a crucial goal for Jackson, who then went on to add two more to complete a hat-trick in added time. The Senegalese striker had scored just twice from 4.7 expected goals (xG) across his Premier League career before his winning goals tonight and had come under criticism for his below-par finishing.
This defeat ended Postecoglou’s amazing 52-game unbeaten home league run as a manager – a run that started in November 2020 while in charge of Yokohama F. Marinos in the Japanese top flight.
Pre-match, the Opta expected points table (below) suggested that Spurs had been rather fortunate to have won 26 points, while Chelsea were the biggest underperformers with seven points fewer than their expected points total of 19. Tonight’s match saw some of Tottenham’s luck run out, while Chelsea finally got closer to the points tally that their underlying performances suggest that they should have.
This wasn’t the most iconic Premier League game between Chelsea and Spurs. It’ll take a lot to beat the infamous Battle of the Bridge from May 2016, where a record 12 yellow cards were dished out by Mark Clattenburg and somehow nobody was sent off, even after the final whistle. This match might come second, though.
The Battle of the Bridge decided the Premier League title in 2015-16. This game – and the fallout from it – might just provide evidence that despite their excellent start and obvious quality, Spurs are too early in the Postecoglou project to win the 2023-24 crown.