Chelsea moved seven points clear atop the Premier League on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, pouncing on a series of defensive miscues to secure a 4-0 victory at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
The league leaders received bad news shortly before kick-off as striker Fernando Torres sustained a groin injury in warmups. But his replacement, Samuel Eto'o, scored the opening goal in the 56th minute before Eden Hazard doubled the lead with a penalty four minutes later. Substitute Demba Ba sealed the points with a late double.
Spurs had enjoyed the better of play in the first half but came undone when a pair of miscues led to two goals in four second-half minutes. With the result no longer in doubt, Ba pounced on two more mistakes to add gloss to the scoreline for Chelsea.
Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham FT: Shots(OT) 12(4) - 6(2), Possession 54% - 46%, Tackles 25 - 21 http://t.co/x2XxvyhIBN— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 8, 2014
With the win, the Blues moved onto 66 points, seven ahead of Liverpool, who were idle, and Arsenal, who played in the FA Cup this weekend. Manchester City are now nine points behind in fourth place but have three matches in hand.
With only nine matches remaining after Saturday's result, Chelsea appear to hold their title destiny in their own hands. Following a trip to Aston Villa next weekend, Jose Mourinho's side host Arsenal on March 22, a match that figures to have profound title implications. Following matches against bottom-half sides Stoke, Swansea and Sunderland, Chelsea travel to Anfield on April 27.
This week, however, Mourinho called Chelsea's place atop the table "not real."
"It is realistic when all the teams have played the same number of matches and then you can say, 'I am in front, I am behind', so when some teams have played more matches than other teams the situation is not real," Mourinho said Friday, per The Independent.
Tottenham, meanwhile, continue to chase a top-four finish and a place in next season's UEFA Champions League. Tim Sherwood's side, which entered Saturday just four points behind Man City, host rivals Arsenal next weekend in the North London derby.
Spurs are simply not top 4 material on evidence of errors in this game and the display at Norwich— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) March 8, 2014
Apart from Eto'o, the Blues' starting XI featured only one further change from the side that won at Fulham last time out, with Frank Lampard replacing Oscar in the midfield. Spurs made five changes, bringing in Younes Kaboul, Nabil Bentaleb, Sandro, Kyle Walker and Gylfi Sigurdsson for Zeki Fryers, Andros Townsend, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Mousa Dembele.
Eto'o saw action immediately, running behind Spurs' defence before crumpling under a clumsy challenge by Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. The linesman ruled Eto'o offside in a tight decision, sparing Spurs from a potential sending-off in the opening moments.
Hazard had a sight of goal in the fourth minute, rounding Lloris after running onto a weighted ball by Eto'o. But the Belgian sent his high shot narrowly wide of the post.
After Chelsea's quick start, Spurs found a foothold and steadily took control. The visitors had a good opportunity in the 14th minute when Bentaleb dribbled into the box, but with multiple options available to him in the middle, Bentaleb rolled his shot wide of the far post.
Sandro forced a save from Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech in the 23rd minute with a well-struck volley following Gary Cahill's attempted clearance. At the other end, Eto'o shot wide at the near post in the 29th minute following a giveaway by Spurs defender Michael Dawson.
With the match tied 0-0 at half-time, Chelsea introduced Oscar for Lampard to begin the second half.
Tottenham created the first opening of the second period as defender Jan Vertonghen slalomed through Chelsea's midfield before chipping a shot off target from the edge of the box. Kaboul then directed a header at Cech in the 49th minute.
But for all of Spurs' good work to that point, the visitors came undone swiftly following a pair of fatal mistakes.
First, Eto'o broke the deadlock in the 56th minute, capitalising on a defensive miscue. Under light pressure from Schurrle, Vertonghen slipped on the left side, allowing Schurrle to centre the ball for Eto'o. From there, Eto'o slipped his shot through Lloris' legs for a 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Hazard crossed from the left for Eto'o, who fell under Kaboul's challenge in the box. Referee Michael Oliver awarded a penalty and sent off Kaboul for denying a clear scoring opportunity.
Hazard then slotted in the spot-kick for a quick 2-0 Chelsea lead in the 60th minute.
The second goal deflated Spurs, and the visitors received further bad news when Dawson limped off with an injury in the 72nd minute. Eto'o left the match four minutes later to warm applause from the home fans, making way for Ba.
With the points secure, Ba still had time for a late double—with both goals coming from more Tottenham mistakes.
In the 88th minute, Oscar raced onto a through-ball on the right and crossed for Ba. Sandro intervened but directed the ball into the path of Ba, who swept in.
One minute later, Walker attempted a headed back-pass to Lloris. But Ba intercepted and passed the ball into the net to round off Chelsea's big win.
Chelsea beats Tottenham 4-0 and is unbeaten in 27 straight home games vs Spurs in all competitions.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 8, 2014
|Oscar (for Lampard, 46')||N/A||8|
|Willian (for Schurrle, 66')||N/A||8|
|Demba Ba (for Eto'o, 76')||N/A||9|
|Paulinho (for Sigurdsson, 61')||N/A||6|
|Zeki Fryers (for Dawson, 72')||N/A||6|
Chelsea play at Aston Villa next Saturday.
Spurs host Arsenal next Sunday.