On recent events, this London Derby between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur was about two teams looking to bounce back from a disappointing weekend. Tottenham’s mentality has been questioned constantly and they did nothing tonight to answer those questions.
On a Tightrope
Maurizio Sarri will have known that had his team lost to Tottenham, he would be walking the plank come Thursday morning’s back page headlines. He showed authority by dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga to the bench following his tantrum in the Carabao Cup final at the weekend. He also brought back in Pedro, who likes a goal against Tottenham and he produced one again in this match, beating Hugo Lloris through his legs and at his near post. From the first minute, Chelsea were faster, stronger and more determined that Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
When the Pressure Mounts, Tottenham Crumble
The phrase ‘bottlers’ has become commonplace amongst Tottenham’s critics and opposition fans, and that term is unfair. Yet, there is a mentality problem when it comes to high-pressure games. It is a conundrum that they can brush aside Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, and they can outplay Barcelona in their own back yard, yet in cup semi-finals and games like tonight, they all too often crumble under the pressure. Pochettino himself has issued a warning about the mentality and how it could take years to fix. After the Burnley game, he said:
“If you watch the game again you know that is what happened, and my worry is what happened and to change that is not only five-year work, maybe it is 10-year work to change that thing that happened here.”
In last season’s FA Cup semi-final, Tottenham took the lead but then just did not turn up for the rest of the game. Against Burnley, the chance was there to keep the pressure on the top two but, again, they simply failed to turn up. Maybe if they were unlucky, there would less focus on the defeats, but it is the manner of the defeats that suggests a weak mentality when it truly matters.
Chelsea Show Sarri Maybe They Do Care
Maurizio Sarri nearly walked away from Chelsea at Wembley stadium, having gone down the tunnel and nearly consigned to history. He is another manager seemingly forced out by ‘player power.’ Yet, the players showed no signs of dissent against Tottenham. They were strong in the tackle, aggressive and frenetic in their pace. Chelsea showed the mentality that Spurs needed to show. There was a desire and communication throughout the team. Their second goal epitomised Spurs’ lack of cohesion. Kieran Trippier and Hugo Lloris were both at fault and Chelsea gladly accepting the kind of gift the Spurs of ten and 20 years ago were synonymous with.
What Next For Chelsea?
Sarri has surely got a stay of execution, for now at least. He takes his side to relegation-threatened Fulham next before facing Dynamo Kiev at home in the Europa League. Success in those games and things might just look less bleak then they did a few days ago for Chelsea and their manager.
North London Derby Next for Tottenham
After one London Derby comes another and it is the big one at Wembley Stadium on Saturday lunchtime. What a game to quell some of those ‘bottlers’ jibes and take all three points from their North London rivals. Defeat, and Arsenal move to within one point of Tottenham, and that would really get the nerves jangling for the Lillywhites.
That match is followed on Tuesday by the return leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Dortmund in Germany. Spurs take a 3-0 lead into that game and will need to be professional and on their game to ensure they do not throw away a comfortable lead after an excellent first-leg performance.
In the space of seven days, Tottenham have gone from potential title challengers to a side looking short on confidence. Pochettino said this season that being in the top four is the main aim for them right now, and that is where they are. Many more performances like at Burnley and against Chelsea, and Tottenham could find themselves with no Champions League football next season with a heavy debt and new stadium to pay for.
Pochettino has had five years to deal with the mentality issue, and it has got better, but when it really matters, five years or ten years more is too long to wait. Unless the issue is dealt with immediately, it could be years of ‘what ifs’ for Tottenham Hotspur. This squad should be capable of more.