Photo: Adam Davy/PA
A game flickered here in brief moments, and maybe it was something real and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe Chelsea were always destined to win this, to create the moments of quality when it mattered, to wear down and wear down a Tottenham team who are still running around trying to figure out if they’re any good or not . Perhaps they were simply keeping their adversaries at bay and measuring their efforts ahead of a spring that will bring great trials on all four fronts.
They won and in the end there can be few complaints about that. They took the lead early through Jess Carter, reacted well to Beth England’s equalizer and kept up the pressure in the second half. Lauren James secured the moment of the game with an exciting solo goal. And yet. Even before Tottenham’s belated consolation of Nikola Karczewska, there were passages that didn’t feel like a taste of the inevitable Chelsea dominance, moments when Tottenham attacked with speed and a very different kind of battle seemed possible.
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Tottenham’s problem is that they are not sure what these moments actually mean. Should they be proud of this defeat or not? Was it a huge effort against a much better team or a huge missed opportunity to get their season back on track? Is the blue haze in their windshield getting closer, or just getting bigger? Can you really toast to another afternoon of quiet progress when you’re one point above 11th place?
Look at the talent on the pitch – if not necessarily on the bench – and this is a side that should be competing in the top half of the table. But the qualities that were missing here were the very same qualities Chelsea have in abundance: a sense of the game, composure under pressure, the ability to think and work their way through a game.
Chelsea’s third goal from Guro Reiten felt like a prime example of this: a series of errors that led to Celin Bizet misjudging a bouncing ball and Reiten running through on goal. Good workmanship, a little bad luck. But also: how does a team with Tottenham’s ambition manage to stop such a basic goal as this?
Chelsea know who they are and they know what they want. Which isn’t to say they aren’t a perfect team by any means. They were opened more than once. Kadeisha Buchanan was robbed in possession for Tottenham’s opening goal. But Buchanan was fantastic in the second half, and somehow they always seemed to know where the pedal was when a gear was needed. On the sidelines, Emma Hayes and her coaches leaned onto the field and gave a constant stream of advice and tips. And of course it helps if you can get Fran Kirby off the couch.
Then, of course, there’s James, a player who seems to be operating on a different plane at the moment, the point where superior athleticism meets total composure, a kind of artificial intelligence that allows her to move through a game more smoothly than anyone else. otherwise. In hindsight, her 27th-minute goal was the deciding factor here, at a time when Tottenham Hotspur were playing at their best and the game felt most even.
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So Chelsea wins the ball in midfield and James brings it in from the right flank. What is most noticeable from this point on is the sense of calculation. At no point does James seem to accelerate into a sprint; at no point does the ball stray more than a few inches from her course. Everything here is pure patience, pure control, trained feet eating the turf and waiting for the corner to open up. If so, don’t let them fly or shoot with passion. She simply rolls the ball from 14 yards into the part of the goal she knows Tinja-Riikka Korpela cannot reach. It kisses the pole on its way in.
These are the moments Tottenham still can’t produce, the angles they can’t find. Yet there is a promise here. Bizet is a good player. Ashleigh Neville is really nice. Their midfield is good when they realize the ball is an asset rather than a threat. England played a decent game, tapping in an equalizer after some good work from Drew Spence and refusing to celebrate against her former club.
But she also remained sidelined, largely because her peers couldn’t pinpoint her runs fast enough. That felt symbolic of something: the precision isn’t quite there yet because the understanding isn’t quite there yet, and the audience isn’t quite there yet because the team isn’t quite there yet, so Brisbane Road still isn’t. I don’t really feel at home yet. Everyone seems to recognize that something is missing here, but no one can really agree on what. Time? Patience? Investment? A little stardust? Tottenham Hotspur have tried them all in recent years and seem as confused as ever.