OK. Time for a sit down and a good cold drink. You know what? They say it will rain on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Chelsea and Tottenham produced something extraordinary here. This was a steaming, pounding mosh pit of a match, climate crisis football, pinned around a row of torches. On and off the pitch, it was an afternoon defined by full-force collisions.
The most interesting of these was tactical, as Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side produced 70 minutes of expert coverage and team defending to stifle the Tottenham attack; followed by a successful counterattack from Antonio Conte, and two late equalizing goals. A 2-2 draw seemed about fair, although Spurs will be happier with the point.
The headline-grabbing moment was, of course, a different kind of collision, a hilariously overheated clash of middle-aged egos in the executive box. This reached its operatic peak after the final whistle, a moment of extreme alpha handshake warfare when the default lock was transformed into a kind of death shake.
No one will ever really know what happened inside that shake. The end result was Tuchel refusing to let go, sending Conte windmilling around – no windmilling Antonio around – and inspiring a hair-raising tableau of waving arms, thrusting breasts, flashing eyes. like a Renaissance frieze entitled The Enragement of Antonio. Both leaders were expelled. The only person who seemed to enjoy it was Tuchel’s ex-SAS bodyguard who loved every second – prowling expert, eyes on swivel, securing the goal.
It had arrived. West London had been a heavy, draining place all day, a city that turned a little sullen and sour in the dog days of late summer. Chelsea had already been angered by Tottenham’s first equaliser, when Rodrigo Bentancur appeared to foul Kai Havertz perhaps half a minute before the ball went into the net.
Chelsea went 2-1 up a little later, sending Tuchel off on his own wild, cheeky, very funny sprint down the touchline, skinny arms pumping, legs pounding the grass, like a set of scaffolding posts bouncing off the back of a lorry . Tottenham’s second goal at the death, a header from Harry Kane, saw Conte’s combination strike invisible orcs, a one-man Celtic war dance.
A banner had been unfurled in the south stand before kick-off with the message “Welcome to the House of Fun”. And this was really fun. For all the necessary if scenes nobody wants to see (they do) these two teams also produced a brilliant game of football, as these touchline clashes mirrored the tactical interplay between the two managers, the density of the game, condensed space, and Tuchel’s fundamental game plan, which involved stifling the Spurs attack at the source.
A minute before half-time, there was a telling moment when Kane picked up the ball in the center circle, controlled it with a backspin touch, and looked to turn and pass, but was instantly dispossessed of Jorginho’s feet, then wrecked again by a full sliding challenge from Thiago Silva – the highlight of a spell in which Kane was knocked around the pitch like an antique bookcase being knocked round a bend in the stairs by a particularly rowdy group of movers.
Chelsea did something more teams should do in that period: they got around Kane in his deep positions. N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Reece James were all brutally fast. Kane completed five passes in the first 40 minutes.
Conte had gone with his first-choice front three here, Kane-Son-Kulusevski, one to run, one to pass, one to slide around and create his own hoof-tickling in-out goalkeeper. But Kane was suffocated here by Kanté in particular, who looked fit again, winning the ball high up the pitch and appearing to play with that old sense of a two-second glimpse into the future while everyone else is on delay.
It was Kanté’s clever, spiky pressing that led to the corner that created Chelsea’s opening goal. On the touchline, Tuchel turned and shouted, veins popping, fists clenched at his sides, like a man flying a jetpack through a lightning storm. He’s got a new look this season, less tracksuit manager, more history professor who also plays bass in a post-punk campus band.
And the plan worked here for most of the game. In the opening 70 minutes, Kane, Son, Kulusevski and Richarlison had one shot on target between them and were disallowed 15 times, six of them in the ledger next to Kane’s name. James showed exactly why he is the best defender England has, scoring Chelsea’s second after some fine team pressure.
But Conte also had his say in the tactical crush. With 57 minutes gone, he sent on Richarlison and relegated the attack to a more standard 4-4-2, with Kane and Richarlison playing closely together. Suddenly Spurs started to find space. Kane finally had some possession. For Chelsea, the little knot of space invaders, the Kane squad, had either left the pitch or been thrown off by their position further up the pitch.
Richarlison offered energy rather than edge. But he was also there alongside Kane on the stroke of half-time when a swinging corner was flicked past Édouard Mendy to spark the final crush in this extremely poignant hotbox of a Premier League game.