EPL: Juan Mata Is Midfield Maestro as Chelsea Reclaims 3-Point Lane
League leaders Chelsea went into the match against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane having failed to win there in the league since 2005. Critics were vocal in their opinion that the Blues' scintillating style of football and tiki-taka passing would be tested by the expansive wing play favoured by Tottenham.
As well as being a fierce London derby, this game was also billed as a grudge match between managers Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo, the former having been sacked by Chelsea back in March with the latter, his assistant at the time, taking over the same squad and leading them to an historic first Champions' League Final victory for the club.
Tottenham were sixth in the table ahead of this match with 14 points from a possible 21 whilst Chelsea were top with 19 points from the same possible total. Both teams were missing key stars as Chelsea's John Terry served the first of a four-game suspension, whilst Gareth Bale took a leave of absence from the Tottenham squad to be at the birth of his first child.
Both teams started well, but it was Chelsea who had the edge and they capitalised on this after 17 minutes when centre back Gary Cahill scored a volley worthy of a striker after a botched clearance from William Gallas. It was end-to-end play as Chelsea's creative attacks fell just short and Tottenham continued to threaten on the counter. Still, at half time, it was advantage Chelsea.
Andre Villas-Boas won the battle of the half time team talks as Spurs scored just after the break, William Gallas redeeming himself for his earlier mistake as he latched on to a Vertonghen cross from a Tom Huddlestone free kick.
Chelsea looked shaky at the back and Spurs continued their positive momentum for the next 10 minutes until they finally got their second break of the game.
Aaron Lennon skipped down the right hand side of the 12-yard box before placing a beautifully weighted pass to an onside Jermaine Defoe, who calmly slotted the ball past Petr Cech, who seemed to be wondering where his defenders had gone.
As has happened so many times this season, once Chelsea were behind, they seemed to wake up and attempt to regain control of the game again. The breakthrough came just after the hour mark when Juan Mata picked up another sloppy clearance from Gallas and promptly passed the ball into the bottom right corner of the Tottenham goal.
With things all square, Chelsea picked up the pace and two minutes later, they were ahead again courtesy of another goal from midfield maestro Mata.
Having given the ball to John Obi Mikel out on the left, Mata continued his run, and when the ball came to Eden Hazard in the middle, he was perfectly positioned to pick the pass that allowed Mata to steer the ball past Brad Friedel.
Tottenham refused to roll over however and kept pushing forward, only to see their efforts either sail high and wide or straight into the arms of Petr Cech. Aaron Lennon came closest when he finished a jinking run through the Chelsea midfield with a lovely looping effort which failed to really test the Chelsea shot-stopper.
Fernando Torres should have sealed the victory for the Blues on the 85-minute mark when he found himself on the left of the Spurs box with both the space and time to take a shot and only Friedel to beat.
Instead, he watched his low effort curl agonisingly around the wrong side of the far post. It didn't matter in the end, though, as second-half substitute Daniel Sturridge marked his return from injury by scoring an unmissable shot from a ball straight across the face of goal by Mata.
Final score Tottenham Hotspur 2-4 Chelsea, and the Blues continued their unbeaten record in the league so far this season and remain top of the Premier League.
The top five lessons from this game:
1. RDM won the battle of the three letter managers with AVB, but AVB showed that the war will continue.
2. Gareth Bale is a key player for Spurs and was missed more than Chelsea missed John Terry.
3. This Chelsea squad step up a gear when they're behind, a trait which could become their downfall.
4. Chelsea's midfield trio of Oscar, Hazard and Mata are an absolute joy to watch, and a nightmare to defend against, Mata especially so.
5. Fernando Torres' improvement in form is coming slowly and steadily, but he still lacks the confidence and ruthlessness that commanded his £50 million transfer fee.
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