LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur buried Chelsea’s hopes of a Champions League spot last season with a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge and Saturday’s impressive victory by the same scoreline at Wembley could be significant for the London teams in this campaign too.
Spurs, who for years seemed doomed to lose to their cross-town rivals, produced their best performance of the season as the muscular midfield pairing of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier led a high-pressure harassment of the visitors.
Chelsea, by contrast, were their worst since Maurizio Sarri took over as coach this year and they meekly surrendered their 12-match unbeaten Premier League run under the Italian.
Spurs leap-frogged Chelsea into third place in the table and Arsenal will be only one point behind Chelsea in the fourth Champions League spot if they beat Bournemouth on Sunday.
Spurs showed more urgency from the kick-off, snuffing out Chelsea’s Italian playmaker Jorginho and Belgium forward Eden Hazard as they raced into a 2-0 lead within 16 minutes through goals from Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
The final score could have been much worse for Chelsea had it not been for a string of saves by Kepa Arrizabalaga and wasteful Spurs finishing.
Chelsea’s hopes of a second-half comeback were destroyed by a goal of individual brilliance from South Korean winger Son Heung-min who ran half the length of the pitch as he outpaced Jorginho and wrong-footed David Luiz before shooting past Arrizabalaga.
Sarri had warned before the game that Chelsea’s strong start to the season risked running out of steam, in large part because of the unfocused way they began matches.
“I knew very well that we had a lot of problems to solve and I think that today was clear for everybody,” he told reporters.
“I told (the players) in the last two weeks that we had a big problem with the approach to the match and today we had the same problem.”
Sarri lamented the “disaster” of his side’s defensive work and Chelsea were just as ineffective in attack, forcing the manager to substitute out-of-form striker Alvaro Morata and play Hazard as the focal point of a forlorn attack.
Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino said he wanted the win to serve as a template for the rest of the season.
“The attitude and the will were fantastic,” the Argentine said. “The challenge now is to keep that level of competition... We need to realise that with the right attitude we are team that can compete at this level.”
Reporting by Bill Schomberg, editing by Ed Osmond