Maurizio Sarri will live to fight another day after Chelsea produced an impressive performance to beat Tottenham 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Pedro put them ahead before a comical Kieran Trippier own goal kept their top-four hopes alive while also delivering a terminal blow to Spurs’ title challenge.
Here, Football Paradise picks out five talking points from the Stamford Bridge clash.
An expensive misunderstanding for Kepa
Kepa Arrizabalaga’s refusal to come off in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City was initially described as a “misunderstanding” by boss Sarri, but it cost the Spanish goalkeeper one week’s wages and also his place in the team to face Spurs. Sarri said the decision to keep Kepa in the side would be determined by what is best for the whole Chelsea squad, and the Italian thought it wasright to put the world’s most expensive goalkeeper on the bench. He said before the match on BT Sport: “It’s a message for my group. We are a group – not 25 players. It is my choice.” Willy Caballero, last seen waiting patiently on the touchline at Wembley, came in to replace him and enjoyed a trouble-free evening at Stamford Bridge. The former Manchester City stopper did not have a real shot to save as Spurs were frustrated in the final third.
Chelsea’s players stay on message
Having had the message delivered to them before kick-off following Kepa’s omission from the side, Chelsea certainly listened to their manager. The Blues worked hard as a team, pressed Spurs all over the pitch, were stronger in the challenge than their rivals and showed no signs of being a team that were not playing for their manager. Often Tottenham were unable to match their physicality and running and Sarri’s men were fully deserving of the three points. Coming on the back of a strong reaction to Kepa’s disobedience, Sarri’s position has been strengthened and with a visit to struggling Fulham coming up, the Italian looks to have weathered the storm for now.
Battle of the Bridge mark II
The Premier League game between these two sides two years ago was dubbed the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ after 12 players were booked in a volatile contest and it threatened to follow a similar pattern in the first half as tempers frayed. After Spurs returned possession to Chelsea, Harry Kane put pressure on David Luiz, which the Chelsea players took exception to. It led to a clash between Kane and Cesar Azpilicueta, where the England captain appeared to move his head towards the Chelsea defender. There were several other spicy challenges throughout, while Kane was involved in another scuffle towards to the end after being fouled by Luiz.
Spurs’ race is run
After an eighth defeat of the season, and the second in a row, Spurs’ participation in the title race can be officially declared over. Pochettino’s men are now nine points behind leaders Liverpool and eight behind second-placed Manchester City and that is just going to be too much for them to make up. Instead, Spurs are now looking over their shoulders as a berth in the top four is far from secure. They still have Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City to play and they could be just two points clear of fifth place after the weekend. More worrying for Mauricio Pochettino was the off-colour manner of their display, just four days after they were second best at Burnley. The Argentinian has a job on to pick his players up ahead of the north London derby on Saturday lunchtime.
Top four battle is on
With Arsenal and Manchester United both winning, it was vital for Chelsea to win and not lose ground in that race for the Champions League spots. Following Spurs’ nosedive over the last two games, it is now a four-team race for the two remaining spots available in the top four, assuming Liverpool and City do not completely capitulate. With Manchester United flying under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Spurs appearing to wobble and Arsenal and Chelsea remaining inconsistent, it will be an enthralling race in the final few weeks of the season.
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