LONDON — The most chaotic, frenetic and mesmeric game of this — and possibly any — Premier League season ended with Tottenham Hotspur fans singing tributes to their manager, Ange Postecoglou, after losing 4-1 at home to Chelsea on Monday.
Spurs’ commitment to “Angeball” is absolute, no matter what mayhem it delivers. If any sense can be taken from this utterly absurd 111 minutes — yes, there were 21 minutes of added time — it is that Postecoglou’s insistence on playing his way will not be compromised by any event conceivable within the parameters of a football match.
Having sat through the dour Antonio Conte era in which Tottenham often looked allergic to attacking, supporters in this part of north London have embraced Postecoglou’s high-octane, high-wire style that had taken them to the top of the Premier League after 10 unbeaten games.
It is, therefore, difficult to quibble with his philosophy given the returns to date — but this was arguably the best and worst of Postecoglou’s style encapsulated in one ludicrous night, which featured nine VAR checks, five disallowed goals, two injuries, two red cards, one hat trick, one penalty and one manager booked.
“It is pretty hard to process,” said Postecoglou, who joined Spurs in the summer. “It is almost impossible to analyse the game because it just seemed to get out of control for large parts of it. Disappointed by the result but really proud of the players, they gave everything and that is the positive we will take.”
Dejan Kulusevski opened the scoring in what has now become a customary fast start by Tottenham, his sixth-minute shot deflected in off Chelsea defender Levi Colwill to spark a level of pandemonium which did not subside all evening.
How different things might have been had the 13th-minute strike from Tottenham forward Heung-Min Son counted. The South Korean deftly side-footed home Brennan Johnson‘s left-wing cross as the cacophony of noise inside this stunning arena threatened to consume Chelsea — but a tight offside call correctly went in their favour.
What followed was a gradual loss of control from Tottenham. Destiny Udogie was fortunate to receive only a yellow card for a two-footed challenge on Raheem Sterling, while Cristian Romero was also lucky to escape any sort of sanction for kicking out at Colwill.
Postecoglou also got caught up in the feral atmosphere. Usually an unflustered presence on the sideline, Postecoglou was incensed when the officials flagged for an offside but tried to play an advantage only for Spurs to give the ball away under pressure. Referee Michael Oliver booked Postecoglou for the manager’s first time since he joined the club.
Sterling had a goal disallowed, as did Moisés Caicedo, but in the build-up, VAR spotted Romero’s use of excessive force in tackling Enzo Fernández. Romero was sent off and Chelsea had a spot-kick, which Cole Palmer converted.
Jackson had another goal disallowed for offside before Spurs lost Micky van de Ven to a hamstring injury and James Maddison to an ankle problem. In fact, after all the substitutions — and Udogie’s 55th-minute second yellow for another reckless, foolish lunge on Sterling — Spurs ended this game with only four of their starting 11 players on the field.
But Tottenham would not be bowed.
Despite having nine men and a back four containing Emerson Royal at left-back and a centre-back pairing of Eric Dier — on his first appearance of the season — and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Spurs continued to play with an absurdly high defensive line. And despite the answer being relatively simple — ball over the top to connect with a well-timed run — the combination seemed to flummox Chelsea, who have found goals difficult to come by this season.
The fact Spurs lasted as long as they did with nine players, eventually succumbing to a simple Jackson finish from Sterling’s pass on 75 minutes, owed to a combination of Chelsea’s lack of cohesion and some heroic goalkeeping by Guglielmo Vicario, who did not deserve to end the night conceding four. But that’s a product of Spurs leading with their chin, continuing with a high line that allowed Chelsea to score the same goal twice more, the first assisted by Conor Gallagher, the second by Palmer and both converted by Jackson.
“It is just who we are, mate,” Postecoglou said. “It is who we are and who we will be for as long as I am here. If we go down to five men, we will have a go.”
Chelsea’s much-maligned forward, Jackson, will take confidence from his hat trick in this lopsided result, but this was a uniquely absurd set of circumstances that effectively allowed the visitors to play an attacking training exercise for the final 35 minutes. The fact it took Chelsea so long to translate their numerical superiority to the score line tempers enthusiasm about the final margin of victory.
The fallout from this could be severe for Spurs. Van de Ven left the stadium on crutches, Romero is banned for three games and Maddison’s return date is currently unknown.
The last word here should go to Mauricio Pochettino. All the pregame talk focused on the ex-Tottenham coach’s emotional return to the team he used to manage, but aside from a few angry outbursts as Chelsea laboured to close this out, this was a satisfying return on a night that epitomised the glorious bedlam that is the Premier League.
“I am so happy because the three points means a lot for us,” Pochettino said. “We are in a situation when we need to win points. I am happy to come back and see people I didn’t get the chance to say bye too. Most important for me is the win. It is Tottenham and it is not more special because of that.”
After a win that eases a little of the pressure on him after Chelsea’s underwhelming start, he greeted several of Tottenham’s coaching staff with a lengthy embrace — none more so than assistant coach Ryan Mason — before a hug with Son in the middle of the pitch he used to call home.
This is Postecoglou’s house now, however, and if confirmation of that was needed, the PA system opted for Robbie Williams’ song “Angels” as fans drifted out, the reworked lyrics paying homage to their new manager.
Tottenham fans may have lost to their bitter rivals, but with Pochettino in the house, they’re loving “Big Ange” instead.