Opinion: Bloodied but unbowed and still top

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

That look by Joe Rodon said it all—bloodied lip, dirty shirt, grimace but defiance. “That all you got?” It was hardly a master class, it was often ugly, there were several missed opportunities, we were dismal on the ball for much of the second half, Hugo had to make the one world class save needed to preserve the point. But if you had said, Jose’s recent Sky interview to the contrary, before the kickoff would you take a point? In a ground where we have won once in the last 34 games? Of course. If you had said eight days ago, would you take four points from these two—the toughest contests so far of the year? Ditto. And now we want and need only the full three in the NLD, and stop any dreams of them being the ones that topple us from our lofty position and begin to seed doubt about just where we can finish this year.

As for the game, the first half grew progressively better as we were in fact, Gary Neville’s inane commentary to the contrary, not playing as we did against City. We were playing the ball out from the back nearly every time we regained possession, and after some early nerviness by Rodon making his first start, generally got pretty good at it. 

Chelsea’s chances other than the disallowed goal where Werner was a yard, not an inch or foot, offside, were all pretty contained. Whereas Bergwijn had a golden opportunity which he skied over the bar, and Aurier’s screamer was inches away from darting past Mendy for what would have been the winner. And then it all stopped. 

For whatever reason, I thought we were poor with the ball almost from the whistle in the second half. Poor passing (Eric Dier was a particularly bad offender with Sergio Reguilon not much better on the left), failure to win second balls, and bereft of ideas once we did on those rare occasions get the ball past midfield. No one shone, no one made a killer mistake. But if Tammy Abraham had been replaced by Olivier Giroud a half hour earlier we might easily have lost this game. And Chelsea to their credit got much more physical—the spate of yellow cards were proof that Frank told them to boss the game no matter what.

And yet nothing changed. Hugo made the one big save from Mount, the back line held, and by the final ten minutes it was obvious that Jose was holding out for a draw and if Chelsea handed us a chance to win it, that was gravy. Well, gravy arrived in the form of Kurt Zouma and I still don’t what Gio was thinking. Here was a chance for an Argentine—the only one on the pitch—to win the biggest game in England this weekend and bow down to the God that was Maradona as he did it. A hard shot. A dink and then a shot. A look for Kane or someone else in space. No—what we got was a wasteful, ineffective chipped ball to nowhere. But that’s OK— he got the clincher last week and there will be plenty of chances forthcoming. I think if there’s a negative from this game it may be the same as the positive—the centre back pairing did not concede a goal, but that same twosome made mistakes—Rodon in the first half, Dier in the second—that Arsenal and others will identify as possible weaknesses going forward. There were niggles about things Sissoko or Hojgberg didn’t do, a couple of wasteful possessions from Ndombele as he continues to show how dynamic and tough he can be, Bergwijn’s miss and some other sloppiness, and a quiet game from Son and Kane. But they don’t detract from the result—a point in one of the toughest away games we will face all season.

The same experts who mark Chelsea as the more serious title threat are already saying Lampard will be the happiest with this point—how do they sleep at night with all the hypocrisy? I could care less. Liverpool do not look a thing game to game like last season. The two Manchester sides played better this weekend—but we have six from six against them so there. “That all you got?”  Our Welshman making his first start says it all. Bloody us all you want. Even try to bully us. We aren’t going anywhere. Not this season. Not with this manager. Not with these players.


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