Sparks fly as furious Chelsea held to late draw by Tottenham to ignite a fascinating managerial rivalry

·4 min read
Sparks fly as furious Chelsea held to late draw by Tottenham to ignite a fascinating managerial rivalry

For Tottenham, a familiar performance at Stamford Bridge but, this time, a different result.

Until the 96th-minute, Spurs were heading for another dispiriting defeat at the home of their rivals, only for Harry Kane to rescue a 2-2 draw deep into stoppage-time before a furious bust-up between Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte after the final whistle.

Both head coaches were shown a red card, having been booked in the aftermath of Spurs' first equaliser through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and will now serve a touchline ban.

Tuchel appeared to refuse to let go of Conte's hand during the post-match handshakes after the Italian had resolutely avoided eye contact, leading the pair to square up angrily on the pitch while staff attempted to separate them.

The Chelsea boss had understandable reason to feel frustrated, with his side dominant for long periods and both Spurs' equalisers contentious.

With 22 minutes to play, Hojbjerg cancelled out Kalidou Koulibaly's superb first-half volley after Rodrigo Bentancur had caught Kai Havertz in the build-up.

Replays showed Bentancur had got a toe on the ball but slid through the back of Havertz beforehand. Conte celebrated the goal wildly in front of Tuchel, who squared up to his opposite number, leading to a touchline melee and their first yellows.

Tuchel was equally provocative in his own celebration after Reece James restored Chelsea's lead on 77 minutes, charging down the touchline in front of Spurs’ bench.

James looked to have earned the Blues a deserved three points, only for Kane to nod home substitute Ivan Perisic's corner, via a touch off his England teammate at the far post.

Spurs' second goal was just as controversial as the first, with Cristian Romero appearing to pull down Marc Cucurella by the hair in the build up. VAR checked the incident for a potential red card but no action was taken, with Perisic immediately sending the dead ball towards Kane.

Chelsea will feel robbed after a fine display in which Tuchel won the tactical battle over Conte but will still have felt like the loser.

Harry Kane headed a late leveller for Spurs (Action Images via Reuters)
Harry Kane headed a late leveller for Spurs (Action Images via Reuters)

Intriguing now is whether the pair's shared animosity translates into another great managerial rivalry, the like of which has been missing from the Premier League arguably since Conte and Jose Mourinho were sparring partners.

Conte’s history with Chelsea is also acrimonious but he came here seeking not so much revenge as vindication. He was borderline humiliated by Spurs’ three defeats to their rivals in January and he wanted confirmation that his side are since transformed and now capable of competing with the best.

The result, if not Spurs' performance, will add to the belief that they are fundamentally changed under the Italian; more streetwise, resilient and mentally tough.

As for Chelsea, an impressive performance should have allayed Tuchel's concerns about their readiness for the season, and suggests Spurs' claim to be London’s top club is perhaps premature.

If Chelsea can play like this regularly, they will be well in contention for third place, and potentially more.

Conte again resisted the temptation to start any of his new signings, sticking with the same side that beat Southampton 4-1 on the opening day, while Tuchel handed Cucurella his full debut and switched James switched to the right of the back three, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek at wing-back.

Perhaps Conte should have shown less loyalty because the result was a dominant hour from Chelsea, with midfielders Jorginho and N'Golo Kante overrunning Spurs in midfield, and the Blues unsettling the visitors with a well-oiled press.

For Spurs, the overall experience must have been familiar and so too were the specifics. Conceding from set-pieces was their biggest weakness under Conte last season and plainly it remains an issue, despite the appointment of a specialist coach, Gianni Vio, over the summer.

Koulibaly was completey unmarked to spectacularly volley Chelsea in front after 19 minutes, lacing Cucurella's corner with the technique and poise of a centre-forward. He was wheeling away to celebrate before the ball had struck the back of the net.

Conte had seen enough before the hour, introducing Richarlison for Ryan Sessegnon and switching to an aggressive 4-2-4 system. It helped Spurs to establish a foothold and Hojbjerg's low finish from 20 yards restored parity, setting up a potentially thrilling finale.

There was clearly a shelf-life to such an aggressive system, however, and just as Spurs were preparing to introduce Perisic and fellow summer signing Yves Bissouma, Chelsea restored their advantage.

There were gaping holes in Spurs' midfield when Koulibaly won possession on the touchline and Kante left James with an easy job of finishing at the far post.

It was Spurs, though, who remained focussed while Chelsea's concentration wavered, Kane heading home the second Perisic corner in quick succession to ensure the spoils were shared.