By Martyn Herman
Mauricio Pochettino described Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 victory over league leaders Chelsea on Wednesday as “massive” as he maintained his record of never having lost a home derby since taking charge of the north London club.
The Argentine, whose side faltered at the death last season when a first league title since 1961 was a possibility, has won eight and drawn four of his 12 derbies at White Hart Lane but the latest was arguably the most impressive.
Chelsea had won 13 matches in a row — a joint record in a single Premier League season — and one more would have matched Arsenal’s all-time sequence of 14 set over two campaigns.
Antonio Conte’s side have been impregnable since the start of October and victory would have put them eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Yet two Dele Alli headers either side of halftime, both from Christian Eriksen crosses, earned Tottenham a deserved victory that lifted them to third place, seven points behind Chelsea.
“It is a massive victory, a very important three points to reduce the gap at the top of the table,” Pochettino, more concerned with his own team’s title chances than ending Chelsea’s long winning run, said.
“It was a very tough game, we were playing one of the best teams in Europe, so the value of the victory is massive.
“It makes us very proud and we showed character and were competitive. It is one step forward for the team and it is important to keep going. Football is about belief.
“We have shown we can challenge for the big things. We are in a good position, Chelsea is in a very good position, but we are fighting to get points and to reduce the gap above us.”
Tottenham have now won five matches in a row, have the best defensive record in the Premier League and, in Alli, have one of the most in-form midfielders in England.
The 20-year-old has scored two goals in each of Tottenham’s last three matches and seven in his last four.
“He is showing fantastic skills in front of the goal. He is a great player and one who has potential to improve. He was fantastic today again,” Pochettino said.
While Pochettino played down any talk of revenge after Chelsea came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Stamford Bridge in May — a draw that ended Tottenham’s hopes of catching eventual champions Leicester City — Alli said the victory had been particularly satisfying.
“There is a bit of history between the sides now after last season and I think we wanted to stop their run like they did ours,” Alli said, referring to the so-called Battle of the Bridge when Tottenham had nine players booked.
“We are happy to stay under the radar and keep picking up the points. We are not going to get carried away, there is always room for improvement.”