Juan Mata struck twice as Chelsea maintained their grip on the top of the English Premier League table with a 4-2 victory yesterday over former manager Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
The match had been billed as an opportunity for Villas-Boas to hit back at the club who dismissed him last March after just nine months in charge.
However, it was Roberto Di Matteo, his successor and former assistant at Stamford Bridge, who had most to savor with the Blues maintaining their unbeaten start to the season.
Gary Cahill — in at center-back for Chelsea’s suspended captain John Terry — had given the Blues a first half lead and Mata struck twice after William Gallas and Jermain Defoe had put the home side ahead.
Mata then completed the job by teeing up Daniel Sturridge for the fourth in second-half injury time.
Terry may have been absent as he started his four-game domestic ban after being found guilty by the Football Association of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand last October, but he still dominated the build-up to this London derby.
Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck revealed before kick-off that the club had imposed a “very, very heavy fine” on the player but that Terry would remain the team’s captain.
Villas-Boas, meanwhile, had identified Chelsea’s defeat at QPR and the confrontation between Terry and Ferdinand as the moment his brief reign at Stamford Bridge started to unravel.
The Portuguese had maintained personal revenge was not on the agenda ahead of his first reunion with his former club and the warm handshakes between Villas-Boas and the Chelsea staff and players suggested relations between the benches remained warm.
There was enough at stake, however, without any extra scores to settle with both teams anxious to build on impressive starts to the campaign and reinforce their status as title challengers.
Villas-Boas was forced into a late change when Gareth Bale withdrew after his partner went into labor, with Tom Huddlestone stepping into the starting line-up while veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel was recalled in place of Hugo Lloris.
It was the home side who carved out the first opening of the game when Gallas miscued a third-minute volley after being picked out by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free-kick.
It was Chelsea who settled more quickly and Cahill’s goal came after a period of steady pressure during which the home defense had appeared increasingly shaky.
Gallas in particular had looked unconvincing and it was his poor clearing header from Eden Hazard’s corner that fell invitingly for Cahill to deliver a stinging volley from the edge of the area that flew in under Friedel’s crossbar.
Tottenham responded immediately with Defoe testing Petr Cech with a low left foot drive that the ‘keeper failed to hold, forcing Ashley Cole to hack the ball away before American Clint Dempsey got there.
Then with 30 minutes gone, the hosts’ Aaron Lennon delivered a cross to the far post that fell to Sigurdsson who pulled a left foot shot wide.
Defoe saw an angled strike headed off the line by Cole on the stroke of half-time, but it was Chelsea who were the dominant side during the first half.
Had Mata found the target instead of firing over from just 10m after Friedel failed to hold his initial shot, they would have reached the interval with a more comfortable advantage.
Spurs responded well after the break with Gallas heading them level following Huddlestone’s free-kick in the 46th minute, with Defoe making it 2-1 in the 55th with an opportunist finish.
However, Chelsea managed to recover their composure and Mata brought the scores level 10 minutes later after another poor Gallas clearance.
The Spaniard then put the visitors ahead with an excellent angled finish in the 69th minute and Sturridge killed off the game from close range at the death.