Juan Mata inspired Chelsea to a 4-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur in a thrilling Premier League match at White Hart Lane.
Mata scored twice and created Daniel Sturridge’s late fourth as Chelsea came from behind after Jermain Defoe and William Gallas had overhauled Gary Cahill’s fine opener.
As boss Andre Villas-Boas faced his former employers for the first time, Spurs were hit by a double whammy before kick-off as Gareth Bale withdrew from the squad, his partner going into labour, while Moussa Dembele failed a late fitness test. That led to a reshuffle, with Tom Huddlestone starting in midfield alongside Sandro, while Gylfi Sigurdsson moved to the left wing.
Chelsea, who had gone close through an Oscar shot early on, deserved to take the lead on 18 minutes as Cahill expertly volleyed home after a weak defensive header from Gallas at a corner, the England defender’s now trademark finish taking a slight deflection off Kyle Walker as it flew into the roof of the net.
Within seconds they were almost level, Ashley Cole saving the day for the Blues as Clint Dempsey prepared to roll in an easy finish after Petr Cech – captain in the absence of Terry – could only parry Defoe’s shot.
Chelsea were still dangerous on the counter attack though and they should have doubled their lead when Mata blasted a straightforward finish over the bar after Brad Friedel failed to hold the Spaniard’s initial effort.
By half-time it was all Spurs as they searched for an equaliser with Dempsey twice denied by crucial blocks.
A minute into the second half they got their equaliser, as Gallas made up for his earlier error by touching the ball over the line after Jan Vertonghen flicked Huddlestone’s right-wing free-kick across the face of goal.
Sigurdsson twice went close before Spurs took the lead nine minutes into the half as Defoe showed his poaching skills once more, showing great awareness to stay onside and divert a mis-hit Aaron Lennon shot past a surprised Cech, the England striker’s fifth Premier League goal of the season.
Chelsea should have had a penalty when Gallas clumsily caught Cole in the box, but they were level within 10 minutes as Mata guided a low finish past a stranded Friedel after the hit-and-miss Gallas only half-cleared an Eden Hazard cross.
Defoe forced a smart save from Cech with an audacious attempt from range while Fernando Torres hesitated after racing clean through but seconds later Chelsea were back in front, and it was some goal as Hazard’s brilliant first-time pass sent Mata scuttling through, the ex-Valencia forward staying just onside before clipping an angled finish past Friedel.
The introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor gave the hosts a more physical presence up front, and his first act was a towering header to Sigurdsson who blasted his finish well over the bar.
Adebayor then fluffed his lines from close range before Cech made a fantastic save from Kyle Walker’s long-range thunderbolt.
But Chelsea have made a fine art of counter-attacking and Walker, whose defensive ability has been exposed in recent weeks, inexplicably tried to play his way out of trouble deep in his own half, falling over and gifting the ball to Mata, who had the freedom of the left to pick out substitute Sturridge for a tap-in.
White Hart Lane emptied within seconds as Chelsea closed out their seventh win in eight Premier League matches to cement their place atop the standings.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Juan Mata - Chelsea: Two goals and an assist for the Spanish wizard, who could easily have hat a hat-trick as his superior movement and technique made mugs of the Spurs defence.
TOTTENHAM: Friedel 6, Walker 5, Caulker 6, Gallas 5, Vertonghen 6, Sandro 5, Huddlestone 6, Sigurdsson 5, Dempsey 6, Lennon 6, Defoe 7; SUBS: Livermore N/A, Adebayor 6.
CHELSEA: Cech 5, Ivanovic 6, Luiz 5, Cahill 7, Cole 6, Mikel 6, Ramires 7, Mata 9, Oscar 7, Hazard 6, Torres 6; SUBS: Lampard N/A, Sturridge 7.
- William Gallas
- Juan Mata
- Jermain Defoe
- Premier League