LONDON — The most chaotic, frenzied and mesmerizing game of the — and perhaps any — Premier League season ended with Tottenham Hotspur fans paying tribute to their manager Ange Postecoglou, after losing 4-1 to Chelsea on Monday.
Spurs’ commitment to “Angelball” is absolute, no matter what happens. If there’s any takeaway from these utterly absurd 111 minutes — yes, there were 21 minutes of added time — it’s that Postecoglou insists on playing his own way and won’t be compromised by any imaginable incident within the parameters of a football match.
After sitting at the door of the Antonio Conte era where Tottenham were often allergic to attack, fans in this part of north London embraced Postecoglou’s high-octane, high-wire style that took them to the top of the Premier League after a 10-game unbeaten run. .
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So, it’s hard to grumble with his philosophy given the dated returns — but it was the best and worst of Postecoglou’s style on a ridiculous night, which featured nine VAR checks, five disallowed goals, two injuries, two red cards, a hat-trick, a penalty and a Manager is booked.
“It’s quite difficult to process,” said Postecoglou, who joined Spurs in the summer. “The game was almost impossible to analyze because it just seemed out of control for large parts of it. Disappointed with the result but really proud of the players, they gave everything and that’s the positive we’ll take.”
Dejan Kulusevski opened the scoring in what has now become a customary fast start for Tottenham, his sixth-minute shot deflecting off Chelsea defender Levi Colwill, sparking a frenzy that did not abate throughout the evening.
How different a 13th minute strike from Tottenham forward Heung-Min Son could have been. The South Korean deftly side-footed home Brennan Johnson’s left-wing cross as the din inside the stunning arena threatened to engulf Chelsea — but a tight offside call went right in their favour.
What followed was a gradual loss of control from Tottenham. Destiny Udogi was lucky to receive only a yellow card for a two-legged challenge on Raheem Sterling, while Cristian Romero was also lucky to avoid any sanction for kicking Colwill.
Postecoglou was also trapped in the wild. Usually an unassuming presence on the sidelines, Postecoglou was furious when flagged for offside but tried to play an advantage for Spurs only to give the ball away under pressure. Referee Michael Oliver booked Postecoglou for the first time as a manager since joining the club.
Sterling had a goal disallowed, as did Moises Caesdo, but in the build-up, VAR saw Romero use too much power to tackle Enzo Fernandez. Romero was sent off and Chelsea had a spot-kick, which Cole Palmer converted.
Jackson had another goal disallowed for offside before Spurs lost Mickey van de Ven to a hamstring injury and James Maddison to an ankle problem. Indeed, after all the substitutions — and Udogi’s 55th-minute second yellow for another reckless, stupid lunge on Sterling — Spurs finished the game with just four of their starting 11 players on the field.
But Tottenham will not bow down.
Despite having nine men and a back four, with a centre-back pairing of Emerson Royale and Eric Dier at left-back — making his first appearance of the season — and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Spurs played an absurdly high defensive line. And despite the answer being relatively simple – the ball over the top to connect with a well-timed run – the combination seems to flummox Chelsea, who have found scoring difficult this season.
Spurs lasted as long as they took nine players, eventually succumbing to a simple Jackson finish from Sterling’s pass on 75 minutes, due to a combination of Chelsea’s lack of cohesion and some heroic goalkeeping by Guglielmo Vicario, who was not fit to finish. Around four in the night. But it was a product of Spurs going forward with their chin, continuing with a high line that allowed Chelsea to score the same goal twice more, the first assisted by Connor Gallagher, the second by Palmer and both converted by Jackson.
“It’s just who we are, friends,” Postecoglou said. “That’s who we are and who we’ll be as long as I’m here.
Chelsea’s much-aligned forward, Jackson, will be confident of his hat-trick in this one-sided result, but it was a uniquely absurd situation that allowed the visitors to practice attacking tactics for the final 35 minutes. It took Chelsea so long to translate their numerical superiority onto the score line that the final margin of victory built up excitement.
The result could be fatal for Spurs. Van de Ven left the stadium on crutches, Romero has been banned for three matches and Maddison’s return date is currently unknown.
The last word here should go to Mauricio Pochettino. All the pregame talk centered on the former Tottenham coach’s emotional comeback that he managed, but apart from a few angry outbursts as Chelsea pulled it off, it was a satisfying return to a night that epitomized glorious bedlam. Premier League is.
“I’m very happy because the three points mean a lot for us,” Pochettino said. “We’re in a situation where we have to win points. I’m happy to come back and see people I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to. The most important win for me. It’s Tottenham and nothing else. That’s why it’s special.”
After a win that eased some of the pressure on him after Chelsea’s underwhelming start, he greeted several of Tottenham’s coaching staff with long hugs — none more so than assistant coach Ryan Mason — before cuddling up to his son on the pitch he calls home.
It’s Postecoglou’s home now, however, and if it needed confirmation, the PA system picks up for Robbie Williams’ song “Angels” as the fans leave, a song reworked to pay tribute to the new manager.
Tottenham fans may lose to their bitter rivals, but with Pochettino at home, they love “Big Ange” instead.