As last season’s runners-up and champions respectively, Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League clash with Chelsea this weekend represents the first heavyweight encounter of the campaign.
In remains to be seen if both sides can sustain the form they showed last season but with little love lost and bragging rights on the line, the London derby at Wembley looks set to be another thrilling encounter.
But what does history tell us about this fixture, what selection headaches do the managers face before kickoff and how will the referee influence the game? Football FanCast has the answers…
Rather incredibly, Tottenham didn’t actually beat Chelsea in the Premier League until 2006, which is why there’s such a disparity in their head-to-head rankings for wins, games failed to score in, goals and even win rate at White Hart Lane.
Spurs fans will be hoping the move to Wembley can provide better fortunes, although Tottenham have gone a long way to readdressing the balance in recent seasons, winning two and drawing two of their last six meetings with the Blues in the top flight. History tells us, however, that Spurs are always the underdogs in this London rivalry.
The overriding concern for Tottenham this weekend is the continued absence of their two first-choice full-backs, Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose, who offer the Lilywhites so much going forward – something that could have been instrumental in pinning back Chelsea’s wide players.
Accordingly, a 4-2-3-1 setup largely maintaining the side that beat Newcastle last weekend seems the likeliest scenario, with the exception of Eric Dier coming in at right-back for youngster Kyle Walker-Peters and Heung-Min Son replacing Moussa Sissoko in attack having overcome his fitness issues.
Chelsea, on the other hand, face a whole raft of selection problems. Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas are both suspended, while Eden Hazard remains sidelined through injury and Pedro and Tiemoue Bakayoko are serious doubts – although there have been Twitter rumours of the both returning ahead of schedule amid a crisis in midfield.
The less risky option (at least in terms of long-term injury problems) is moving David Luiz into the engine room to partner N’Golo Kante, which would see Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger complete the back three alongside Cesar Azpilicueta.
Either way, Antonio Conte has some huge decisions to make pre-kickoff.
This derby has been a breeding ground for bad-tempered clashes and full-blooded tackles in recent seasons but the presence of referee Anthony Taylor suggests Sunday’s game will forcibly be pushed into becoming a far more disciplined contest.
Taylor ranked third throughout the Premier League for yellow cards per game last season, whilst finishing fourth for fouls per game and eighth for fouls per tackle.
In a nutshell, there’s a real lack of leniency to his decision-making, so scenes matching those at Stamford Bridge two seasons ago will be strongly discouraged from the off with regular blows of the whistle.
Interestingly, however, Taylor awarded a whopping ten penalties in 30 games last season, while just four of those ended in draws – hinting at a subconscious lust for settling games via the penalty spot.