LONDON — Three thoughts from Tottenham 1-2 Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.
1. Wembley woe for Tottenham
Just like last season’s FA Cup semifinal defeat to Chelsea, Tottenham probably did not deserve to lose this game.
But they did, and the manner of this defeat means it is far more damaging than the one in April. Michy Batshuayi’s own goal eight minutes from time, cancelling out Marcos Alonso’s 22nd-minute free kick, appeared to have salvaged a deserved point for the hosts, which would have dampened talk of their Wembley hoodoo and increased confidence ahead of next weekend’s match against Burnley here.
Instead, Alonso scored again on 87 minutes to seal a 2-1 victory for Chelsea, leaving Tottenham with one win in 11 at Wembley and four straight defeats to their London rivals at their temporary home.
Mauricio Pochettino has repeatedly called for Spurs to make this place feel “like home” and the club has gone to great lengths to do so. The golden cockerels that adorned the roof of White Hart Lane have been relocated to Wembley’s tunnel and every supporter was given a plastic flag, just as at the Lane’s emotional finale in May. That created an impressive spectacle, and when they found their feet, there was no shortage of noise from the home support. The club’s decision to pipe drum sounds into the stadium over the speaker system, abandoned at half-time, felt unnecessary given the attendance of 73,587 — a Premier League record for the club.
Despite all that effort, Spurs simply did not look at ease on the pitch, and this group of players have now failed to win in five out of six attempts here. Pochettino insisted on Friday that Spurs will not change their approach at Wembley but the manager experimented with a new formation, opting for 4-3-3 with Eric Dier in midfield, perhaps to go man-for-man with Chelsea’s trio of N’Golo Kante, David Luiz and debutant Tiemoue Bakayoko. More unfamiliarity was probably not what Spurs needed, though, and they looked out of sorts in the early exchanges. An unmarked Alvaro Morata squandered a simple header before Alonso’s opener — a superb direct free kick, just as in the FA Cup semifinal.
Dele Alli left a foot on Luiz 25 yards from goal and Alonso did the rest, curling a beauty past Hugo Lloris and into the top corner. The goal sparked Tottenham into life and either side of half time they battered Chelsea’s goal relentlessly, Harry Kane coming the closest with a curling shot that rebounded off the post.
Just as it was beginning to look like yet another one of those days for Spurs at Wembley, substitute Batshuayi headed Christian Eriksen’s in-swinging free kick into his own net. Spurs sensed the occasion could be turned into a springboard for the season away from home but instead Alonso broke free and slammed a low shot past Lloris from an angle.
The home fans streamed out of the national stadium with a familiar feeling, sensing this could be a long campaign. They did not lose a single match at White Hart Lane last season, dropping just four points in the entire campaign.
After one match at Wembley, they have already dropped three.
2. Kane and Morata struggle for impact
Pochettino revealed Morata rejected the chance to join Spurs two years ago for fear of competing with Kane and a week after Conte signed the Spain international, he described Kane as his ideal striker. On this evidence, both managers have a point.
Morata was the aiming to become the first Chelsea player since Diego Costa in 2014 to score in his first two Premier League games, and he had the perfect opportunity after five minutes. Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross found Morata in acres of space between two defenders but he planted an easy header an inch wide. Somewhere in Brazil, Costa may have allowed himself a wry smile.
Spurs paid closer attention to Morata after that and he found himself bullied by Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who won the physical battle. As the game went on, Morata was increasingly isolated and Chelsea retreated, so it was perhaps unsurprising he could not hold up the ball. When he was finally presented with a chance on 68 minutes, he refused to use his left foot, cutting inside and allowing Spurs to regroup.
As the second half progressed, it became a case of “when” rather than “if” Morata would be replaced, and Conte finally introduced Batshuayi on 78 minutes. This was only Morata’s second appearance in the Premier League, but it was a showing that justified Conte’s claim he is still adapting to English football.
At the other end, Kane also fired blanks and it is now 12 matches in August without a goal for the England striker. For the second week running, he struck the post with a low drive and he completely miscued a free header in the second half.
It was the type of chance Kane normally scores in his sleep and he looked to the heavens afterwards, head-in-hands, perhaps wondering if he would ever score in the first month of the season.
3. Chelsea width usurps Spurs
Chelsea came into this match with a depleted squad and talk of an early-season crisis. On this evidence, the dire state of Conte’s resources has been exaggerated. For all his problems in the centre, Conte was still able to name Alonso and Victor Moses as wing-backs and the pair proved key to victory. Alonso scored twice and had the beating of a half-fit Kieran Trippier, while Moses beat Ben Davies for pace more than once.
The wide areas were the difference between the teams, as Conte and Pochettino went man-for-man in the middle of the park. While Spurs are more or less the same team that finished last season so well, they do not have Kyle Walker anymore and Danny Rose is injured and facing an uncertain future. This match was proof that the rise of the full-back has not been exaggerated.
Dan is ESPN FC’s Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.