EPL

Battle of the Bridge, the sequel – Boehly treated to rollercoaster of emotions on welcome to Chelsea's 'House of Fun'

By Sports Desk August 14, 2022

London derbies between Chelsea and Tottenham hold special reverence in the eyes of many neutrals because it's so synonymous with controversy, drama and – arguably above all else – aggro.

If Todd Boehly never attends another match at Stamford Bridge, he'll be safe in the knowledge that this contest had more than enough drama than 99 per cent of other Chelsea games.

Chelsea's new owner was attending his first home game since the pre-season takeover, and he was treated to an absolute thriller – though he'll ultimately have been frustrated by the Blues' inability to claim all three points as Spurs somehow stole a draw.

But the result, a 2-2 tie, only tells half the story of a gripping contest.

Of course, reminders of the respective situations of the clubs over the past few months was difficult to avoid in the build-up, with even Thomas Tuchel alluding to it in his pre-match press conference on Friday.

While Spurs made some key signings in January, finished the season well and then quickly went about more impressive transfer business in pre-season, Chelsea have had to contend with rather more uncertainty.

After being impacted by the United Kingdom's sanctions against Russian individuals and companies, which of course included then-owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea couldn't even sell club merchandise to fans.

The £4.25billion takeover by the consortium led by Boehly ushered in a new era, but even then it's difficult to say it's all been plain-sailing since – the American and his partners have ripped up the club's hierarchy and he's made himself interim sporting director, and his movements in the market have attracted ridicule.

From missing out on a host of key targets to spending £62million on Marc Cucurella, they've hardly emitted an aura stability.

Fitting, then, that Chelsea fans welcomed Boehly to the Bridge on Sunday with a Madness-inspired tifo. An adapted display of the band's iconic One Step Beyond album cover – of which the title song is widely associated with the Blues – was unfurled depicting Boehly and his counterparts, and below it a second banner read 'Welcome to the House of Fun'.

Its message rang true as well. While Chelsea may not have beaten their visitors, there was a lot to like about the Blues' performance, and fun it certainly was.

Chelsea were particularly dominant in a first half that saw their intensity and fluidity suffocate Spurs at times. Mason Mount's roaming caused no end of problems, while the movement of Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz helped ensure the visitors' midfield was forced to sit especially deep.

Then, behind them, Jorginho was at the top of his game, pulling the strings and helping to keep the hosts on the front foot with his expertise in such controlling roles.

As a result, Spurs struggled to gain a foothold in midfield and the front three were anonymous, which proved particularly problematic after Chelsea took a 19th-minute lead.

As if it was written, in front of the man responsible for buying them, two new signings combined for the first Stamford Bridge goal of the new era – and what a goal it was.

Cucurella's outswinging corner picked out Kalidou Koulibaly in space at the back of the area and the centre-back met it with an outrageous volley that spun off his foot and flew past the helpless Hugo Lloris.

Chelsea's issue was building on that lead. Dominant they remained until the second half, but another goal proved elusive and Spurs grew in prominence.

First, Edouard Mendy denied Son Heung-min just after the break, and then Harry Kane – without a goal in his previous five Premier League clashes with Chelsea – missed the target with only the goalkeeper to beat.

A pot shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg proved just the ticket, however. Jorginho, who until then was exceptional, was guilty of over-playing in his own box, and within seconds Spurs' Danish midfielder drilled into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards.

That seemed to bring everything to life. Immediately Conte's roaring celebration towards the Chelsea bench sparked a furious clash between the two sets of staff, with the Italian and Tuchel – who was angry with the failure to award the Blues a free-kick in the build-up – grappling with each other.

The spirit of the famous 2016 Battle of the Bridge had been mostly absent, but that moment showed it was merely looming in the shadows, waiting, and it made what Chelsea thought was the winner even sweeter for Tuchel.

Evoking memories of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford while in charge of Porto, Tuchel hurtled down the touchline – right past Conte – after Reece James beat Lloris for his strike in the 77th minute.

Chelsea were in control again and seemed to be heading for the win, but right at the end of stoppage time a glancing Kane header was diverted in by James, rescuing a well-earned – if fortuitous – point.

While the football ceased with the full-time whistle, the action did not. Tuchel refused to let go of Conte as they shook hands, sparking another melee as both bosses were ultimately shown red cards.

This occasion may not have had the 12 yellow cards of the first Battle of the Bridge, but the amusing petulance and antagonising went some way to filling that void, with Boehly truly given a fitting welcome to the House of Fun.

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