ottenham returned to the top of the table with a hard-fought goalless draw against Chelsea but Jose Mourinho’s side were second best on his return to Stamford Bridge.
The result was nonetheless another sign of Tottenham’s growing maturity and defensive nous under Mourinho, as they held firm against Frank Lampard’s expensively-assembled Chelsea attack.
The visitors barely had a chance of note in the second half as they sat back and settled for a point but the performance should, on balance, advance Tottenham’s status as dark horse for the Premier League crown as they demonstrated staying power in the title race.
Even without Toby Alderweireld, missing with a groin injury, Spurs were resolute as Chelsea came on relentlessly in the second half, with full debutant Joe Rodon impressing in place of the Belgian.
But Mourinho will know his contain-and-counter approach, which was so devastating in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Manchester City, still needs fine-tuning.
Spurs’ threat on the counter-attack was a feature of the opening 45 minutes – and Steven Bergwijn and Serge Aurier both went close to scoring – but it faded after the interval and they finished the game camped in their own half, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko sitting practically on top of the back four.
Even so, substitute Giovani Lo Celso had a golden chance to snatch the game at the death but chose the wrong option after a more effective counter-attack.
Ultimately, Mourinho will look back on a hugely encouraging four points from City and Chelsea, and know that if Spurs can do the same in the upcoming matches at home to Arsenal and at Liverpool, they will well and truly be part of the title conversation before the hectic festive period.
Rodon holds his own on baptism of fire
Mourinho made one change from the win over Manchester City last weekend, with Rodon making his full Spurs debut in place of Alderweireld.
The 23-year-old, who is ineligible in the Europa League, had previously played just ten minutes of top-flight football since joining from Swansea in the summer but he held his own on a baptism of fire at Stamford Bridge.
Rodon’s first involvement was to step confidently out of defence to win possession but soon after he skewed a pass straight out of play under pressure.
And that was really the story of his game; impressive without the ball but shaky with it. In the end, it was Alderweireld’s distribution, rather than his defending, that Spurs really missed.
Timo Werner’s disallowed goal in the first half came after Rodon lost possession on the halfway line but he made a number of crucial interventions, including a diving header to deny Tammy Abraham a chance.
There will be easier tests ahead for the Wales international, who should be hugely encouraged by his first Premier League start in difficult circumstances.
Mourinho should start midfield pair together
After scoring within seconds of his introduction against Man City last weekend, Lo Celso was again impressive in a 30-minute cameo after replacing Tanguy Ndombele – although the Argentine wasted a late opportunity for a smash-and-grab.
Ndombele has now been replaced on the hour in his last five starts for Spurs, with Mourinho happy for the Frenchman to run himself into the ground quickly before giving Lo Celso the final half an hour.
The tactic is paying off but, at some point, Mourinho needs to find a way to get them both into the team.
When Ndombele is playing further forward, as he has done against City and Chelsea, Spurs miss his ability to break the pass but when he is deeper they miss his creativity in attack.
Playing him with Lo Celso would largely solve that problem but Mourinho is understandably reluctant to sacrifice an attacker, or Sissoko or Hojbjerg. There’s no obvious solution but it would be intriguing to see a Spurs team with the duo together. Finding a way to make that happen could be a game-changer for Spurs.