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Chelsea come back from the dead to end Spurs’ title hopes

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

There are people who'll tell you that following sports is about glory. Invite a team into your heart, forge the nascent bond through disappointment and woe, then glory in their triumphs. It's a model of fandom that revolves around joy, and it is therefore both adorable and impossibly naive.

Even the most successful team in England cannot seriously expect to win every trophy every year, which means that if our only satisfaction came from silverware, following along would be a fairly miserable experience. And that's for Chelsea supporters. What about those who never have a chance to do anything?

Leicester's Premier League win is an impossible story, a ferociously unpredictable dream of a season that has come around once in recent memory and might never show its face again. Good for them. Our match today confirmed the Foxes as champions, and I'm sure every long-term Blue is thrilled to by the idea of Claudio Ranieri strutting around on cloud nine.

But, when you dig down to its bones, Stamford Bridge wasn't cheering Leicester's coronation. Chelsea have no right to share in their glory, not after a campaign that might be politely described as diarrhetic and impolitely described as [redacted]. The vocal crowd was in attendance there to bask in reflected vulpine glory: it was assembled largely out of spite.

The true force behind football fandom is not love but rather hate. Over the course of a year, most teams will fall at one hurdle or another, and given that hoping for the side you support to be permanently bulletproof take optimism well beyond the boundaries of sanity, about the best you can expect on a regular basis is that the teams you don't like will also end up miserable.

And when you have a chance to inflict the misery yourselves, to rip the last vestiges of hope from the hands of a team you don't like very much ... well, let's just say that the flowers of hatred are sometimes more easily gathered than those of affection. Today, we reaped a bounteous harvest.

* * *

Tottenham Hotspur arrived needing nothing less than a win to sustain their title challenge. There wasn't much hope -- a Spurs title would have required three straight wins for the visitors coupled with a pair of Leicester losses, but it was there, faint but undeniable. It fell upon Chelsea to take that away.

A draw would be enough to send the opposition home unhappy, which combined nicely with the return of a non-patchwork defence. The return of John Terry and Gary Cahill allowed the fullbacks to take up their normal positions for the first time in months, while the dual screen of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel patrolled the zone ahead. On paper, this was the sturdiest Chelsea lineup we've seen in 2016.

Paper, however, only takes you so far. Half an hour in, all looked well; fifteen minutes beyond that and the Blues were in real trouble. Harry Kane opened the scoring after a muddle in the centre destroyed our defensive line and left Erik Lamela to poke ahead to the definitely-onside striker. He rounded the hopelessly stranded Asmir Begovic to put Spurs ahead, leaving Blues fans wondering if they were going to witness their first home defeat to Tottenham in 26 years.

It got worse. Branislav Ivanovic, solid if unspectacular otherwise, managed to gift the visitors possession in the middle of the pitch, and Christan Eriksen used the space to set Son Heung-Min free. The summer signing swept past Begovic at the near post to make it 2-0.

The Spurs goals weren't the only incidents of note in a first half that was notable more for its violence than its football. Mark Clattenburg set, perhaps, a new record for losing control of the match, letting several booking-worthy fouls go by with little more than a waggish raise of the finger. Surprisingly, Tottenham were the more volatile team even after they'd gone ahead, and frustrations boiled over in injury time when Willian and Danny Rose clashed and Mousa Dembele poked Diego Costa in the eye(!).

The fact that Dembele was facing a retroactive ban was of little comfort for Chelsea, who were looking at their attempt to influence the title race farting itself out of existence. They hadn't had a bad first half per se, but they had done little to write home about and Spurs had punished their mistakes. There was a lot of work to do.

Pedro was withdrawn for Eden Hazard at the break. So far this season that hasn't worked, mostly because Hazard's lacked the fitness or inclination to actually play football. This time around, however, there was something different in the offing. Perhaps it was that both Rose and Kyle Walker had picked up bookings and were scared to be in the same post code as the Belgian. Perhaps he's full fit. Or perhaps (and this is my favourite scenario, so I'm going with it) he's Chelsea enough to really, really, really [funning] hate Tottenham Hotspur.

Regardless of the motivation, Hazard flew onto the pitch like he was shot out of a cannon, putting the fear of god into the Spurs defence so thoroughly that you could almost hear the horror music start up in the away end whenever he got near the ball. The Blues were suddenly well on top, reducing Tottenham to damage control, and it came as little surprise when they grabbed the goal to get them back into the match.

In true Chelsea style, it came from a corner, with the big men going forward and creating enough chaos for the ball to drop straight onto Cahill's left foot. Cahill's always had more technique than you might expect from a man whose face looks like a finger puppet, and he absolutely wellied it past Hugo Lloris, nearly decapitating some poor sod standing on the line in the process.

For a while it looked as though the game might have been stuck at 2-1, the spirited fightback making things exciting but not quite exciting enough. Willian had possibly the best chance to equalise after being played in by Diego Costa, but he didn't get his shot far enough away from Lloris, and Spurs were able to recover some control and poise. Temporarily, at least.

The highlights will show Hazard cutting in from the left, passing to Costa and then curling the return into the top corner first-time. It's a beautiful goal to watch like that -- Costa's patience in pulling Toby Alderweireld out of position and then waiting for the space to open up was particularly impressive -- but what most highlights will neglect is the way Hazard beat three Spurs players to even get to the point where he could pass to Costa. It was a moment, perhaps the first all season, worthy of the reigning player of the year, and a moment worthy of deciding a title race.

If Tottenham had any heart at all, they'd have used the remaining seven minutes (plus six added on) to throw everything at the Chelsea defence. Instead, they reacted to the equaliser with a series of increasingly violent fouls, with Eric Dier in particular lucky not to be sent off as the game died down. There we no chances to speak of in the final minutes, and Clattenburg's whistle to crown Leicester City champions of the Premier League had almost no drama left. Spurs had already given up the ghost.

The Foxes might rule England this year, but it was really hatred that carried the day. Now we can finally put this season behind us and try to move forward.

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