LONDON – Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-0 on Sunday, increasing the pressure on Blues manager Graham Potter and leaving their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League hanging in the balance.
Oliver Skipp and Harry Kane scored second-half goals to secure Spurs their first ever Premier League victory over Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, moving 14 points clear of their bitter London rivals over the first four races.
Potter have failed to win any of their last six games – Chelsea’s longest run since December 2012 – as the Blues remain in 10th place on a negative goal difference.
Tottenham, once again without manager Antonio Conte as he recovers from gallbladder surgery, now have a four-point lead in fourth over Newcastle, who have two games in hand.
1. Pressure builds on Potter
Sunday’s defeat by Tottenham leaves Chelsea 14 points outside the top four. The club’s owners, led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, have always maintained their support for Potter, given the scale of the transition since the completion of the club’s takeover in May. But after spending more than €600m, there can come a point where the hierarchy question whether it is getting enough return on that investment.
Sections of the club’s fan base are already turning against the manager and a failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League would be an unmitigated disaster given the massive level of investment. They still have the round of 16 second leg against Borussia Dortmund to go (they’re down 1-0), but Chelsea have already won two of their last 15 games in all competitions.
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This clash provided encouragement from a historical perspective: Chelsea have won all three Premier League games at this stadium by a combined score of 6-0 and have won more games against Tottenham (33) than any other Premier League team. The Spurs have hardly played consistently, but they still proved too much.
Potter has had a lot to contend with and the club’s desire to plan for the long term is sincere. But he needs short-term results to keep that faith and this current slump has already reached alarming levels.
2. Skipp advances in Bentancur’s absence
The loss of Rodrigo Bentancur for the season after knee surgery has been a serious blow for Tottenham, as they don’t have another midfielder capable of influencing the game in the same way. With Yves Bissouma also out for some time with an ankle injury, it was a huge bonus for Skipp to intensify his absence.
And what a way to do it, scoring his first goal for the club with a fine shot just 19 seconds into the second half. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg seems to revel in these combative physical clashes and, along with Skipp, they have formed a formidable partnership that should bolster Spurs for the challenges ahead.
Also absent on Sunday was coach Conte, who is recovering from gallbladder surgery, but his assistant Cristian Stellini extended his remarkable record from the bench to four wins from four. The defeated teams are equally impressive: Marseille, Man City, West Ham and now Chelsea.
3. Disunited Chelsea suffers yet another injury blow
The sight of Chelsea’s best defender Thiago Silva being forced off injured within 20 minutes was a reminder of the terrible luck Potter has had with injuries this season. N’Golo Kante, Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta are among the unavailable, while in preparation for this game Potter has cited the absences of Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Marc Cucurella and Raheem Sterling at various points this season.
However, the suspicion remains that Potter doesn’t know his best side. Given the massive player turnover to some extent, it’s fair to ask how could he? But there are clear signs of confused thinking.
Hakim Ziyech was on his way to Paris Saint-Germain on loan last month, but after the transfer collapsed in the 11th hour due to incorrect paperwork, he has started three of Chelsea’s five games since the window closed. Potter continues to insist that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is part of his plans, but despite a shy side in poor form, the striker has barely appeared and has had just seven minutes to make an impact here, as has Mykhailo Mudryk, signed for €100m in January .
The Blues continue to rely on the 38-year-old Silva to hold together an expensive backline, which Wesley Fofana (€80m) and Benoit Badiashile (€37m) failed to manage on Sunday. And it is ironic that, after spending more than €600m, the striker most likely to make the difference in the final third is Joao Félix – a player who is only on loan from Atlético Madrid.
Injuries are one thing, but it’s still a team in flux and short term damage is increasing.
Best and worst performers
Oliver Skipp. He helped Tottenham win the midfield battle and took advantage of the poor defense to score his first goal for the club.
Emerson Real. Caused Chelsea all sorts of problems attacking down Tottenham’s right flank and earned more tackles (7) than any other player.
Cristiano Romero. He organized the Tottenham defense superbly, making a number of key interventions.
Enzo Fernandez. He freaked out unnecessarily for Skipp’s goal, knocking the ball past goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga with a pass that allowed Spurs to stay on top.
Hakim Ziyech. He appeared uninterested and was unnecessarily involved in a brawl before half-time, which initially saw him sent off before the decision was overturned on VAR review.
Kai Havertz. Chelsea’s attacking problems run deeper than just one player, but Havertz remains disappointingly ineffective, failing to register a shot of any description.
Highlights and notable moments
There was a lot of confusion about Hakim Ziyech’s red card, then his yellow card.
Ziyech received a red card for this slap at Emerson Royal.
Later, VAR overturned the decision to just a yellow card.
Correct decision? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/51TuWjudlJ
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 26, 2023
Skipp opened the scoring for Tottenham.
WHAT A START OF THE MIDDLE FOR TOTTENHAM!
📺: @USANetwork #MyPLMorning | #TOTCHE pic.twitter.com/wMgS0U9HQP
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 26, 2023
And Kane showed up to make the game safe in the end.
Harry Kane is there at the far post to double Tottenham’s lead!
📺: @USANetwork #MyPLMorning | #TOTCHE pic.twitter.com/aPm0yPHZ1V
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 26, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Tottenham’s Harry Kane told BBC Sport: “Chelsea have been tough opponents for us in recent years. So it’s a very important win to keep us fourth. Overall I thought we deserved to win. It was an unbelievable goal (from Oliver Skipp) and what a moment for get his first. He’s been working hard so it was good to see that move. In the first half both teams created some chances. We struggled a bit with our pressure and resolved that in the second half. A little more quality in the final third and whenever you open the scoring it helps to open the game. Another clean sheet, two goals, so overall a good performance at home.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information survey)
– Chelsea were undefeated in their last eight Premier League games against Tottenham (6 wins, 2 draws).
– Tottenham and Chelsea combined just one shot on goal in the first half.
– Skipp scored his first goal for Tottenham. It was only his second goal in professional club football.
– By Opt Joe: Skipp’s goal was scored 19 seconds into the second half, the first such goal in a Premier League game since Gerard Deulofeu for Watford v West Ham in May 2019.
– By Opt Joe: Kane is one of only two players to score 20+ goals in each of the last nine seasons in all club competitions across Europe’s Big Five leagues, along with Robert Lewandowski.
– Chelsea have only managed to score four goals in 11 matches in 2023.
Tottenham: An FA Cup clash with Sheffield United on March 1st, then a trip to Wolves in the Premier League on March 4th.
Chelsea: A home league game against Leeds United on 4 March, then the Blues host Borussia Dortmund 1-0 in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg on 7 March.