Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud and Marcos Alonso returned to the starting line-up with stunning effect by grabbing a goal apiece in a crucial 2-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Their goals had a telling effect in the battle between the London rivals for fourth place, with the win cementing Chelsea’s position and preventing Spurs from leapfrogging.
It was only Chelsea’s sixth win in 14 home English Premier League (EPL) games this season.
But it was fully deserved as they remain in fourth, the last UEFA Champions league qualification spot, with 44 points from 27 games, while Tottenham have 40 points.
Such was Chelsea’s dominance that the derby lacked its usual intensity, although there was a flashpoint when Giovani Lo Celso got away with a dreadful tackle on Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta.
The incident went on to prompt another VAR controversy, with the off-field umpire first ruling it was no sending-off and later accepting the decision was a mistake.
A poor run of form had dented Chelsea’s top-four hopes for some time now.
But from the moment French international Giroud, making his first league start since November, rifled a shot past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 15th minute they were in control.
Alonso, back for only his seventh league start under Frank Lampard, doubled the lead three minutes after the break with a thumping finish.
It did give Chelsea a boost ahead of their UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg game at home to Germany’s Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Tottenham, badly missing injured strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, were lacklustre and a late Antonio Rudiger own goal made the contest look closer than it actually was.
The hosts held on comfortably though as Lampard got the better of his former Chelsea boss Mourinho for the second time this season after a 2-0 win at Spurs in December.
The margin of victory should have been bigger with Tottenham’s Lloris making several fine saves and Alonso also curling a free-kick against the bar late on.
“It was a shame about the goal at the end because it gave us a few nervous minutes,” Lampard said.
“I’m delighted for them both (Giroud and Alonso). They are experienced lads and it’s not easy when they are not playing.”
Tottenham’s three-game winning run in the league ended in disappointing fashion and it could have been worse as Lo Celso should have been dismissed in the second half.
The Argentine midfielder appeared to stamp on the shin of Azpilicueta and although it was apparently missed by referee Michael Oliver it was reviewed by VAR.
Yet somehow Lo Celso stayed on the pitch, much to Lampard’s amazement.
“I hate to call for red cards but that is a leg-breaker,” Lampard said. “VAR is here to clear things up, but this is another huge question mark.”
Tottenham set up to defend and there was an inevitability about the result which means their record at Stamford Bridge now reads just one win in their last 34 visits.
Spurs forward Lucas Moura had an early effort well stopped by Willy Caballero, again preferred by Lampard to world record signing Kepa Arrizabalaga.
But they were mainly on the back foot with Mason Mount forcing Lloris into a save soon after.
That it was 33-year-old former Arsenal striker Giroud, linked with a move to Tottenham in January, who opened the scoring was galling for the away fans.
Played through by Jorginho, Giroud’s initial shot was saved by the legs of Lloris.
Ross Barkley’s follow-up bounced up against the woodwork and, when the ball came back to the French striker, his powerful shot beat Lloris at his near post.
Giroud was also involved in the flowing move that resulted in Chelsea’s second goal.
His flick released Mount who played a low ball towards Barkley, another player recalled by Lampard.
The midfielder helped it to Alonso who did not have to break his stride to smash a low left-foot shot past the diving Lloris.
Mourinho sent on England midfielder Dele Alli, surprisingly left out of the starting line-up, as well as Erik Lamela and it was the Argentine’s shot which was deflected in by Rudiger.
It was too little too late for Tottenham though.(Reuters/NAN)