In the future, when the story of this season is told in one of those “Premier League Years” documentaries, this game will already be legendary.
Back in 2016, after the battle at White Hart Lane, Tottenham was in disarray. And even though they ended Chelsea’s title hopes with a resounding 4-1 victory, it still doesn’t quite explain what happened. Not even from a distance.
The Spurs sent two of their players packing, only four of their starting eleven from the beginning of the match remained on the field,
five disallowed goals, eight VAR checks, a total of 21 additional minutes, six yellow cards – with none for the manager, Jose Postecoglou – and yet it doesn’t tell the full story.
Neither does it belong to Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson’s hat-trick nor to Spurs’ goalkeeper Guilhermo Vicario’s heroic display.
No, maybe it was when Jackson scored his second goal, confirming the result, and then his third, even in injury time, that wrapped it up. As he tapped it close to home, Spurs fans showed their appreciation, applauding their remaining players.
This epitomizes the madness of it all. How often do you see a team losing convincingly in such a fierce derby and still receiving such a positive response? How often do you witness a team effectively self-destruct and still snatch a famous draw from the jaws of defeat?
What if Spurs’ new signing Rodrigo Bentancur had somehow failed to put that free-kick in from a few yards out, with a clear sign of a goal on the horizon?
It was a strange mix of relief for Chelsea, weirdly, as it was still a subdued, disjointed performance, and one where they couldn’t quite manage what was happening.
Maybe it was poetic that the chaos was unsettled, but how comical it was that it was Spurs, of all teams, who should have been scoring, and claiming what they surely claim to be the most famous of draws.
And all of this in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs return. The event, along with the debate about how he would be welcomed by the home fans, which came up, became almost an afterthought.
It should also be remembered that Pochettino was the manager seven years ago when they played Chelsea to a draw and handed the league title to Leicester City.
On that night, without a doubt, Spurs lost their heads, albeit bizarrely, as there were no red cards because referee Mark Clattenburg allowed them – in his words – “to self-destruct.”
For this game, the league’s finest referee, Michael Oliver, was in charge, and there was even a risk of such capable officials losing control, especially in that remarkable first half.
Clearly, it was a war zone, and while VAR Jon Brooks made every decision right – except for missing a potentially red card for Romero, as he kicked out at Levi Colwill – he often took a lot of time to get there.
This meant that despite remembering Dejan Kulusevski’s goal, which opened the scoring, it felt like a hazy, distant memory. Spurs had gotten past Chelsea, and it felt unfortunate for Pochettino because they had fallen behind, as they struggled to apply pressure and Kulusevski’s shot took a heavy deflection.
But as much as the red card was an allegation that Spurs had lost their way again, the consequence was the penalty that allowed Cole Palmer to equalize the game for Chelsea.
It was also confusing because initially, Moises Caicedo’s goal was ruled out as offside, before the replay revealed that Romero had fouled Enzo Fernandez. He had to go, and after joining Spurs, it was his fourth dismissal.
Injuries took their toll, and Postecoglou had to reorganize with Eric Dier – who hadn’t played a single minute in this campaign – coming on. He had to reorganize again when Destiny Udogie, who had already been booked, received a second caution for a foolish challenge on Raheem Sterling. He sprinted in the opposite direction of the net.
As Pochettino tried to calm his players, he clearly demanded more discipline and called for a “pass and move” strategy against nine men.
It worked, as Vicario sweeper, keeping a high line, demanded, and Chelsea started feeling the pressure. Did they need to score? But when they did, still, with Jackson’s initial display, Spurs didn’t give up, and the sight of them pinning Chelsea back was extraordinary.