Tottenham Hotspur cemented their claim for Champions League football next season with a point against Chelsea as they got the upper hand over the Blues in the race for fourth place. The fixture at a sun-drenched Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon had all the promise of a classic derby day with many dubbing it as the ‘£50m match’ but this never materialised. Chances were at a premium as Spurs remained five points clear of Chelsea, who face a difficult run-in with trips to Liverpool and Arsenal looming. Spurs can focus on returning to winning ways after earning just three points from a possible 18 and the prospect of an FA Cup tie against Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday. Chelsea will need to pick themselves up as they travel to Portugal for a tricky first-leg encounter against Benfica in their Champions League quarter-final.
If ever there was an advert for why the Premier League shouldn’t be played in the summer months then Saturday’s London derby was it. The theme for a drab encounter was set in the first half as neither side managed to capture the imagination. Tottenham were content to pass the ball along their defence, while Chelsea left them to it, unwilling to toil in the spring heat. The second half continued in the same vein, with Spurs eventually injecting a bit of life into the game as Rafael van der Vaart came close to scoring a winner in the final 10 minutes. The soaring temperatures left both sets of players lacking energy and the tempo of what should have been a thrilling top-of-the-table encounter was a dull affair.
Scott Parker maintained his profile as the consummate professional against Chelsea and England should look no further than the Spurs midfielder to captain the national side at Euro 2012. Caretaker manager Stuart Pearce was present as Parker tirelessly roamed the Stamford Bridge pitch, and helped his side to their third clean sheet in 10 league games. The 31-year-old is fearless and his appetite for the game ensures that he could easily slot into any side in the world – his superb leadership qualities are a bonus. Parker’s sensible approach was epitomised in the 68th minute. His Tottenham team-mate Van der Vaart was incensed after Martin Atkinson awarded a free-kick against the Dutchman but as the former Real Madrid star looked destined to receive a booking, Parker stepped in and pacified the situation.
Some may question the haste of writing this Chelsea side off but with just eight games remaining, the Blues find themselves in real danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League. Following Saturday’s result, Chelsea trail fourth-placed Spurs by five points and a tough fixture list means this could be the first season since Roman Abramovich took over that the London outfit miss out on Champions League football. If this were to happen, the damage may be irreparable. The Russian billionaire is not the forgiving type and if Roberto di Matteo cannot transform the club’s fortunes, the Blues will face wholesale changes in the summer. The Chelsea owner will not hesitate to consign a few established names to the club’s history books. Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry have particularly failed to impress this season, and their role in the Andre Villas-Boas turmoil may have hastened their exit.
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