The journey is over. The journey that many thought would never even get started. Leicester City, for the first time in their 132 year history, are champions of England’s top-flight division. The impossible was made reality when Eden Hazard, last season’s Premier League Player of the Year spun in an absolute diamond of a goal into the top corner of the net to bring Chelsea level with Tottenham at 2-2 in the 83rd minute. Tottenham could not find a winner in the final seven minutes (plus an additional six minutes of stoppage time!) and the London Derby ended in a draw.
Hazard’s form in the 2015-16 has been, well, terrible. After gaining personal and club glory in 2015, the Belgian slowed down tremendously this season. As Chelsea’s season spun out of control last autumn, so too did Hazard’s play. It took up until last week, the 35th game for Chelsea, for Hazard to net his season’s first league goal, when he netted two against a mediocre Bournemouth side. He hadn’t scored across all competitions until late January.
The Hazard that seemed to be suffocating under former manager Jose Mourinho’s system in the first half of the season, and then confused under the system of new manager Guus Hiddink was nowhere to be found on the pitch today. Hazard started today’s derby on the bench, but entered the game at the start of the second half. Immediately, Chelsea looked to be both a better side, and one that was invested in the outcome of the game. No doubt, the team was taking the cue from their talented midfielder.
“We don’t want Tottenham to win the Premier League, the fans, the club, the players,” Hazard said following last week’s win. Those comments were echoed by Willian, Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder. In an inner-city rivalry game, no one ever wants to lose, particularly when title fortunes are on the line.
But it sure looked as if Chelsea were going to lose in the first half. Harry Kane opened the scoring by netting his 25th league goal, and then Tottenham capitalized on a bad loss of possession by Cesc Fabregas in midfield by feeding Hueng-Min Son a lovely ball into the box where he finished to put Spurs up 2-0. It was still the first half, but Tottenham looked certain of making sure that Leicester would have to fight for the title for at least another week.
And then Tottenham switched off. Toby Alderweireld, a selection to the PFA Team of the Year for his stalwart defending, simply lost track of Gary Cahill on a corner kick to give Chelsea their first goal.
“Hold on!” Arlo White warned American viewers as the Blues celebrated at the corner flag.
Tottenham dropped back defensively. They stopped pressing up near the top of of pitch and allowed Chelsea to have the ball. In American football terms, they went away from their blitz package which had allowed them to play so well all season. Chelsea kept making runs and creating half-chances. They needed only a moment of brilliance from one of their players. Diego Costa treated this game as if it were a Cup Final, and the way he always threatened to get in on goal while simultaneously being a chippy with Tottenham’s back four was ever-present in this rivalry atmosphere. In the end, Hazard was the hero.
The night started off chippy when Jan Vertonghen was shown a yellow card for a dust up with Diego Costa over a half-hour in, and physicality was prevalent through the night. Moussa Dembele was lucky for not being carded for putting his fingers up around Costa’s eyes shortly before halftime (it will surely merit a review from the FA). The game descended into chaos after the equalizer. Four Tottenham players were shown a yellow card in the game’s final 13 minutes, all decisions no doubt being the correct one. Eric Lamela stepped on Fabregas’ hand. Harry Kane flew in with a wild slide challenge. Kyle Walker was lucky to have not been sent off, but there were so many fouls in quick succession that it appeared as if referee Mark Clattenberg lost track of how many poor tackles there were.
To his credit, Clattenberg did try to keep such a critical game in the hands of the players on the pitch. It would have been terrible if this game were decided because of a red card. Even after he blew the final whistle, tensions were high while both teams walked down the tunnel to their respective dressing rooms. Michele Vorm, Tottenham’s back-up keeper, was physically involved with multiple Chelsea players. In the end, nine Tottenham players received yellow cards.
Chelsea’s legendary defender John Terry assured everyone that it was just a natural derby atmosphere.
“The emotion tonight was the London Derby. They haven’t won here in 26 years. It was always going to boil over,” Terry told Sky Sports following the game.
The extra-curricular activities cast a somewhat of a shadow over Leicester’s triumph. But on one dismal night in West London, the attention is on the North London team which coughed up a 2-0 lead, a week after they let lowly West Brom squeak away with a 1-1 draw. Everyone will always remember the Leicester City story.
Tonight, let us relish in this gripping sub-plot.
A note from the editor: A full story on Leicester City’s run to the Premier League title will appear on this site on Tuesday evening.