Conte smiles as Spurs curse their luck

SO the first Big Six clash of the season delivered – big time. A cracker of a London derby maintained the momentum of an already fascinating campaign as well as busting the myth that these two clubs were about to fall apart.

The build-up was dominated by talk of mutiny in the Chelsea camp over that self-acclaimed 'criminal' Diego Costa, while at Spurs you might have thought Danny Rose was calling a strike against slave labour.

But what we saw at Wembley on Sunday night was enough commitment and quality from both sides to dispel rumours that either were a couple of defeats away from jousting for a Europa League place.

The result also ensured that Chelsea kept the bragging rights. Unlike Arsenal, the Blues don't celebrate St Totteringham's Day but they might start a Blue version – having enjoyed a similar ascendancy.

Standout performances of recent memory were the way they stormed past Spurs in the FA Cup semifinal in April and stopped their chase of Leicester in the Battle of the Bridge a year earlier.

Their dominance goes back all the way to 1990 – long before Roman Abramovich bestowed his roubles on Chelsea instead of Spurs in 2003. Between 1990 and 2006, Chelsea did not lose a single league game against their north London rivals.

But what will bother Spurs more than any hex the west Londoners have over them is the so-called 'Wembley curse'. The monkey is still very much on the Cockerel's back, as one win in their last 10 appearances under the arch would indicate and no matter how hard they tried – before and during the match – they couldn't shift it.

Mauricio Pochettino has naturally pooh-poohed its existence but the club went overboard in plastering every available inch of the national stadium with Spurs paraphernalia in an effort to make it look like home. They may have tried too hard.

The trouble is with these imaginary 'things', they can play on players' minds. A superstitious lot at the best of times, top sportsmen like routine which is one reason they win more at home than away.

Besides having the fans on their side, it's where they feel comfortable, where the little things and time-honoured rituals are right. Away from that environment, they are not so sure and while they lose confidence, the opposition becomes emboldened.

Just as Pochettino was trying to downplay the 'curse', Antonio Conte was not so much playing up the nonsense, but making the very sensible point that Wembley inspires visiting teams.

And even though Spurs are packing in twice as many of their own fans as they could fit into White Hart Lane, the advantage is with the away team. Arsenal had similar problems of adjustment when they "borrowed" it while the Emirates was being built.

Nope, Wembley is not a fortress for the home side – not even England. Far from it and Conte's theory applies even more with visiting national teams. Where the home side shrinks under the burden of expectation, opponents are inspired by it.

On Sunday, Spurs didn't shrink even if they wished the pitch would – Wembley's extra acreage not suiting their pressing game. But Chelsea were unrecognisable from the side that were beaten at home by Burnley – even with four of their best players missing.

And what has been overlooked in the universal slating of the Blues was that they almost came back from 3-0 down with nine men. If they showed belated bottle against Burnley, they certainly reminded us they are worthy champions against Spurs.

With Conte back in his suit, it was normal service resumed in a lively start even with a seriously weakened team. And had Alvaro Morata not conjured one of the misses of the season, they might have won more comfortably.

Spurs then dominated the rest of the match but couldn't find a way through until Michy Batshuayi managed it for them. But when you have a fullback with the scoring touch of Marcos Alonso, you always have a chance – and so it proved. Conte was back in normal service too – reacting to the winner as if he'd just swallowed a tarantula.

Spurs did not deserve to lose and will probably get the better of their pesky primate next week when Burnley come calling. At the moment it is no more than a baby macaque but it could be troublesome if they allow it to grow to the size of an orang utan.

Despite the notion that players are not happy with earning less than half what their counterparts get elsewhere – Dele Alli only a fifth of what Paul Pogba gets – there still seemed plenty of team spirit. But they could do with a home win to dispel the doubts and another signing or two to add depth.

As for Chelsea, they do seem to thrive on chaos. Conte has been promised more cash and they have a cussedness that suggests they will be as hard to beat as they were last season.

But they will need Morata to get up to speed and could yet repair the burned bridge for Costa's 'extradition' from Brazil. Despite the nasty words and egos involved, you suspect the damage is not irreparable.


GOOD: Manchester United

It looks like they're regaining their mojo – or perhaps Moujo. Mourinho is sorting them out and has only made three signings. But they now look a powerful side that will push over the lesser lights.

BAD: Spurs' fake atmosphere

Trump gave us fake news; now Spurs are giving us fake atmosphere. Desperate to lift the Wembley curse, they plastered the place with cockerels and even had a drum making a din over the mic. It was false, fake and back-fired, only adding to the sense that Wembley is anything but home.

STUPID: Arsene Wenger

It's the same old one-eyed, sore-loser Arsene. His view that the Gunners are on the wrong end of some penalty conspiracy does not stack up – and he should know it. It's surprising coming from someone of his intelligence and his title as world's sorest loser is not in any danger.


Capitalising on a gentle start, the Terriers are making an impression and their manager David Wagner is showing he could be a match for his mentor, Jurgen Klopp. They've only played Crystal Palace and Newcastle so far, but they have the zest and tactics to suggest their stay in the top flight may be longer than expected. And they have a new star too – Aaron Mooy.