LONDON: Chelsea owed everything to two goals from Juan Mata and the closing-stages brilliance of keeper Petr Cech as they hit back from 2-1 down to win 4-2 away to Tottenham at maintain their primacy at the top of the English Premier League.
The Blues, missing suspended skipper John Terry, took a first-half lead with a superb strike from Gary Cahill but Spurs battled back into the lead with strikes from William Gallas and Jermain Defoe either side of half-time. Chelsea refused to be cowed. Mata scored twice within four minutes just after the hour and substitute Daniel Sturridge tapped in a close-range fourth in a last-minute counter-attack.
The lunchtime match had been spiced by Spurs fans’ anger at their club being denied a Champions League place by Chelsea’s last-ditch snatching of the European club crown last season.
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo shrugged off talk of Chelsea being favourites for the Premier League title. He said: “It’s too early to say that. There are 30 games still to play. It makes us a team that is strong and makes our start even better, but with 30 more games I still think that you have to wait until the Christmas period.”
Mata, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Oscar were all outstanding for Chelsea but results remain the priority. Di Matteo added: “Ultimately we want to win games, we want to win in the way we think we can win games with the players we have. We don’t go out and just say ‘let’s play good football and lose’. Our philosophy is to play in a certain way because we believe with the players we have that is the way to win games.
“Spurs came out of the dressing room in the second half very sharp, the early goal in the second half gave them a lot of confidence and momentum which we knew we had to ride out a little bit better. Apart from that, for the rest of the game we were very much in control. We took the initiative and wanted to impose ourselves and we managed to do so for most of the game.”
Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas was facing the Blues for the first time since he was sacked in March. He said: “I think the game was won by individual brilliance from Oscar, Mata and Hazard who were tremendous. These are people who can unlock doors and create problems, and they certainly manage to find gaps and beat people because they are extremely creative and extremely good.
“When I was at Chelsea we signed Mata for his talent and he is certainly not going to stop producing these moments of brilliance like he had today.”
Villas-Boas also felt the passion of the occasion may have counted against his side as they looked to hold on to their 2-1 lead.
He said: “On the positive side we have shown great strength of character to come back into the game in the second half. The amount of intensity was a problem because we wanted to calm the game down, but calming a game down at this level is extremely difficult.
“There is so much passion involved and so much emotion – it was so frenetic, us losing the ball and them losing the ball.”
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