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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Tottenham stays top of the League after goalless draw against Chelsea

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Not so much as you were, as how you’ve always been.

Tottenham Hotspur stayed on top of the Premier League thanks to a resolute 0-0 away draw that was close to the ultimate Jose Mourinho performance, but also showed a little bit of influence on his former player.

Frank Lampard’s Chelsea naturally attacked more, but there was a recognisable element of the “respect” that has been seen in a lot of their big games this season, and in so many of the manager’s matches as a midfielder for Mourinho.

It actually felt like a classic 0-0 Super Sunday of the 2004-09 Big Four era, which should be no surprise at all.

It just never fired. Far from the potential of a title challenge firing these teams for a spectacle, the stakes seemed to stultify it.

As such, it didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know. Not enough happened for that.

The pattern of the whole game was set, and signalled, within seven minutes. Chelsea had plenty of possession, that involved a few pretty passes, with Spurs just waiting patiently for cutting counter-attacks. They got one through Steven Bergwijn, who scorched the ball over.

It was the first big chance of the match – and also the last for some time.

The game fairly quickly became “strategic”, rather than any way entertaining.

Some of this pointed to where the sides are, and where they want to go next.

A lot of it was on Mourinho, which is no surprise, nor a criticism. He did what is in his football nature, and had his team rigorously organised defensively, making it very difficult for any side to work their way through.

This also pointed to the specific challenge for Lampard. He has to get this array of attackers – arguably the best collection of forward talent in Europe, in terms of its depth – to integrate into a system that really enhances their abilities, rather than just depend on their individual quality.

There have been some sparkling signs of that in recent games – but not yet in big games.

As against Manchester United, Liverpool and Sevilla in the Champions League, Chelsea played most of their football in front of Spurs.

It points to one other way Mourinho evidently influenced his former player.

Lampard has so far seemed doggedly focused on just “getting a result” in big games, and not losing; a flagbearer, something to build on. Whatever you want to call it, you can certainly say it is very Mourinho 2005. This was a staple.

It is still of course Mourinho 2020.

Spurs were looking to counter where they could, but seemed entirely content with a draw. That in itself points to an area where Lampard has made undeniable progress. That backline has drastically improved.

They just looked so much more sturdy – and Edouard Mendy evidently radiates assurance in a way that is the complete opposite to Kepa Arrizabalaga.

When the Spanish goalkeeper was in the team, the defence just never looked comfortable. It was as if an uncertainty radiated out.

None of that with Mendy.

On one rare occasion when Tanguy Ndombele broke through to thunder a shot at goal, the keeper stopped it solidly, and pushed it away.

Superb as Mendy has been, there is more to it than just signing a top goalkeeper. Lampard has impressively worked out the balance of the team, while Thiago Silva has looked an excellent influence.

Ndombele had outfoxed the Chelsea midfield with one supreme turn that was reminiscent of Mousa Dembele. He looks a player who is really finding his form – but, frustratingly, hasn’t yet found a full run. Ndombele went off after 65 minutes, marking another match when he was substituted early.

It was just another little step that handed more of the initiative to Chelsea. Hakim Ziyech almost opened Spurs with one divine volleyed pass that was itself reminiscent of David Silva, Mason Mount brought an excellent save from Hugo Lloris.

Lampard eventually went to the size of Olivier Giroud, but such a siege weapon didn’t really bring the bombardment.

Tottenham were not to be moved. That, most pleasingly for Mourinho, also applies to the top of the table.

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