The latter, at least, are more akin to bullies than rivals now. Exposing the weaknesses and highlighting the mistakes of an inferior opponent.
Frustratingly for Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood on Saturday, his team still had a chance of getting a positive result until 55 minutes in. His tactical alterations were working decently, if unspectacularly enough while his players looked keen.
Then came the Jan Vertonghen slip that prompted things to fall apart in humiliating fashion. Before all that...
Moving to what was essentially a lopsided 4-3-3, Sherwood had made several changes to the starting line-up that beat Cardiff City last week.
Notably, Vertonghen was switched to left-back with Younes Kaboul coming in centrally, with Gylfi Sigurdsson back in left midfield in front of him. Kyle Walker played in right midfield while Aaron Lennon was granted a license to roam playing just off Emmanuel Adebayor as the main forward.
Chelsea threatened to take advantage of some initial hesitancy on Spurs' part as they familarised themselves to the different strategy. Then, without particularly causing the home side too many problems, Sherwood's side settled and took a foothold in the game.
Nine minutes in, Walker's first significant contribution was to take advantage of his advanced position to try to set Adebayor free in the left-hand channel. The pass was too heavy, but it hinted at the problems he might cause Chelsea popping up into space when he was not busy helping Kyle Naughton defend against Eden Hazard and Co.
Walker did not overly hurt Chelsea in the first half, but his pace and willingness to get on the ball (without the usual defensive burden) was giving them pause for thought. Comparing the locations of his attempted passes from his last appearance against Newcastle to this match, you can see how his area of influence changed—both graphics via Squawka.com:
Lennon's more central starting point appeared to be designed with the intention of providing more mobile support for Adebayor than Roberto Soldado might have. With Nemanja Matic quick on the scene, Lennon had little choice but to roam in search of the ball, as Squawka's heat map below shows:
Moving into the second half, Lennon had been unable to do much with the ball. Nonetheless, his presence was dangerous enough Chelsea were endeavouring to keep close to him. Spurs again missed Christian Eriksen's creativity, but in Lennon they had someone capable of influencing between the lines.
It was going to be a slow burn for Spurs. If they stuck to task and remained disciplined, the chance to genuinely hurt Jose Mourinho's men might arise. Speaking to Tottenham's official Twitter page post-match, Sherwood was inclined to agree:
Some will look to blame the manager for where Spurs went wrong thereafter in the game's final 35 minutes. But there was little he could do about Vertonghen falling over in possession and allowing Andre Schurrle to play in Samuel Eto'o to open the scoring. Or referee Michael Oliver falling victim to the Cameroon striker conning him for a penalty that saw Kaboul dismissed.
Captain Michael Dawson was missed after coming off with a hamstring injury. But the lack of fight in several of those still playing was emblematic of the developing theme this season of several players' unwillingness to battle on in adversity.
It undermined what had been a solid defensive effort for most of the first hour.
Once he found his passing range, Dawson was commanding at its heart. Besides him, Kaboul was alert and on hand where needed. At full-back, Naughton and Vertonghen worked hard to match the wide threat posed by Schurrle, Hazard and others.
Changing things in defence has cost Tottenham in the past. Here, it largely worked fine in conjunction with the alterations further forward.
The match went against Spurs because of a mistake and a harsh decision. But the latest embarrassing final scoreline was undoubtedly down to the absence of those intangible qualities so synonymous with competence—let alone greatness—in top-class sport.
Sherwood expressed his frustration to Sky Sports' Geoff Shreeves post-match at the way his team had gone from being decently placed in the game, to capitulating completely. He criticised the decision to award Eto'o a penalty for flopping like a theatrical fish, but was most angry at the "lack of characters" in his team.
Both Sherwood and his predecessor Andre Villas-Boas have gotten things wrong managing Tottenham. However there is only so much a coach can do until his players learn a football match lasts 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) and not a second shorter.
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