For connoisseurs of football managers’ handshakes, this was the reward for those hours of dedication. For everyone else it was the inevitable conclusion to an afternoon that had reached boiling point during a second half of twists, turns and raw vitriol.
Spurs had just salvaged an undeserved draw with Harry Kane’s deflected header and there was little chance, given what had happened, that Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte would part ways with smiles and invitations for a post-match beer. But the sight of the pair clashing for a second time after the final whistle, eyes bulging and throats wailing, was stunning by any measure and will keep FA disciplinarians fully occupied earlier this week.
Both received the red card; both will point fingers and there was plenty of that after Tuchel held Conte’s hand, prompting a furious response from his counterpart. Tuchel felt Conte had shown a lack of respect by not looking him in the eye as they shook: in reality, both sides appeared to be ripe for renewed hostilities after tempers had initially flared with a contentious first draw by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.
It was a follow-up, six years later, to the infamous Battle of the Bridge and there was more to digest in the final half hour than most matches produce in their entirety. Chelsea had deserved their lead, given by a wonderful volley from Kalidou Koulibaly in the 19th minute; they had been quicker, stronger, smarter and more creative than Spurs, while this was one of those days when it looked like several N’Golo Kanté clones had invaded the pitch. But there was a snowball’s chance in Conte’s hell, on his old turf, catching him lying down, and his team finally woke up to fierce consequences.
Tuchel was less than happy to credit Tottenham with that level of agency and he had a point. He believed none of his goals should have stood and there was certainly a huge disconnect when, half a minute before Højbjerg scored, Anthony Taylor opted not to penalize Rodrigo Bentancur’s challenge on a marauding Kai Havertz
It seemed a clear foul; Chelsea still had plenty of chances to snuff out the resulting attack, which ended with a low 20-yard shot that latched onto Koulibaly, but their manager was in no mood to see things that way as there was also reason to complain that Richarlison had been offside. obscured Édouard Mendy’s line of sight.
Instead, he took exception to Conte’s signature celebration, which appeared to be aimed in his direction, by going into the Italian and setting off a short-lived shouting match. The rejection staff and replacements piled in, some more willing to keep the peace than others, and the two men had to be pushed away before a break to cool things down temporarily.
The performances on the pitch crackled excitingly from there. Havertz somehow failed to convert a Reece James cross, but that didn’t seem to matter, from Chelsea’s point of view, as they regained the lead with a goal that summed up their performance. Dejan Kulusevski was pressured to concede possession and, through Kanté and the impressive Raheem Sterling, the ball was played to an open James. A confident finish raised the roof and, again, the temperature – Tuchel unleashed a sprint that finished near the corner flag, this time slotting past Conte without looking. If Chelsea had held on, it could have been the picture that marked the beginning of the new era of Todd Boehly.
Boehly had been greeted before the game, more than a little cloyingly, by a giant banner bearing his likeness that was passed along the Matthew Harding stand. In front, the Shed End displayed a tapestry that read “Welcome to the house of fun, Todd and company.” In the end, this describer understood what this venue had represented. Chelsea looked certain to celebrate victory when Mendy deflected Ben Davies’ header from a corner in the fourth minute of added time and thought he might even end up a player away when VAR reviewed the stoppage-time play, showing clearly enough that Cristian Romero had done the best. pulled Marc Cucurella by the hair as they sent him away.
There was no penalty and when Ivan Perisic delivered from the right, Kane headed home with a light assist from a combination of James and Koulibaly. He had missed a one-on-one at 1-0 and otherwise suffocated, but it’s always dangerous to assume an off day from him. Tuchel’s argument was that Perisic’s corner should never have been taken; it was hard not to sympathize.
It was less easy to feel generous to either manager when they were done, but perhaps anyone who expected this occasion to pass quietly was simply naive. Neither man had let the weather conditions faze him, tirelessly traversing the technical areas from the start, with a rant from Tuchel to Havertz confirming he was duly in control.
When reviewing the football itself, Tuchel will feel his side didn’t do much to be upset about: Koulibaly’s careless finish from a deep Cucurella corner came just after a Havertz blunder and the Chelsea remained in control for most of the game. On another day, although probably overseen by different managers, a very effective outing at right-back from Ruben Loftus-Cheek would have even been worth studying. But this league demands more and more box office fare from its managers and here, like it or not, they forced it. Even if the handshake made heads shake, this was about as convincing as it gets.
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