The European champions and Premier League leaders certainly justified both statuses as they won a match in which both sides took their turn to lead. Chelsea came from 2-1 down to grab three points, which ensure they will enter next week still top of the table.
It seems that the pre-match build-up to every Chelsea fixture these days is overshadowed by something to do with John Terry. Even though the club captain was not involved as he begins his four-match ban for racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, his very absence was the main talking point leading up to the game, even more so than former manager Andre Villas-Boas facing the club that sacked him in March for the first time since his acrimonious departure.
But Chelsea have shown time and again that they thrive on controversy and adversity, and so it proved again on Saturday.
Gary Cahill—who was signed by Chelsea during Villas-Boas’ reign having almost joined Spurs just a few months previously—opened the scoring with a well-struck volley in the first half. Spurs overturned that lead with two goals soon after the break from former Chelsea defender William Gallas and in-form England striker Jermain Defoe, and it looked as though Villas-Boas was on course to gain revenge over the club he managed for less than a year.
But a masterful second-half performance from Juan Mata—the mild-mannered playmaker who has become the acceptable face of Chelsea—sealed victory for Roberto Di Matteo’s side.
The Spain international may have been left out of Vicente del Bosque’s most recent squad, but Mata showed why he is still one of the Premier League’s top players with two goals and an assist in the final half-hour.
Mata’s first goal was a clever low finish that was crisply passed right into the bottom corner, while his second was a fine side-footed finish past Brad Friedel after he had popped the ball square to John Obi Mikel, surged into the box and latched onto Eden Hazard’s exquisite first-time pass.
As Spurs were pushing for a late equaliser that would draw them level for the second time in the match, Mata’s hustling by the touchline forced an error from Spurs right-back Kyle Walker, and the Spaniard capitalised by playing across the six-yard box for substitute Daniel Sturridge to tap home and kill off the game.
Mata was not the only impressive performer for Chelsea, however. Cahill marshalled Defoe well in the first half and blocked three shots that all looked as though they would have at least tested goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Attacking midfielder Oscar completed just shy of 90 percent of his passes and made more interceptions and clearances than any player of his type would be expected to contribute, while his fellow Brazilian Ramires was the driving force for Chelsea when they were on top in the first half.
Each of these players are among the more recent of Chelsea’s recruits, and none arrived until several years after erstwhile manager Jose Mourinho had left the club. But the Portuguese coach’s legacy of indefatigable determination, especially when factors both on and off the pitch made circumstances difficult, was as evident in Chelsea’s more recent signings as it has ever been in the club’s more seasoned war horses.
Terry’s absence was enforced, Frank Lampard only made a late appearance off the bench and Ashley Cole's showing was below the high standards he has set for himself, in a week in which he was fined £90,000 for his tweet criticising the FA.
But even without those Stamford Bridge veterans being the main protagonists, Chelsea have shown they have many other players who can be counted on to deliver, even in the most trying of circumstances. That is the mark of champions, something this Chelsea side look more like becoming with every passing week this season.