As Sky Sports have been keeping their viewers well-informed, Tottenham haven’t won away at Stamford Bridge since 1990. Throw Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten Premier League home record into the equation and it really doesn’t appear too promising for Spurs.
Chelsea have the upper-hand going into the game. Mourinho has a whole squad to select from, excluding long-term absentee Marco van Ginkel, and are on a 16-game unbeaten streak. Tottenham on the other hand have potentially eight casualties. Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Erik Lamela are out while both Christian Eriksen and Kyle Walker face a race against time.
Both Tim Sherwood and Jose Mourinho have been keen to play down the notion of pressure heading into the fixture. The Chelsea boss has maintained all season that, very much in spite of Chelsea’s healthy-looking league position and star-studded squad, they are not in the race for the title. Equally, Sherwood has pointed to Tottenham’s abysmal record at Chelsea which should enable his team should play without fear and ‘enjoy the day’.
Whatever the managers say, they know how vital this game will be to both of them. Next Sunday Tottenham host neighbours Arsenal knowing that a positive result against the high-flying league leaders will give them a timely boost as they face a run of season-defining fixtures. Mourinho will most likely play down any result. A victory and it will be ‘just another three points’ and put them closer to Champion’s League qualification.
Sherwood will be buoyed by Tottenham’s away record this season. They currently have accrued the most points away from home this season, with impressive wins against Southampton, Manchester United and Newcastle. Taking the six conceded at Manchester City out of the picture and they have only let in nine away goals all season.
However, Mourinho’s current 74-match unbeaten home streak includes 12 wins and two draws. Chelsea are top of the top seven mini-league, having not lost to a top side all season whilst Spurs sit sixth, only ahead of Man United, having won just two of their nine fixtures.
With the potential absence of Kyle Walker, this could make Eden Hazard even harder to stop. Walker’s pace would provide a valuable asset against the marauding Belgian winger so extra responsibility may be placed on Sandro, Paulinho and/or Nabil Bentaleb. It will be the job of one of the defensive midfielders to get close to Hazard when he wanders inside. He has the potential to pull defenders out of position, such is his immediate danger, which makes it necessary for extra support from the midfield.
Walker’s availability could be crucial to the outcome for Spurs. He provides more going forwards than his potential replacement Kyle Naughton. If Walker can get forward down the right, in support of presumably Aaron Lennon or Andros Townsend, then their pace and ability to get in behind defenders could provide Tottenham with a focal point. Hazard, despite his defensive improvements, still isn’t the type to get close to his full-back to provide the protection against someone like Walker.
This particular factor, however, may work in Chelsea’s favour. Walker’s penchant for attacking could leave Tottenham open for counter-attacking, something few do better than a Mourinho-managed side with a potent left-sided attacker (à la Hazard, Ronaldo, Eto’o). Tottenham’s ability to stop this will likely come down to the proficiency of their midfield.
Ultimately, it’s hard to envisage a victory for Spurs. For all their qualities Chelsea’s form and home record make getting a result unlikely. But they shouldn’t be down-heartened. Arsenal remain very much within their sights and any points out of Chelsea will be an added bonus heading into a home North London derby that recent history tells you Arsenal do not win.