Chelsea face Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday in a clash that could well prove to be the final chapter in this season’s race for Champions League qualification. Although there’s still time to make amends, defeat will leave the fifth-placed Blues eight points behind the fourth-placed Lilywhites.
However, history just isn’t on Tottenham’s side here. Incredibly, they’re still yet to win a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, a run that could extend to a staggering 26 games this weekend. Add in the lack of love lost between these two London rivals, and their latest meeting should be another enthralling encounter. So, will history repeat itself or will Spurs seal off the top four?
This week’s experts, Llion Carbis from Chelsea FanCast and The Sun’s Sean Cook, share their thoughts and predictions ahead of Sunday’s 4pm kickoff.
This rivalry has been at the forefront of English football over the last few seasons. It was Chelsea who famously ended Tottenham’s title hopes in 2015/16, while the season after saw both clubs chase the top-flight crown and meet in a thrilling FA Cup semi-final. Now they’re essentially in a shootout for Champions League qualification.
Arsenal are of course Tottenham’s historic enemies, but do you now see Chelsea as the more important rivalry?
Sean: “Whether a Spurs fan or not, there’s just something about Chelsea that is so utterly dislikable – it’s always that bit sweeter to beat a team who have bought their success. Our rivalry with them over the last few seasons has naturally intensified whilst we’ve competed for similar feats, this season being no different. True, Arsenal will always be our main rivals, but we now compete for prizes they simply aren’t capable of anymore.”
If there were any claims of Chelsea being in something of a false position right now, they were surely extinguished throughout the last few weeks. The Blues have always fared well against high-quality opposition historically, but since late January they’ve lost to Arsenal, Barcelona twice, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Does that highlight the quality Chelsea lost last summer, or have there been recurring issues during these games?
Llion: “I think it’s a combination of both. At times, our tactics have been counter-intuitive. We often adopt the false nine strategy, which isolates our most creative player (Eden Hazard) and subjects him to useless long balls. On other occasions, you can question our mentality. As I’ve mentioned previously, our confidence seems to disappear when we concede – this fragility must be addressed against the big teams. Otherwise, we’re likely to face similar outcomes to our games against Manchester City and United.”
Mauricio Pochettino faces a fair few selection dilemmas this weekend. His versatile squad is more than capable of matching up with Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system, but Tottenham have stuck with 4-2-3-1 pretty religiously in recent months and the results, losing just once across all competitions since facing Manchester City in December, speak for themselves.
On top of that, Harry Kane is a major doubt after suffering an injury prior to the international break, and Dele Alli’s suffered something of a humbling week – seemingly losing his place within the England team amid what has been a slightly underwhelming season for the youngster.
Should Pochettino match up with Chelsea’s system on Sunday?
Sean: “Despite a tease from Pochettino, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see Kane start at Stamford Bridge this weekend. As a result, sticking to 4-2-3-1 is probably the best way to go. Most of Chelsea’s creativity hails from their midfield, so making that area as congested as possible will help to keep them quiet. We proved against Bournemouth that without our star man, Heung Min-Son is more than capable of leading the line alone.”
And does Alli deserve to start?
Sean: “Starting Alli is a no-brainer for Spurs. I’m quite puzzled where all this negative press has come from lately. His place in the England team is still a guarantee, with his omission in the recent friendlies down to an injury and tactical rotation, as Gareth Southgate has said. I expect Alli to sit behind Son alongside Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen this weekend, so much so that I’d put my house on it.”
Who do you see as Tottenham’s biggest threat in the absence of Kane?
Sean: “He scored in that iconic game that was dubbed ‘the battle of the bridge’, and I’m fearful that Son could play a pivotal role on Sunday. He has contributed to 16 goals in the league this season – scoring 12 and assisting four. His dribbling ability is superb, and he runs purposefully. Moreover, his technique is faultless, and he’s a skilful player. We must be aware of the threat that he poses.”
For all the talk about tactics and systems though, sometimes matches of this importance come down to which side dominates the key individual battles. There will be plenty of those on Sunday, and we’ve seen before how fiercely contested they can be between these two sides.
Where will this game be lost and won?
Llion: “Personally, I feel that the primary battle will take place at the heart of the pitch. If N’Golo Kante’s partner (whomever that may be) is performing to the best of his abilities, then I’m confident we can dictate proceedings in midfield. If not, then the physicality and composure of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier could provide Spurs with the perfect platform to attack us. We must ensure that we win the physical battle, and we don’t allow their midfield partnership to determine the game’s pace and tempo.”
Sean: “The midfield battle will be key. Dembele and Dier will need to be at their very best if they’re to stop the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Willian from producing their typical brilliance. The key to keeping Spurs quiet this season has been to isolate Dembele, which only a handful of clubs have been capable of. If Chelsea can’t contain him, Spurs could be looking at a record-breaking win.”
And finally lads, let’s hear your score predictions…
Sean: “Chelsea 2-2 Spurs.”
Llion: “I hope our distinguished record will be extended. 2-1 Chelsea.”