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Chelsea defeats Tottenham in London Derby

Jose Mourinho was right: It is easy to manage Chelsea, especially if their adversaries play like his Tottenham Hotspur team did in a 1-0 loss to the Blues.

The Tottenham manager had a wry smile on his face when suggesting in the prematch new conference that “I don’t think it’s very difficult to coach” the Blues, citing his success there as a manager in addition to league titles for Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte.

This was Thomas Tuchel’s first big test since succeeding Frank Lampard, but he cannot have imagined it would ever be this comfortable, even if Thursday’s scoreline suggests a degree of jeopardy right until the end.

The outcome was only in doubt because of Chelsea’s profligacy in front of goal, a hangover from the Lampard era that Tuchel will need longer than 10 days to fix. It reflects well on him that there are clear signs of adjustment already, however, with the Blues adapting quickly to a 3-4-3 system and a demand for short, sustained passing paired with a high defensive line and regular interchanging of positions.

If there were any early nerves, Spurs’ passive approach permitted the visitors to settle, just as was the case a week earlier when a fragile Liverpool team were allowed to find their rhythm to emerge with a comfortable away victory over Mourinho’s team.

Tottenham ceded the initiative from the outset, relying on the contain-and-counter style that briefly threatened to see them enter the Premier League title race, particularly after beating Manchester City 2-0 in November.

That day, they had four shots in 90 minutes, scoring with their only two on target. They had seven on Thursday night, the principal difference being that Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min were then in the midst of a devastatingly efficient run — far outperforming their expected goal return for those who place importance on such statistics — and at the back, Eric Dier was marshaling an extremely well-organized defense to force their opponents into over-committing players.

Spurs have lost their way defensively since and, without Kane, there is nobody able to link the play to maximize Son’s counter-attacking threat.

Once again, none of Chelsea’s attacking players found the net. They needed goals from Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso to beat Burnley, but Tuchel once again found a framework in which his off-form players could still be threatening.

Callum Hudson-Odoi was again a menace in a more advanced position, while Mason Mount proved he is far more than a Lampard pet project, excelling again and the unluckiest not to score.

Spurs never got themselves in a position to capitalize, and the lack of attacking intent calls Mourinho’s methodology into question. He remains capable of securing one-off results — and there is an EFL Cup Final to come in April — but the suspicion remains it is extremely tough to triumph over a 38-game season with such conservatism. This post-Manchester United Mourinho was supposed to be more adaptable.

Mourinho can point to the absence of Kane, Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso, but ostracising Dele Alli — injured for this game — and limiting Gareth Bale’s involvement (he was an unused substitute here) appear increasingly counterintuitive. And in any case, this looks like being a season defined at the top end even more than usual by the teams that cope with their absentees the best.

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