Tottenham Hotspur are set to take on Chelsea in a hotly contested London derby tomorrow afternoon at White Hart Lane in the Premier League’s early kick-off; a match that could go on to define the goals and ambitions of the current campaign for both clubs.
And there’s plenty of pre-text to add to the already firey affair, with no love lost between both sets of boardrooms and reports of a rather frosty relationship between Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas – two former colleagues that enjoyed great success working together previously at Stamford Bridge as well as in Serie A with Inter Milan.
Traditional rivals, perhaps not, but there’s plenty of bad blood going around, which has undoubtedly coincided with the Lilywhites’ recent rise from the Premier League’s middle order to regular Champions League hopefuls, and as a result, Chelsea’s losses are quickly becoming Tottenham’s gains.
Consider the story of Tottenham’s incumbent head coach, Andre Villas-Boas. Once Mourinho’s chief opposition scout, the two fell out at Inter Milan as AVB was declined the opportunity by the Chelsea boss to have a greater hand in first team affairs.
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Fast forward a few years later, and AVB had made a name for himself in his own right. Dubbed as the next Mourinho after winning a Europa League and Primeira Liga title from his final season with Porto, the Portuguese was appointed Chelsea manager by Roman Abramovich in 2011. But his Stamford Bridge tenure lasted just a matter of months as the Blues laid some way off Champions League qualification in sixth place, accompanied by regular reports of dressing room politics and disillusion of Chelsea’s key playing personnel – namely Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba – in the tabloids.
Villas-Boas was made a mockery in West London, and as a result, many doubted the young pretender’s credentials. But Daniel Levy gave him another opportunity to impress in the Premier League, taking over from Harry Redknapp at the beginning of last season at White Hart Lane.
Granted, the Portuguese was unable to push the Lilywhites towards the ultimate goal of Champions League qualification, despite the individual talismanic influence of Gareth Bale, but you’ll find few members of the White Hart Lane faithful disgruntled with his management leadership. Last season, Spurs recorded their highest points total to date of the Premier League era, whilst AVB has overseen and administered wholesale changes in personnel and a new tactical philosophy that provides a positive deviation from Tottenham’s typically English style under Redknapp.
Not to suggest that anyone at Stamford Bridge would be willing to swap the Special One for a manager who unquestionably came up short during his turbulent stay with the Blues. But as a result of Abramovich’s willingness to axe a young and talented manager after just eight months in charge, Tottenham have undoubtedly benefited in the long-run .
Now equipped with some of the summer transfer window’s hottest properties, such as Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Etienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Roberto Soldado, financed by Gareth Bale’s departure to Real Madrid, the Lilywhites stand their best chance to date of not only making it into the top four but furthermore solidifying their position as Champions League regulars over the next few years, under their talented, ambitious and fresh-faced manager that was once cast aside by the Blues.
Similarly, there’s evidence to suggest the West Londoners have become well aware of the threat Tottenham now pose to them. This summer, the Lilywhites were hot on the heels of another Champions League protégé – former Shaktar Donetsk winger Willian, who was made available late in the transfer window after it was revealed that Anzhi were holding a firesale of all their high-earning foreign talent in a bid to adhere to the incoming Financial Fair Play laws. The attacking midfielder even underwent a medical at White Hart Lane, but at the last minute Chelsea made a counter-offer and eventually lured Tottenham’s prime target away for a £30million fee.
More than a case of two clubs entering a bidding war over a talented player however, there’s little doubt the signing of Willian in the summer was a luxury rather and a necessity for the Blues, and many have speculated that Mourinho’s last-minute acquisition was a bid to weaken Spurs after a strong start to the Premier League campaign as much as it was to strengthen the Chelsea ranks.
And it’s not as if Roman Abramovich wouldn’t approve of such a Machiavellian ploy. The Russian billionaire is still rather miffed about Daniel Levy’s refusal to sell Luka Modric to Chelsea in summer 2011. The Croatian international verges upon world-class in terms of quality, and there’s no doubt he would have been an integral cog at Stamford Bridge if the Tottenham chief had accepted the Blues’ £40million offer. Accept he did not however, and Levy opted to sell his talented midfielder a year later to Real Madrid for a lesser fee.
Whether Chelsea fans like it or not, their losses are very quickly becoming Tottenham’s gain, something the Stamford Bridge management are slowing realising. Yes, the Blues are considered title hopefuls whereas the Lilywhites are not, and the bookies even made them favourites for the domestic accolade at the start of the season.
Regardless however, there was just three points separating both clubs in the Premier League table last year, and Spurs’ quality represents a serious threat to Chelsea’s title ambitions. If Mourinho’s returning campaign doesn’t go as comfortably as planned, then it’ll be AVB’s men he’s nervously looking over his shoulder at for the rest of the season.
The Blues have already gifted Tottenham a talented manager in Andre Villas-Boas, and they’ll desperate to make sure they don’t make the same mistake twice. If Mourinho is to keep Chelsea’s title hopes on tracks, he’ll have to come away from White Hart Lane with a win. Anything else is Tottenham’s gain.
Has Chelsea’s loss become Tottenham’s gain?
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