Here’s the key stat from Chelsea’s remarkable 5-3 loss at White Hart Lane on Thursday: After 75 minutes, Chelsea had managed just two shots on target.
When César Azpilicueta drew a full-length save from Hugo Lloris in the 76th minute, it was the first Chelsea shot on target in two matches that did not end up in the back of the net. That is impressive efficiency. But if you let in one goal, as Chelsea did at Southampton on Sunday -- and only manage one shot on target -- you are unlikely to win. If you allow five goals while only creating three strikes on target, as Chelsea did in the first 80 minutes, you are likely to lose.
In the last 10 minutes, as Tottenham huddled, disbelieving, in defense, Chelsea did raise its shot total to six and added the third goal that allowed it to cling to first place. But that was an exercise in damage limitation.
In patches, Chelsea was brilliant. After Spurs lost Ryan Mason to a seasonal pulled hamstring in the 14th minute, Chelsea took control. Diego Costa scored a tap in. Oscar muffed a good chance to double the lead. Jan Vertonghen could have conceded a penalty when the ball struck his arm as he sprawled to block.
It was, at most, a 50-50 decision for the referee, Phil Dowd, but José Mourinho, who after the draw at Southampton talked of a conspiracy against Chelsea, is offended when his team does not get 100 percent of 50-50 decisions. The issue was also a useful distraction from the fact that this was only the second time in his managerial term that a Mourinho team had conceded five goals (it happened once at Real Madrid against Barcelona).
“A crucial moment of the game,” Mourinho told BT Sports.
Harry Kane turned the momentum with a flash of lightning, leaving Thibaut Courtois flat-footed from 25 yards.
Just before half time, Chelsea, suddenly shaky, conceded two goals of the type Mourinho teams don’t usually concede. Nacer Chadli beat the offside trap. His shot hit the post, but Danny Rose reached the rebound first and scored. Then Gary Cahill was uncharacteristically late in a challenge on Kane. Andros Townsend converted the penalty with the last kick of the half.
Kane added a slick second, spinning John Terry, a defender who isn’t normally spun, and again finding the corner of the net. Federico Fazio gave Chelsea a goal. Chadli finally beat his Belgium teammate Courtois at the fifth attempt to settle the game.
Chelsea had 16 goal attempts, but only six on target. Tottenham had 11 strikes of which eight were on target.
“We made some defensive mistakes,” said Mourinho, straying briefly from the performance of the referee to the performance of his beaten players.
“Not easy for my defenders to cope with a good Chadli and especially a good Kane,” Mourinho said. “But also difficult for Tottenham defenders to cope with an amazing Hazard and with a good Diego Costa.”
The match left Chelsea and City dead level. Chelsea is top of the standings only alphabetically. As recently as Nov. 29, the gap was nine points.
Tottenham’s last decade has been filled with bright but false dawns. Nevertheless, this result gives reason for hope. Kane, who moves rather like a floppy, enthusiastic, English sheepdog, again showed his teeth. Townsend, who appeared to be trying to set a record for Cruyff turns, and Chadli both produced their best displays of the season.
“To score five goals against one of the best defenses in the world shows we are getting it together,” Kane said.
Shining Lampard -- Frank Lampard might have expected to ring in the New Year watching the ball drop in Times Square. Instead, he celebrated it watching the ball drop into the back of the Sunderland net off his head at the Etihad on Thursday.
To have thrown away a two-goal lead at home to one struggling team, as Manchester City did against Burnley on Sunday, was careless enough. To have done it again, four days later, would have been utter negligence. Sunderland made the mistake of leveling with 19 minutes still left. It took two minutes for Lampard to punish them with a precise header from eight yards and give City a 3-2 victory.
Fans of New York City FC might be indignant that their new club’s star signing will miss the start of the MLS season. But Lampard is no Pele. The idea that anyone might decide to follow a team just to watch the 36-year-old Lampard chug up and down midfield and poach unspectacular goals is faintly bizarre. He will, in any case, be back for the business end of the MLS season.
Mourinho, who has indignation to spare, joined the New York fans on Thursday evening.
“They can bring any player from New York FC, no one is going to stop them,” Mourinho said at White Hart Lane.
Just one day into Lampard’s prolonged stay in Manchester, the decision to treat NYCFC as a farm club has already paid off for the Abu Dhabi group that owns the English club and shares NYCFC with the New York Yankees. Lampard’s goal was worth two crucial points that brought City level with Chelsea.
Appliance of science -- Before Manchester United drew, 1-1, at Stoke on Thursday, Louis van Gaal again insisted that the English Christmas schedule does not allow players enough time to recover. It was scientifically proven, he said.
If so, why does he keep picking the same players? Surely he could give himself an advantage over opponents who are starting tired players by rotating more?
In the type of windy midweek game at the Britannia Stadium that is meant to be the benchmark for the toughness of the Premier League, United played well in patches but was slightly lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw. Peter Crouch hit a post. Chris Smalling might have conceded a penalty.
United paid for not resting starters in the 75th minute. Ashley Young who had played every minute of United’s four games in 13 days, pulled a hamstring, just the sort of muscular injury caused by fatigue.
The problem with the schedule is not that one club’s tired players are at a disadvantage against another club’s tired players, it’s that the physical toll only becomes clear later in the season.
Taking care -- Statisticians debate how much of a boost changing managers give a club. But often when a club axes, or loses, a coach in mid-season, they also play a match or two with a caretaker boss. Could it be that a team can gain two little boosts by sacking the coach?
The evidence on Thursday was ambiguous. Newcastle, under John Carver after Alan Pardew fled the hatred of the home fans, took the lead three times but only drew, 3-3, with Burnley, rapidly becoming one of the division’s fight back specialists.
Palace, with Keith Millen keeping the bench warm for Pardew, eked out a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa; given Villa’s inability to score, it’s about par.
Meanwhile Keith Downing and Rob Kelly arrested the slide at West Brom with a 1-1 draw at suddenly wobbly West Ham, although manager elect Tony Pulis did visit the locker room at half time
Same old gunners -- Arsenal had enjoyed a good Christmas but turned into Santa as it lost 2-0 at Southampton. The Gunners were in defensive shambles.
Wojciech Szczesny’s error presented Sadio Mané with the opening goal. Then with Mathieu Debuchy dithering in front of his own goal, Szczesny tackled him, sending the ball to Dusan Tadic who scored the second.
Southampton’s Florin Gardos was lucky not to receive a red card, but by then the Saints should have five or six ahead. James Ward-Prowse squandered a hat trick of good chances. Graziano Pelle hit a post and later hit the only defender on the line after Szczesny had gone wandering.
All teams are prone to fluctuations in form, but few suffer extreme mood swings as this Arsenal side.