Almost as soon as the final whistle went at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, my phone pinged with a message from my cousin wishing me ‘Happy Invincibles Day!’ (that point in the season when it becomes impossible for any Premier League team to match the achievement of the Invincibles and go through the whole season unbeaten); however for pretty much all of the first half of the match I was far from certain that it would be coming any time soon.
Tottenham’s high pressing energetic approach that has been nurtured by Pochettino over the past couple of seasons, sparked similar panic in the Chelsea rear-guard as we had seen Liverpool and Arsenal cause back in September which led Conte to change his system and approach. Instead of going longer to bypass the press, Chelsea stubbornly kept trying to play out from the back but succeeded only in continually conceding possession and allowing Spurs to attack from dangerous starting positions. Almost inevitably they found themselves a goal down after only eleven minutes and in truth it could and probably should have been more by the end of the half.
Whether it was anything specific that Conte changed, or simply a proving of that old adage that goals change games, but Pedro’s skilful turn and curling finish on the stroke of half-time seemed to change the entire narrative of the game. The second half saw Chelsea very much on the front foot and Tottenham the ones struggling to get a foothold. Where they had been pinned back in the first half, Chelsea’s wingbacks found themselves with large areas of space to run into on the flanks, and this was the source of the winning goal when Moses charged onto Costa’s clever pass to fire it home via Vertonghen and Lloris.
While Conte will of course be happy with the victory and the way that his side re-established themselves in the second half; he will know exactly what to expect when he takes his team to the Etihad in the early kick off on Saturday. It is almost inevitable that Guardiola’s side will press them high and dominate possession; this being the Catalan mastermind’s modus operandi; however City seem to have much more of a cutting edge than Spurs offered last week so may be able to seize control of the game by taking early chances. The game itself won’t decide the title, it is too early for all that, but it might just give us an insight into how two of the contenders are shaping up going into the hectic Christmas period.