Few things in football are as captivating as a last-minute equaliser. Even more so in a derby, and even more so among direct competitors.
Yet, at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, despite Harry Kane’s header scraping a point for Tottenham Hotspur against London rivals Chelsea in the dying moments of the game, the two opposing managers took the headlines at the full-time whistle.
Antonio Conte, the last manager to win the Premier League at Chelsea but now at Spurs, squared up to his counterpart Thomas Tuchel when Spurs equalised to make the game 1-1 in the second half. Both managers were booked by the referee for the scuffle.
Reece James replied quickly to put Chelsea back in the lead, and Tuchel ran across the Stamford Bridge touchline, and a dejected Conte, in celebration. So, as the final whistle blew with Tottenham stealing a draw, the two came to blows again, this time Tuchel being the aggressor amid the customary handshake at the full-time whistle.
Tuchel’s actions, albeit immature in hindsight, were in line with the disappointment felt by his side to let a lead slip twice. Chelsea were the better team for much of the game, with 64% possession and a lion’s share of the chances.
“I thought when we shake hands you looked in each other’s eyes,” Chelsea’s head coach Tuchel said. “He had a different opinion. It was not necessary but a lot of things were not necessary. It was hot from the temperature, hot between the benches, hot on the field and hot between the spectators – everything you want and hope for in a match like this early in the season,” said a smiling Tuchel.
Tuchel also directed his ire at the referee Anthony Taylor, saying that it would be better if Taylor didn’t referee any Chelsea games. The fans of the club have had historical grudges against Taylor; 80,000 had signed an online petition last season asking for Taylor to not referee in a Chelsea game.
Tuchel concurred with that wish. “Maybe that would be better,” Tuchel said. “Maybe it would be better but we also have VAR to help make the right decisions. Since when can players be pulled by their hair? Since when is that? If he does not see it, I don’t blame him. I didn’t see it but we have people at VAR who check this and then you see it and then what? How can this not be a free-kick and how can it not be a red card? How? This does not even have to do with the referee in this case. If he does not see something that’s why we have people to check if there is a decisive error going on.”
Tuchel could be penalised for his comments. “I can assure you that the whole dressing room, every single person thinks that,” he said. “I cannot understand how the first goal is not offside. And I cannot understand since when players can pull other people’s hair and stay on the pitch and attack in the last corner. This for me is without any explanation and I don’t want to accept it. I have no words for it. I am curious what the explanation is for that, but both goals should not stand, and then it’s a fair result. We were brilliant and we deserved to win.”
The Blues were effective in the first half, especially after Kalidou Koulibaly’s screaming volley sent them into an early lead. N’Golo Kante, prior to him coming off due to injury, put in a trademark shift in midfield, breaking play up and allowing Chelsea to dictate the rhythm. James, deployed on the right side of a back three as opposed to his usual role at right wing-back, dealt with the threat posed by Heung-min Son by marking him out of the game. Kai Havertz and Mason Mount pressed from the front and provided moments of good chemistry and touch.
But missed opportunities casted a shadow over the home team’s performance. Raheem Sterling squandered a chance at the hour mark, shortly followed by Spurs’ Kane missing an easy chance himself. At 1-1, Havertz missed a sitter from James’ superbly-weighted cross, and at 2-1, substitute Conor Gallagher’s poor decision-making stopped them from doubling their lead.
Conte’s side were second-best for much of the game. Pierre-Emile Hojberg and Rodrigo Bentancur’s midfield partnership looked unconvincing (despite the former’s long-range equaliser), as Chelsea’s wing-backs Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marc Cucurella moved narrow to overrun them, and left plenty of space to create overlaps down the wings. The North-London team did not threaten until they overloaded Chelsea’s defensive third with the introduction of a fourth attacker in Richarlison.
There were contentious referee decisions – a foul on Havertz and an offside shout for Richarlison – in the buildup to Spurs’ first goal, and their last-minute equaliser followed VAR failing to penalise Cristian Romero for pulling Cucurella’s hair on the pitch.
Ultimately, both managers and their feud will take the headlines. And with that, a largely uneventful match turned into a contentious derby that is likely to be talked about until their next league meeting in February.