José Mourinho has previous for spoiling 1,000th game celebrations at Stamford Bridge. Remember what happened to Arsene Wenger when he brought up the landmark in charge of Arsenal here? Mourinho’s Chelsea beat them 6-0.
This was the occasion of Roman Abramovich’s 1,000th match as the Chelsea owner and it was a time to reflect on how much he has brought to the club. Mourinho made sure that he could not celebrate with a victory which would have taken Chelsea to the top of the table.
Instead, Tottenham moved back up there on goal difference from Liverpool, the stalemate feeling better for them and providing more evidence of the solidity and mental resolve that Mourinho has sought to instill.
It would have been a different story had the Chelsea substitute, Olivier Giroud, been able to finish in stoppage time. He got in after an error by Joe Rodon, the Spurs centre-half who was making a full Premier League debut, only to fluff his attempted lob over Hugo Lloris.
The drama came late on because the visitors almost staged the smash-and-grab after that. Kurt Zouma played a loose pass across his penalty area straight to Lucas Moura, who then found another Spurs substitute, Giovani Lo Celso. The shooting chance was on but the midfielder clipped a cross to nobody. Mourinho lost himself in a fury on the touchline.
The Portuguese, though, will always be able to see the beauty in defensive resilience, in a 0-0 draw away from home against high-flying opposition. He knows that title-winning teams are able to eke out such results, although perish the thought that Spurs ought to be considered as contenders.
“We are not even in the race so we are not a horse,” Mourinho said. “We are just a pony. You see the difference – Joe Rodon was at Swansea … [whereas Chelsea’s] Thiago Silva is one of the best centre-backs in the world. Maybe a month of Thiago’s salary pays Joe one year of salary.”
It was a classic Mourinho performance – well-organised on the pitch and geared towards punching on the counter; robust and contrary in the press conference afterwards. He claimed that he was unhappy with the point, having come to win, and chided Chelsea for a reluctance he perceived in them to take risks. Mourinho has long had the patent on chutzpah.
“I think they respected us,” Mourinho added. “I don’t like the word ‘fear’ Maybe the word is ‘respect.’ Maybe there was that respect of not wanting to lose. I am very happy with my team and with this mentality that we come here, get a point, go top of the league and we are not happy.”
The more accurate reading, as delivered by Frank Lampard, was that Chelsea were the more proactive team. If they largely nullified Spurs on the break, they created the openings to have edged it during a second-half that they dominated in territorial terms.
The problem was that Chelsea lacked cutting edge, although Spurs also have to take credit for the way they defended; how they put them off or thwarted them at the crucial moments. Tammy Abraham had three chances after the interval but he could not apply a decisive touch while Mason Mount drew a low save out of Lloris with a shot from the edge of the area. The truth was that Chelsea did not have many moments to get their supporters out of their armchairs.
One did come in the 11th minute when Abraham got the better of Rodon and Mount played in Timo Werner, who finished off the far post. He would be flagged for a marginal offside.
Spurs looked comfortable in their gameplan, with Tanguy Ndombele showing his class in flashes on the ball – the control, the power, the quick feet, particularly in that trademark tight turning circle. They had a couple of flickers in the first 15 minutes, with Steven Bergwijn lifting high after a slick counter and Serge Aurier working Édouard Mendy. But that would be as good as it got for them as an attacking force.
Chelsea lacked incision in the first-half, their tidy football too often square, backwards or in front of Spurs. Mount and Ben Chilwell were both off target with shots. They were better after the break, with Hakim Ziyech enjoying more prominence and Reece James putting over two good crosses for Abraham. It was not the centre-forward’s day. Ziyech also lifted a half-chance high.
“It’s clear that Tottenham, when they play this type of game, they try to adapt the style of being organised and counter-attack,” Lampard said. “The manager sets that tone. There was one team pushing strongly to win the game and the other team were trying to stay in it and get a draw. We deserved to win in terms of chances and territory. But you only get what you deserve if you score the goals.”