THE BLOG

Torres and 'Tonghen Tangle, Mata Makes His Case as Chelsea Fight Back for Draw at Tottenham

10/01/2013 05:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Let's put any thoughts of a Tottenham title challenge on hold for the time being, shall we?

For the first 30 minutes or so against Chelsea this weekend, Spurs looked to be playing the part. Blues manager Jose Mourinho had gone into the match with a reactive lineup, and Spurs happily took advantage with recently anointed no. 10 Christian Eriksen sparking the attack. In the 19th minute, Eriksen took a pass from Moussa Dembele and found Roberto Soldado in the box, who set it up for the darting Gylfi Sigurdsson. John Terry's attempt at a tackle forced the winger to switch over to his left foot as he put it past Petr Cech on the near post for his third goal, matching his league total from last season.

But just as Spurs looked to have a grip on the game, Chelsea began to show signs of danger toward the end of the half and took over the match entirely upon Mourinho's introduction of Juan Mata after the break. This time last year, some spoke of Mata as being the best player in the league, while this year he suddenly finds himself out of favor in the Special System. But Soldado's former teammate at Valencia came away from White Hart Lane as the Man of the Match not just for assisting Terry's equalizer in the 65th minute but more so for changing the game around. It would be madness for Mourinho to keep him out of his XI going forward.

Only Fernando Torres's sending off after his second yellow for an out-of-control challenge in the air against Jan Vertonghen stopped Chelsea's onslaught. Mourinho parked the bus at that point, taking off Oscar (who's been preferred to Mata so far this season) for an extra defender. Vertonghen and Torres had many heated battles today, but Jan kept his cool and won the war. He continues to show he's top quality, and today he had to compensate for another overmatched performance on the left from Kyle Naughton. With all the great work from chairman Daniel Levy and co. in the recent transfer window, they also must take the blame for going into the season without any natural cover for Danny Rose at left back.

If not for Mata, MOTM honors might have gone to Dembele, who looked to be the strongest of any player on the pitch for the full 90--an encouraging sign from a player who's struggled with fitness and, at times, form. Days like these make it easier to see why manager Andre Villas-Boas is so reluctant to rest him (even in matches when he probably should).

When Chelsea woke out of its self-imposed stupor, the Tottenham manager sought in vain to find an answer, and brilliance from keeper Hugo Lloris was required to preserve the draw. Right winger Andros Townsend had a strong first half, having apparently discovered he has teammates around him. But after the break he wasn't offering enough defensively and AVB chose to replace him with Nacer Chadli, who brought an imposing physical presence but little else into the match. AVB's second sub also was interesting: Lewis Holtby for Eriksen in the 70th. Although Eriksen seemed to have fallen out of the flow of play by then, this always had the feeling of a match Holtby might find himself chasing, and that's pretty much what happened when he came on. Holtby is a player on the rise and helped unlock Cardiff in stoppage time last Sunday, but he has yet to prove himself as a reliable option in matches against top teams. It might have been more prudent for AVB to switch to a 4-3-3 by injecting Sandro's beastly presence in the middle and adding Erik Lamela's potential for pizzazz on the right. Supporters will have been disappointed to see both players still on the bench at match's end.

So what do we know after this weekend? Same things most of us knew going into it: Chelsea has an abundance of talent and enough Russian money to pave over their mistakes. (Willian, the high-profile acquisition they stole out from under Spurs this summer, did not even make the bench for his club today.) A preseason pick by many, including me, to win the league, Mourinho's club will be very dangerous if he allows it be. Spurs, meanwhile, still seek consistency as they hope to prove themselves among the league's elite.

But who knows? With Chelsea and Manchester City yet to record an away win--particularly glaring in City's case, with losses to Cardiff City and now Aston Villa -- Manchester United in a state of disarray, and even the in-form Arsenal and Liverpool having each suffered surprising losses at home, a number of glasses have been knocked off the shelf in this early Barclay's season.

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