There were times in this match at White Hart Lane when the only suspense was in “how many?”
That’s how bad it got in the first half. As it was, it didn’t get any worse than 1-0 and Spurs did rally, but that entirely aimless response – and one badly-aimed header – only offered the illusion of any kind of substance to this approach. Any kind of substance in Mourinho’s old credentials are eroding. This was the first time he lost successive home games in his career, removing even that sense of security.
An equaliser, meanwhile, would have been grand larceny. This style is not just outdated, but in a football sense entirely bankrupt, with almost no value to it. Levy must be wondering about the value in this appointment by now.
He need only look at the side that beat them tonight – even if it was only through a Jorginho penalty – for evidence of what else might be possible.
A defeat much worse than 1-0 certainly looked possible for long periods. The transformation in Chelsea’s play is already a triumph of coaching. After watching some of this, it is difficult not to wonder what Frank Lampard was doing with these players, and why dispensing him for Tuchel was ever a doubt. The German has only had eight days of training with this squad, and already used three drastically different line-ups, but they’re already so comfortable moving at a multitude of angles.
There were spells when they were coming at Spurs in devastatingly swift triangles, opening through the intense speed of mere interchanges. Mourinho’s backline was badly struggling with it. Whether it just bamboozled Eric Dier into that foul on Timo Werner is unknown, but he did suffer some kind of malfunction of logic.
The midfielder inexplicably stuck out a leg when in a tangle with the striker, bringing him down for a penalty. Jorginho, as if to symbolise the change in urgency in Chelsea, powered the penalty into the corner rather than opting for his usual feint.
Chelsea were well worth their lead, and looked good, but probably looked even better in the first half because of how bad Spurs were. There’s almost no other way of putting it.
What Mourinho’s side attempted in that opening 45 minutes could barely be called football, in both the traditional and modern senses. It wasn’t even anti-football. That implies some kind of plan. Spurs were just defending and punting, interspersed by the occasional aimless kick.
A midfielder as talented as Tanguy Ndombele was reduced to trying to just blast the ball across goal after a mis-control. There was no sense of any kind of idea for attacking football. The best it got was – of course – a header from a set-piece through the recalled Serge Aurier, and a Vinicius run that just saw him fall over. This was what they were reduced to.
All of Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mateo Kovacic and so many others were meanwhile each looking like creative playmakers in different positions. This was the difference between a team being coached and, well, whatever Spurs are doing.
It did seem all the more conspicuous, in the 34th minute when Thiago Silva was being treated, that the whole team gathered near the centre circle to animatedly talk through what they should be doing. The Brazilian going off did theoretically have the potential to change the game, given how solid he looked at the centre of that three-man defence. Silva has just dismissed the idea he was going to be like some kind of latter-day Laurent Blanc in the Premier League, just as he dismissed so many predictable Spurs attacks.
The structure nevertheless still held. Spurs did get better, but the truth is they couldn’t have got much worse. Chelsea, with Andreas Christensen there, were still meeting everything they had – which inevitably came in the air. Tuchel’s side were better than Spurs even there. They should have been much better in the scoreline. It was just that Hugo Lloris was proving equal to the shots that came through. There were at least three occasions when the Spurs box devolved into a temporary shooting gallery. And yet the fact it was still a mere 1-0 offered the possibility of some twisted vindication of Mourinho’s approach.