LONDON — Chelsea and Tottenham played out an entertaining 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
[ VIDEO: Costa heading for exit? ]
Here’s three things we learned from the Lane on Sunday.
FALSE NINE WORKS
With Diego Costa dropped to the bench, those rumors of Jose Mourinho searching for an alternative striker to arrive in January where further fueled on Sunday. In his place Eden Hazard started up front with Pedro, Oscar and Willian in a false nine formation. To a degree, especially in the first half, it worked a treat as Hazard made diagonal runs in-behind Spurs’ defense and searching balls from Willian and Cesc Fabregas found him on multiple occasions.
The formation made Chelsea unpredictable and more stable as a defensive unit. Mourinho hasn’t used this ploy in the PL since April 25 2015, when his side went to Arsenal and ground out a 0-0 win with both Costa and Loic Remy out injured. On that occasion Oscar played in the higher role but Hazard wandered around up top on occasions. On Sunday, Hazard stretched Spurs’ backline and didn’t allow their defenders a moments peace.
As for Costa, he cut a frustrated figure as he warmed up late in the second half alongside two teenagers, Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both of those players came off the bench but Costa did not as his angry reaction at being given instructions by Mourinho (plus him appearing to throw his substitute bib at Mourinho in the video above) during Chelsea’s midweek UEFA Champions League win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv seems to have cost him his starting spot.
Starting up front on his own on, Hazard was given a tough task against Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld but he put in one of his best displays of the season, if not his best. He battled in the air and won his fair share against two, often three, defenders. Hazard chased back, made intelligent runs into the space behind the defense and had chances to score. In the first half he bent a beautiful ball out wide with the outside of his right foot and then timed his run into the box to perfection, sending his header just over.
In the second half he met a looping cross with a beautifully cushioned left-footed volley across goal which Hugo Lloris saved superbly. He was pulling off flicks and tricks with ease and on this showing the reigning PFA Player of the Year from the 2014-15 campaign was relishing his role in leading Chelsea’s fluid, energetic offensive quartet. Hazard isn’t quite back to his best but he’s getting there and was the best player on the pitch on Sunday.
BRUTAL BATTLE TYPIFIES COACHES
Both dressed in smartly tailored coats with their hands in their pockets standing on the edge of the technical, Pochettino and Mourinho’s similarities were not only visible in their pitch-side demeanor but in the way their teams played on the pitch on Sunday. When Pochettino was pondering a move to Southampton in the Premier League back in January 2013, it was Mourinho who not only recommended him but was the man who gave Tottenham’s boss advice on coaching in England.
The duo have different playing philosophies they preach to their players with Pochettino’s high-pressing style a sub-product of Marcelo Bielsa but on Sunday it was difficult to tell the two teams apart — Kane’s early chance set the tone for this encounter with him clattering into Asmir Begovic after Danny Rose‘ teasing cross — as both sets of players flew into challenges and tried to force the issue with quick counters.
Perhaps that is a bigger compliment to Pochettino than Mourinho, as the 43-year-old Argentine coach has turned Spurs into genuine top four contenders this season, while Mourinho’s Chelsea dug deep but lacked composure in the final third. Almost 10 years younger, it’s not hard to imagine that Pochettino could one day replace Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Given their jovial attitude towards one another on the sidelines in a heated London derby, Pochettino would get Mourinho’s approval as his mission to turn Spurs into a top four team continues to move in a positive direction.