LONDON – Tottenham and Chelsea fought to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane tonight in a fascinating, frustrating encounter that leaves both sides trailing the Manchester giants at Christmas. It was not what either side wanted, but the good folks of London saw an amazing thriller.
It was a shame that both managers told their teams to tighten up after the interval, reducing what had been a brawl into a mere boxing match. On the evidence, Tottenham plays the better brand of football, yet Chelsea just might have the better players. Spurs have the speed and width to pull teams apart, but cannot sustain the pressure. Chelsea doesn't seem able to put any pressure on their opponents, but their defense-first game has a deadly counter. Tonight, both teams showed the benefits and faults of their approaches and the result was just.
Predictably, Chelsea's John Terry was the designated villain. Less predictably, he was also the best player on the field, securing a point for his under-fire Blues and shrugging off the jeers from the crowd.
It's impossible to talk about the game without talking about Terry, so let's get it over with. He was greeted tonight with a riot of chants from the stands. Several of those questioned his character, some questioned his sexual preference (odd, considering the incident with Wayne Bridge's girlfriend), and none of them are printable. The response of the Chelsea fans was a chant referencing the Tottenham riots, illustrating the level of discourse on hand.
Terry's character is very much in question. After all, this is the same gent who taunted American tourists the day after the 9/11 attacks (fined two week's wages), sold illegal tours of Chelsea's grounds (brushed off) and had his armband removed after the Wayne Bridge imbroglio. The latest example of his judgment has him facing criminal charges for his alleged racial slur on QPR's Anton Ferdinand.
Interestingly enough, the court trying Terry asked the media not to repeat the alleged phrase, fearing it would "prejudice the case." This shows a lack of understanding of what "prejudice" really is, as well as a cloudy grasp of the modern media age; as his alleged slur is all over the papers and Twitter. To drive home the point, the Times printed it this morning.
And yet his club stands behind him. Andre Villas-Boas played him without compunction. England national team manager Fabio Capello saw fit to declare that he knows "what kind of character" Terry has. Good for him, and us, as we now know what kind of character Mr. Capello possesses as well.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to argue that Terry is as dismal a footballer as he appears to be as a human being. Critics might argue that he sets himself up off the field to overcome it on the field, and there's certainly a psychology paper to be had there. Tonight, having to cover after inconsistent John Obi Mikel and injured Branislav Ivanovic, Terry was simply immaculate. His lost step and careless marking were not evident tonight.
Spurs might have won the game if not for his late intervention and careful stewardess of his area for much of the night. He was blameless on the play that led to Emmanuel Adebayor's goal, and while he cannot be given credit for helping find the equalizer at the hands of the irrepressible Daniel Sturridge, he sure did tighten things up for AVB's side.
Both clubs showed they are not out of the Premier League running yet, no matter what the folks in Manchester might think this holiday.