As first league games in your new (temporary) home go, welcoming the Champions in only the second game of the season must certainly count as a baptism of fire.
Tottenham Hotspur won’t have played many competitive games between losing to Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup at a neutral Wembley in late April and welcoming them back to the same stadium as the home side in late August, and revenge for defeat in a game Spurs feel they should have won could be the motivation they need to kick start their season.
It could be the start they need at their home for the year, too.
Since the start of last season, work has been ongoing on Tottenham’s new stadium on the same site as White Hart Lane, and the reduction in capacity caused by the building meant playing European games at the national stadium last season, too. The result was disappointing performances and an early exit from the Champions League, before another fairly humiliating defeat in the Europa League, too.
Defeat in Europe may have helped Mauricio Pochettino’s side to push Chelsea as closely as they did for the title, but not even a good performance in the FA Cup semi could stem fears that Spurs could be in for a rough ride at Wembley next season, especially early on.
Every year, too much is read into the fixture announcements. In the end, every team plays every other team twice and form, injuries, suspensions and a massive host of other factors will probably turn out to be even more important than the timing of the games. But sometimes the schedule does play a part.
Spurs, for example, might be forgiven for wanting most of their biggest games of the season to come away from home for the first few months of the season in order to settle in at Wembley. After playing there so often last season, that adjustment period might be lessened, but getting used to playing there in league and European games as often as twice a week is still a shift, and one which could take some getting used to. It would be quite natural to assume that Spurs’ home advantage might only be restored after a few months. Not necessarily in the first game.
Fittingly, though, the first ever Premier League game at Wembley will be contested by the two clubs who will call the stadium home for an extended period of time. With Chelsea having been granted permission to redevelop Stamford Bridge, the west Londoners will make the move to the north west of the city to play their home games at the national stadium from next year themselves. From the point of view of Antonio Conte, it will presumably serve as a chance to see just how difficult it is for Spurs to settle into their new home.
And yet, that’s not the only factor to be taken into account.
Last season’s FA Cup semi-final showed that the gap between the two teams isn’t huge when both sides are on form, but there are two major differences. Tottenham perhaps lacked the sort of big-game experience that Chelsea had, and might be a reason why Spurs should mildly abandon their policy of signing players with potential in favour of adding an experienced head to the ranks.
It’s also the case that Chelsea were dangerous on the counter-attack, as they were for the entirety of last season, and that has to do with the pace they possess. Spurs, on the other hand, do seem to lack a tricky, pacey attacker, and although Wilfried Zaha looks set to stay at Crystal Palace, that’s the kind of transfer link Tottenham fans will be glad to see: it’s not so much the player involved as the kind of pacey winger he is. It’s clear that Pochettino needs to add another dimension to his attack.
And so additions in the summer will play a big role when it comes to the first Premier League fixture at Wembley. If Spurs can win the first top six clash of the season, that will send a message out to the rest of the Premier League, and also banish the negative Wembley talk early doors.
But for now, it’s hard to get away from thinking about that grip that the national stadium seems to have over Spurs. More games in the stadium will mean more experience, but before Tottenham get to play their first official game at their home for next season, Chelsea will take on Arsenal in the Community Shield.
Spurs Chelsea is always a game to look forward to, but with so much going on around this fixture in August, it could be a game where we learn so much about each side’s prospects for the rest of the season.