These days in the Premier League, it doesn’t get much tastier than Tottenham vs Chelsea – a fixture that has provided title-deciding drama, a relentless supply of goals and plenty of foul-tempered football over the last few years.
Sunday’s edition comes with the subplots of a shock Chelsea defeat on the opening day of the season and Tottenham playing their first top flight fixture at Wembley stadium.
But away from all the hyperbole and smokescreen debates, Football FanCast takes a look at the four key battles that will decide matters on the pitch.
With Chelsea’s midfield options seriously depleted, N’Golo Kante will have a huge job on his hands this Sunday regardless of who partners the tenacious Frenchman in the middle of the park. His relentless energy is vital to Chelsea playing with just two in midfield but the last time these two sides met in the Premier League, Kante found himself continuously out-muscled and out-fought by his Spurs counterpart, Victor Wanyama.
The Kenyan operates with a more reserved, anchoring style but he’ll look to assert his height and power over Kante as much as possible – and snuff out the Chelsea star’s breaking runs on the counter-attack.
There have been rumours of David Luiz stepping into midfield in the absence of Cesc Fabregas but regardless of where the Brazilian is deployed, he’s Chelsea’s best chance of nullifying the aerial threat Harry Kane and Dele Alli offer Spurs, especially with Gary Cahill suspended.
The midfielder certainly isn’t the tallest and Kane himself only bagged two headers last season, but it’s the former’s ability to find space by running off the latter – combined with Christian Eriksen’s superb deliveries – that poses the most danger.
Chelsea saw enough evidence last season as Alli rose above Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses twice to secure a 2-0 win at White Hart Lane and even last weekend, it was Alli’s run onto an Eriksen cross that broke the deadlock at St. James’ Park.
Luiz has the height and jump to cut out the danger – whether that’s from centre-back or tracking the England international’s runs from midfield.
He may not have shown it last week as they suffered a shock defeat to Burnley but Marcos Alonso’s overlapping runs from left wing-back were a pivotal feature of Chelsea’s attacking play last season, creating the space for Eden Hazard to cut inside.
The Spaniard has proved a potent force when venturing forward, finishing last season with six goals and three assists, and with so many attacking players ruled out for Sunday’s game, he’ll likely look to contribute offensively even more than usual.
Despite Kyle Walker-Peters’ impressive debut against Newcastle last Sunday, Eric Dier looks likely to come in at right-back simply due to the quality of the opposition. He’s got the physicality to match Alonso – it’s more a question of where he surrenders space to the Blues defender and how frequently.
Willian has a knack of always creating problems for Tottenham, a club he notoriously almost signed for instead of Chelsea, with two goals and two assists in eleven outings against the north Londoners.
He was also the Blues’ best player by a country mile last weekend – which is often the case when Chelsea are in poor form – and with the majority of Antonio Conte’s attacking midfield options sidelined, he looks set to take up a pivotal role in the right inside forward berth.
Those two slots just behind the striker have proved incredibly difficult for opposition defences to deal with – which is one of the reasons 3-4-3 has been so successful in English football over the last year – partly because it beckons runs between the centre-half and the full-back.
Always looking to drift inside anyway, snuffing out Chelsea’s top attacking threat this Sunday will hinge on Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen quite literally working closely together, ensuring they aren’t leaving gaps for the Brazilian to burst into.