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November 29, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Rarely has a goalless stalemate satisfied Jose Mourinho so much.

Chelsea's draw at Tottenham on Sunday left the Premier League champions 15 points behind leader Manchester City and still without back-to-back wins in the team's title defense.

But the Blues were facing a Tottenham side that extended its unbeaten run in the league to 14 matches — the best since the 1984-85 season — and sits 10 points ahead of Chelsea in fifth place.

What the trip to White Hart Lane showed Mourinho is that his team is gradually rediscovering its spirit and defensive solidity with a third consecutive clean sheet, including the mid-week Champions League win against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

"It's the best Chelsea (performance) of the season as a team," Mourinho said. "We deserved a bit more than we've got. I'm really happy with the performance. The team defended like a team ... against a team that presses really well and aggressively."

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Chelsea, though, is still closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places in 14th. But there are 13 matches gone and another 25 to go.

"I think we have the team again and we look to the future with a better spirit," Mourinho said.

Although Diego Costa ended Chelsea's three-match losing run in the league with the only goal last weekend against Norwich, the striker was dropped because Mourinho believes "things are not going really well for his confidence." Such was Costa's frustration at not even coming off the bench that in the final moments of the game he threw his substitutes' bib over his shoulder in the direction of Mourinho.

"If he wants to hurt me, it's not with a bib," Mourinho said. "I have a good relationship with him, no problems. I think Diego is very privileged because he was the last one (in the squad) to be (put) on the bench."

Instead it was the diminutive Eden Hazard who was deployed as a false nine despite having not scored a goal all season for Chelsea. Though dynamic across the field, it took Hazard until the 68th minute to register his team's first — and only — shot on target when his volley was kept out by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris' diving one-handed save.

"We have to win if we want to finish in the top four," said Hazard, who only came close in the first half with an off-target header. "We know it's difficult."

Chelsea's European game in Israel was on Tuesday, but Tottenham appeared to be feeling the effects of a longer trip to Azerbaijan to play in the Europa League on Thursday and provided little goal threat.

"The players are heroes because the effort was unbelievable at the end of a difficult week," Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said.

In this noon kickoff in gray, gloomy conditions, matching the frenzied drama of Tottenham's 5-3 win against Chelsea here on New Year's Day rarely looked likely.

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The best of Tottenham's chances came in the first half.

Harry Kane's best effort was spilled by Asmir Begovic but the goalkeeper recovered in windy conditions to collect the ball before the striker could react.

Kane was carving out openings too, sending in a precise cross for Son Heung-min only for the unmarked midfielder to send a tame header at Begovic, who also turned Moussa Dembele's shot wide before break.

As Tottenham noticeably faded in the second half, the hosts only provided flashes of danger such as Son's one-two with Erik Lamela that ended with the South Korean striking straight at Begovic in the 63rd minute.

Although Tottenham is unbeaten in the league since the opening day of the season at Manchester United, half of the 14 games have been drawn.

"Maybe we lacked a bit of freshness at end to create some extra chances," Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen said. "It was a hard trip but we didn't want any excuses."