It was a moment that made all of Chelsea’s problems fade away. Suddenly, nobody was worrying about a draining fixture list and a worrying run of results. Stamford Bridge had come alive and even Hakim Ziyech was smiling after opening the scoring for Chelsea, who had looked short of attacking inspiration before their mercurial winger gave them the lead with one of the goals of the season.
This was Ziyech at his absolute best: cutting in from the right, the ball on his left foot and a shot bent wickedly into the far corner. Hugo Lloris could only watch helplessly as the ball flew past him and Chelsea, who have looked so tetchy and tired of late, could feel their season coming back to life.
Spurs, on the other hand, had much to ponder after losing in the league for the first time under Antonio Conte. Their hopes of dragging Chelsea into a top-four battle looked fanciful on this evidence.
Ultimately there is no substitute for class and while Spurs fought hard, they had none of Chelsea’s individual quality; nobody capable of opening up a tight game quite as inventively as Ziyech, whose splendid goal at the start of the second half was followed by Thiago Silva settling the contest with a fine header from Mason Mount’s free-kick.
For Conte, it was a reminder of the size of his task. For all that Spurs fared better than when Chelsea reached the Carabao Cup final at their expense, they were outplayed in the second half and their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are likely to depend on reinforcements arriving before the window shuts.
All eyes, then, are on Daniel Levy. This is a huge test for Tottenham’s chairman. Spurs, who remain seventh, must accept that Conte can only do so much. The Italian does not have enough talent at his disposal and although the north Londoners were competitive in the first half, with Harry Kane furious to have a goal ruled out at 0-0, their squad remains too mediocre.
That was borne out by Conte’s approach. He looked to compress the space and turn the game into a grind. It worked for a while and it might have been a different story had Paul Tierney not penalised Kane for a shove on Silva before the Spurs striker turned and shot past Kepa Arrizabalaga shortly before half-time.
Yet Spurs should not focus on one tight decision. Conte will know that a central midfield of Harry Winks and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was not good enough to deal with Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount. Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty were forgettable on the flanks. Kane simply had too much to do and although he kept trying until the end, forcing Arrizabalaga to repel a powerful header, he deserves better teammates.
How Kane would love to play with someone like Ziyech. The Moroccan can be frustrating and he did not even celebrate after scoring when Chelsea drew at Brighton last week, yet there is no doubting his natural ability.
Ziyech’s goal summed up the difference between the sides.
Thomas Tuchel had so many options – Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were unused substitutes and N’Golo Kante came on to see Chelsea over the line – and his side have fresh impetus after their first league win since Boxing Day.
Tuchel tweaked his approach, lining Chelsea up in an expansive 4-1-4-1 system, yet conviction eluded the European champions at first. There was less than a minute on the clock when Romelu Lukaku missed his first chance and there were times when Spurs threatened on the break, particularly when Steven Bergwijn found room.
This was an opportunity for Bergwijn to build on his heroics against Leicester. One of his bursts led to Silva picking up a booking and there were openings for Spurs. Winks went close after peeling past Jorginho, who was otherwise untroubled as the deepest Chelsea midfielder, and Sessegnon was wasteful with a rare opening.
The key moment for Spurs, compact in their 4-4-2, came when Sessegnon crossed for Kane, who was not subtle enough when he pushed Silva in the back. Silva was too wily not to make the most of it and the Brazilian’s fall convinced Tierney to award a foul.
For all that Kane complained, though, Chelsea also had reason to feel aggrieved before the interval. The hosts could have been playing against 10 men after Doherty stamped on Malang Sarr – Darren England, the VAR, deemed it accidental – and they could also argue that they dominated the first half.
Lukaku missed another decent chance as the opening period wore on, kicking at thin air from Mount’s cutback, and Chelsea emerged with more intensity after the break.
Two minutes into the second half, the lively Callum Hudson-Odoi surged past Japhet Tanganga on the left and sprayed the ball to the right. The pass found Ziyech and when Sessegnon backed off, the winger curled in a gorgeous shot from 25 yards.
Conte made changes, but Chelsea were rampant now. Ziyech tested Lloris with a vicious drive, Lukaku threatened and it was not long before Chelsea pulled clear.
The second goal was more straightforward. Eric Dier tripped Hudson-Odoi, Mount swung in a free-kick and soft marking allowed Silva to glance past Lloris.
Normal service had been restored. Chelsea had reminded Spurs of their supremacy and Tuchel, who celebrates one year in the job on Wednesday, will hope that this is the start of a surge.