Tottenham Hotspurs hosted Chelsea Football Holdings LLC in a Premier League match that was billed as the start of a series of tests for Spurs’ title challenge: a test they failed in spectacularly normal fashion, with a series of filthy challenges, but one for which they were praised to the high heavens for their “bravery”.
The match ended 4-1 (with roughly the same xG) but of course stats don’t tell the whole story, it turns out that VAR tells the whole story. Spurs were first to score from Dejan Kulusevski in the 6th minute and judging by the Chelsea body language it looked like Spurs were going to go on to route their blue neighbors. But that wasn’t their Destiny.
Spurs would have gone ahead by two in the 15th minute but a goal was rightly called offside on Son by the VAR. This would be the story of the night, believe it or not, a huge number of correct(ish) VAR decisions, including something like 10 goals being chalked off.
Three minutes after Son’s goal was rightly disallowed, Spurs’ Destiny went in on a wild two-footed challenge and merely got a yellow card. This is the insanity of the modern Premier League. Having watched football now for well over 25 years I recall a time when two-footed challenges were ALWAYS an immediate red. It didn’t even matter if the player slipped and went in two-footed (Aubameyang), if the second foot was up it was a red. Before VAR, we were sometimes told that maybe the official didn’t see it But now we know for a fact that not only one official sees it but at least THREE officials see it and when they do nothing, it raises the question why? Is it a bias in favor of violence (VERY LIKELY) or is there something more nefarious at work?
We didn’t know it at the time but that card, that kind of wild blood curdling tackle, was the harbinger of things to come. Udogie has received a lot of praise this season and one has to wonder why? Because he runs around kicking people into lumps? In the Arsenal match he was guilty of kicking Saka until eventually crumpling Saka’s ankle before the Arsenal man was taken off. I keep hearing pundits say “Saka looks tired, I think he needs a rest” but maybe what Saka needs is for dirty players like Udogie to be red carded early and often? In the Arsenal match he went in studs up on Saka in the 15th minute, getting just a yellow card from referee Robert Jones. Udogie was praised for his performance against Arsenal but he had several giveaways and his slack defending (stood 10 yards off Saka) allowed the first goal. Here against Chelsea, Udogie went in early with a two-footed challenge and in spite of the letter of the law was let off with a yellow simply because he failed in his clear attempt to break Sterling’s ankle.
Christian Romero is another Spurs player who gets far too many plaudits for his style of play. Having watched him in Italy and now for two and a half seasons in the Premier League, I can confirm that Romero is one of the dirtiest center backs in the League. His m.o. is to “leave a bit” in on the forwards during a clearance. He got away with this numerous times at Atalanta but PL officials seem to have an eye for it (as best they can, which is about 1/10) and he’s already gotten one red card for his multiple reckless challenges. He picked up only his 2nd red card of his PL career in this match for a studs up “clearance” in the 30th minute. But true to form the PL officials “missed” him kicking out at a player after a failed tackle in the 22nd minute. Arsenal fans will recognize Romero as the player who stomped on Jesus’ shin in the 6th minute, who’s ass provided the assist for Saka’s first goal, and who handled the ball for Arsenal’s 2nd (which inexplicably took a VAR review to spot, despite people noticing it from the nosebleeds). Apparently, Saka had a bad game that day, merely torching Udogie and scoring two goals.
But it took a triple-VAR check to catch Romero at his dirty tricks this time. Moises Caicedo scored a goal, VAR chalked it off because Nicolas Jackson’s ass was offside, then they checked two other incidents in the buildup (going back in time) until they got to Romero’s crazy challenge on Enzo. What should have been three red cards was just one. I guess spotting one out of three (33%) red cards in a 35 minute period counts as good refereeing this year.
Spurs will feel a bit hard done by after both Maddison and van de Ven went down injured in first half stoppage time but if you look at Maddison’s injury record (15 injuries since 2018, 8 of them longer than 10 days) and van de Ven’s pulled hammy last season (kept him out for 76 days) it was always a matter of when and not if both players would have to sit out.
Spurs suffered more self-inflicted injury when hilariously, it took another red card foul by Udogie to get him sent off as well. That came in the 55th minute and Spurs were down to 9 men at that point. They probably should have been down to 9 men in the 33rd minute but we can’t expect the referees to get calls right! Not with all the VAR and everything.
Spurs get “credit” for their “bravery” because after Udogie got his marching orders and with all the injuries, Spurs were forced to play Eric Dier. Postecoglou then deployed what I thought was the literal funniest thing they could do: play 8 men in a two yard strip 1 yard off the half way line. In a funny way it worked. Chelsea are the worst coached Chelsea team I’ve seen since Frank Lampard and despite this astonishingly stupid tactic they literally couldn’t figure out how to A) stay on side and B) make a timely pass. There were huge swaths of this match where Chelsea players stood 5 yards in their own half, under no pressure, and their idiot forwards couldn’t figure out how to make a run on side.
And when Chelsea did figure it out their profligacy proved a larger obstacle than the Spurs defense.
But the funny thing about this insane Spurs tactic is that it nearly worked. Chelsea are so poorly organized and so utterly disinterested as a team that Spurs had two very good chances to equalize while the score was still 1-2. One was ruled out of an obvious offside, the other was a completely blown shot and I nearly forgot that the Chelsea keeper needed to make a great save in the 3rd minute of the 10 minutes of added time. Bonkers stuff.
But Nicolas “sorry miss” Jackson (I am for real) eventually got his hat trick and should have probably scored 7 goals in this game but for the fact that he’s the worst finisher in the League and a player who is offside more than Emmanuel Adebayor.
In the end, this wasn’t a brave performance from Spurs. This was a reckless performance. This was an out of control Tottenham side who play snide football and too often get away with it. They did manage to make the game look better than they should have but only because they played the most unprofessional team in the league, a bunch of dudes who literally can’t be arsed and have the organization of a bunch of fruit flies.
Of course, the press are very excited by Spurs’ performance.