Juan Mata scored two goals and set up another as Chelsea recovered to beat London rivals Tottenham 4-2 on Saturday, consolidating the European champions’ dominant lead in the English Premier League.
Having taken an early lead through Gary Cahill, the unbeaten visitors – without the suspended John Terry – were rocked at the start of the second half when they conceded goals to William Gallas and Jermain Defoe.
However, Mata clinched Chelsea’s seventh win in eight league games by equalising in the 66th and then clipping home a neat finish in the 69th.
The Spain playmaker set up Daniel Sturridge for a late fourth, ensuring Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas was unable to gain a measure of revenge for being fired by Chelsea last season after just eight months in charge.
Having beaten Arsenal and now Spurs away, Chelsea are showing a much greater attacking threat this season and look a serious rival to the two Manchester clubs for the title.
The build-up to the game had been overshadowed by the continuing fallout from the racism case involving Terry, who on Thursday accepted a four-match ban from the Football Association for racially abusing an opponent during a league game last season.
This was the first game of that ban and it was Terry’s replacement at centre back, Cahill, who put the visitors in front.
A poorly headed clearance from Gallas gave Cahill a glimpse of goal and he showed great technique to produce a superb volley that took a slight deflection off Spurs defender Kyle Walker and flew past recalled goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
The goal came in the midst of a spell of concerted domination by Chelsea but the team failed to double their lead and were made to pay.
Gallas, who played for Chelsea from 2001-06, made amends for his earlier error by equalising from barely a yard out after Jan Vertonghen had hooked the ball back into the middle after a searching free kick by Tom Huddlestone.
That came just 63 seconds into the second half and Spurs, who were without Gareth Bale after the Wales winger’s girlfriend went into labour, went ahead in the 54th.
Aaron Lennon’s driven shot from the angle was heading harmlessly wide when Defoe connected with it with a sweet finish that beat goalkeeper Petr Cech at his near post.
They were the first goals Chelsea had conceded in the second half this campaign but the classy Mata engineered the turnaround.
He pounced on another unsatisfactory clearance by Gallas to drive home an equaliser from the edge of the area and then ran onto a stunning pass by Eden Hazard to beat Friedel with a curling shot.
Having scored his sixth goal in five games in all competitions, Mata then turned provider by crossing for Sturridge – on as a second-half substitute – to tap in and complete the win.