Chelsea vs Tottenham represents the biggest clash in the Premier League this weekend. This London derby has become one of the key rivalries in English football over the last few years, deciding the last two Premier League titles, and Sunday’s instalment is another high stakes contest with Chelsea needing a win to avoid all-but-mathematically ending their hopes of claiming a place in the Premier League’s top four.
But can history tell us anything about this fixture? Which manager faces the bigger injury problems? Who is currently enjoying the better form? And how could the referee influence the match? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the 4pm kickoff at Stamford Bridge.
Remarkably, Tottenham are still awaiting their first ever win at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, a run that could extend to a whopping 26 games on Sunday. In fact, Spurs only first beat Chelsea in the Premier League in 2006, so perhaps it’s no surprise the Blues have dominated this fixture in terms of wins, goals scored and clean sheets.
However, the clash is far less one-sided these days. During the last six meetings, both clubs have drawn, won and lost two apiece – the watershed moment being Tottenham’s 5-3 win over Chelsea at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day 2015.
Still though, Tottenham will have to overcome the tide of history to claim all three points on Sunday.
There’s no question Tottenham enter Sunday’s game enjoying the better form. Their only defeat since losing to Manchester City in December was against Juventus in the Champions League, and with those games excepted due to the sheer quality of the opposition, their undefeated run stems all the way back to a 2-1 loss at the King Power Stadium back in November. Their last six Premier League games, meanwhile, have produced 16 points and four clean sheets – including wins over Arsenal and Manchester United and an impressive 2-2 draw at Anfield.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have lost and drawn as many games as they’ve won thus far in 2018, six apiece, in a clear downturn in form for last season’s champions. Their previous six Premier League encounters have produced four losses and just two victories; in sharp contrast to Tottenham’s impressive results against key rivals, the west Londoners have lost to Manchester City and United (both away) during that time. The good news though, is that Eden Hazard’s still regularly finding the net.
There’s only one thing you really need to know about Andre Marriner – he’s easily the most lenient referee in the Premier League. Indeed, from the 19 officials to work in the top flight this season before the weekend, he ranks bottom for fouls per game, second-bottom for fouls per tackle and fourth bottom for yellow cards per game.
That means two key things in regards to Sunday’s game. Firstly, it should allow for the kind of fiery London derby we all want to see, echoing the famous Battle of Stamford Bridge a few years ago. Secondly, however, as Marriner’s modest return of just three penalties awarded this season also alludes to, the 47-year-old often shies away from making game-changing decisions.
While some like the idea of referees letting the game flow as much as possible, it also means Chelsea and Tottenham shouldn’t expect much luck in terms of penalties and key decisions.
With 3-4-3 still proving easily Chelsea’s most effective system despite flirtations with 3-5-2 and 3-6-1 this season, we’re largely expecting Antonio Conte to stick with the same starting XI that beat Leicester City last time out in the FA Cup quarter-final, injuries permitting.
The real question is whether Thibaut Courtois – who Transfermarkt value at £54million – and Andreas Christensen win their races for fitness. But should they do so, the former will almost certainly replace cup goalkeeper Willy Caballero, while the latter should retain his spot at the heart of defence.
The only other area of contention is in the midfield. Tiemoue Bakayoko was hauled off at half time against Leicester, so it’s more than likely playmaker Cesc Fabregas will be given the nod alongside N’Golo Kante. After scoring at the King Power Stadium, Alvaro Morata will surely lead the line once again.
The big concern for Tottenham is how they’ll fare against top-quality opposition in the likely absence of Harry Kane, but much of the team largely picks itself at this stage of the season and we’re expecting six of the back seven to keep their place from the 4-1 win over Bournemouth – with Ben Davies replacing Danny Rose at left-back.
Accordingly though, Pochettino will have to rejig his attack. Heung-min Son proved a perfect solution to Kane’s injury against the Cherries, scoring twice after the England international made way, so the ultimate question is who supports the South Korean in attacking midfield. Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli are both likely to start, leaving a toss-up between Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela on the right flank.
The Argentine has thoroughly impressed in recent weeks but considering how Son’s deployment as a striker takes some of the speed out of the midfield, we’re tipping a fourth Tottenham start for the exciting January signing instead. He’d certainly give left wing-back Marcos Alonso, a key player for Chelsea going forward, a few problems defensively.