A much-improved Chelsea took a share of the spoils in a largely uneventful contest at Tottenham Hotspur.
After wins against Norwich and Maccabi Tel-Aviv, confidence in the Blues camp was rightfully high. However, Spurs are unbeaten since the opening day of the season and clearly this was a game that neither side wanted to lose, rather than a game either side wanted to win in a match that lacked in clearcut chances and real quality.
The biggest change for us was the absence of John Terry, who could not shake off the injury he sustained in Israel midweek. Branislav Ivanovic came in for him, the Serb coming in at right back, with Zouma and Cahill at centre back and Azpilicueta switching to the left hand side. Fabregas and Matic assumed their regular roles in the heart of midfield; Oscar, Willian and Pedro were our attacking trio operating behind the unlikely striker of Eden Hazard.
With Loic Remy unavailable, and Falcao likewise, it fell on the Belgium international, horribly out of sorts this season but much improved today, to lead the line following the well-publicised spat between Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho. The Spaniard was benched and showed his dismay, apparently throwing his bib towards the manager after not being brought on later in the game.
Tottenham were forced into one change, with Ryan Mason coming in for the suspended Dele Alli.
It did not take look for the first chance of note to occur. It needed a late diving challenge from Gary Cahill to deny Harry Kane what really should have been an opening inside the opening three minutes. Half chances for us then followed, as Pedro was inches away from meeting a Willian through ball, which with the high line Tottenham regularly play with, would have spelt trouble had the diminutive Spain international latched onto it.
Pedro was regularly our furthest man forward in a display that would have pleased many as he looks to have finally settled into the team and play the football we all know he can. It soon became apparent that Hazard was not a striker as sorts, but the attacking foursome would play with fluidity, alternating between themselves to operate furthest forward. Intricate play between them lead to Pedro stealing through the defence, but Toby Alderweireld denied him before he could manage to pull a shot off. Hazard ballooned a header over and Pedro again had a stinging effort outside the box stopped before the half drew to a close.
A trademark Willian freekick into a dangerous position was nearly stabbed home by Kurt Zouma in the opening effort of the second half but the Frenchman could not quite get the touch needed to steer it past Hugo Lloris.
The game had petered out by the hour mark as Ryan Mason had went off injured and Nemanja Matic also needed treatment but could continue. Heung-min Son had a volley fired straight at Begovic in what the first real chance for about 20 minutes.
Eden Hazard almost had the travelling fans on their feet with what would have been an absolutely fantastic opener. Ivanovic’s pinpoint cross was met by Hazard with a sublimely executed volley which needed Hugo Lloris on his very best to stop, palming it around the far post in what was a breathtaking display of both attacking and goalkeeping quality. The final ten minutes were bereft of real chances and despite being good for all three points, the late introductions of Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were obvious signs that Jose Mourinho was happy enough to travel back across London with the single point.
It cannot be undersold what an improvement the performance of this Chelsea team was today. While the lack of a goal was the only drawback, it was heartening to see our attacking players, Hazard especially, looking confident on the back of two wins, zipping the ball about and finally not afraid to take chances. The goalless draw made it three clean sheets on the spin too, which will keep Begovic and Cahill et al happy going into next Saturday’s game against Bournemouth.
While points need to start being put on the board if we want to have any chance of finishing in the top 4, after such a rotten campaign thus far it was very pleasing play a rival top 4 chasing team and look commanding again. Onwards and upwards? I sure hope so.