More questions than answers
LONDON -- Having exchanged a point, they also exchanged a quick chat. By the end of this match, though, the difficulties between Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas that dominated the buildup seemed somewhat irrelevant.
As enjoyably full-blooded as this meeting was, it had the feel of a game that finally sets things in motion, that properly sets their seasons up. Rather than resolve any issues or offer any conclusions, it threw up a number of new questions.
As sure-footed as both teams looked, the debate about the key decisions summed up the reality that we still don't know where either truly stands. Beyond the farrago over Fernando Torres and Jan Vertonghen falling to the floor, there is the status of the man who Villas-Boas said "changed the game."
Juan Mata certainly played a significant part in the moment that decided the final result, sending in the cross from which John Terry finally equalised. As to whether that will finally see the playmaker become the key figure in Mourinho's team that his talent demands he should be, that remains to be seen. Either way, the Chelsea manager's decision to finally bring Mata in at halftime and restructure his side appeared to be a tacit acknowledgement that any pettier issues were not worth pursuing. The Spaniard bolstered his argument by illustrating the defensive work that Mourinho has called for, at one point in the second half making a key block as he was surprisingly left as the last man.
The Chelsea manager admitted afterward that Mata had played his way onto the team for the important Champions League game away to Steaua Bucharest on Tuesday.
"I think this is the way players have to say: 'I want to play,'" Mourinho said. "'Blah blah blah' is not good. Conversations with you [the media] is not good. The agents behind us is not good. Good is this. The effort he made against Swindon. It's the way he changed the team in the second half, and because of that, I'm a very happy manager to say 72 hours in advance he plays against Steaua Bucharest. He won that by himself."
He certainly ensured Chelsea at least drew here. Even more than his defensive work, Mata finally solved his side's attacking issues. Up until then, it was an absolute indictment of a team with Chelsea's talent that Tottenham looked so much livelier and more imaginative.
Christian Eriksen, at that point, was sparkling. Given the recent tension between the clubs, it is remarkable to think that Spurs stepped up their interest in the Dane only when Chelsea hijacked the move for Willian, an attacker who wasn't even on the bench today.
If that was ironic, the manner in which Spurs opened the scoring was appropriate given the theme of the week. For all the talk of Villas-Boas' history as one of Mourinho's employees, his team struck first with a move that the Tottenham boss has made something of a trademark for himself.
Eriksen played the less obvious ball over to Roberto Soldado, who teed up Gylfi Sigurdsson to open the scoring. Yet as lucky as the Icelandic midfielder got with his touch, and as much as this goal would seem down to the quality of two new players in Eriksen and Soldado, it is exactly the kind of controlled triangle that Villas-Boas has had his team practising relentlessly in training.
Part of the reason that Spurs were able to display that was because of their power in midfield, as they overran Chelsea for most of the first half. Villas-Boas admitted later that Erik Lamela did not feature for this reason.
It was also that power that saw Paulinho hit the post just before halftime in what the Tottenham boss described as the game's key incident when he said: "At that point, it could have put us in a very good position. We deserved that for how we played."
The miss allowed Mourinho to reassess his team and reassert some authority over his former employee. When asked what he said at halftime, the Portuguese stated: "Not much really. Simple things. Objective things. Explain a few situations."
However, he would potentially start to resolve the Mata situation. One of the most notable things about the switch was not just what he did to Chelsea's attack but also how he rebalanced their entire structure. With Ramires switched to the centre, it meant Mourinho finally had the physicality and energy in there to match Tottenham.
The Brazilian made a series of thunderous tackles that changed the entire emphasis of a passage of play. It also revealed the counterintuitive nature of how some of these decisions can pan out in such games. Although Chelsea notionally looked more protected with a defensive player like Ramires on the right in the first half rather than someone like Mata, the opposite was the case.
At the least, Mourinho rectified the decision, and in the 65th minute rectified the scoreline. By then, Spurs had seen all initiative wrested from them by a more abrasive Chelsea, as Villas-Boas sought to bolster his team with more defensive substitutions.
Mourinho argued afterward that, with 11 men, his team would have won the game.
"In the second half, Chelsea was not good; Chelsea was very, very good," he said. "We played with everything, tactically well, spirit, strong mentality. But, of course, football is football and sometimes things happen, and we don't know who. I think the way the game was going, not one person thought we were not much stronger."
Torres certainly showed his strength in going up for a ball with Vertonghen, having previously shown something a bit nastier by scratching the Belgian defender's face. It ensured that two wrongs for once made the right decision. Typically, Mourinho attempted to complicate and confuse the discussion by pointing to Vertonghen's willingness to go down and his notorious incident with Aston Villa's Nicklas Helenius in his midweek, as well as the perceived physicality of the English game.
"The player is a fantastic player, but he's a special guy because three days ago he left the Aston Villa striker naked," Mourinho said. "It was not a penalty or red card. He should not play. You go to YouTube and it's top of the ridiculous videos."
Naturally, the most important question out of all this is what this game says about the teams' ability to finish around the top of the league.
For Spurs, there is no denying that they are displaying a maturity in their quest for a top-four place. At the same time, it illustrated how far they still have to go that they ceded so much initiative and ground in the second half, with Villas-Boas' initial advantage offset by Mourinho's decisiveness.
That also revealed a wider truth about Chelsea. As in this game, there is a slight feeling that it always requires something external -- be it an opposition goal, maybe a higher-quality signing -- to truly ignite the side. There is still something of a sense that both Mourinho and his team are still placing a little too much faith in his mere presence, that they need some kind of setback to respond and reveal something close to their true ability.
As the Portuguese himself admitted: "We have our problems, and some of them are not easy to resolve."
This game certainly didn't do that, but it finally revved things up in the right way.