London derbies are among the best in the Premier League, and clashes between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea rarely disappoint. Saturday’s early kick-off at White Hart Lane is given an extra dimension by the history between the respective managers.
Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas was part of Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff at Porto way back in 2004. He then followed the Special One to Chelsea and Inter Milan before beginning a coaching career in his own right. AVB has since followed his mentor’s road to stardom by winning a European trophy with Porto before joining Chelsea in 2011.
However, that is where the similarities between the two coaches end. Villas-Boas failed to emulate Mourinho’s success at Chelsea and was sacked in March 2012. He was unable to guide Spurs into the Champions League places in 2012-13 but has certainly strengthened their squad over the summer, despite the loss of Gareth Bale.
Tottenham are currently level on points with Arsenal at the top of the table, despite only scoring five goals so far, and Villas-Boas will be looking to improve on last season’s result in the same fixture as well as getting one over on his old boss.
Meanwhile, Mourinho will not be concerning himself with such matters. Chelsea appear to have overcome the "crisis" of recent weeks with two consecutive wins. The Special One is still trying to work out his best 11, and injuries sustained at Swindon Town will complicate this task further.
Ramires is rated as doubtful on the official website having picked up a hip injury, and Mourinho will not want to risk a player he knows he will rely on in the latter stages of the season. Marco van Ginkel suffered a more serious injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that has ended his debut season at the club.
That leaves the holding role restricted to John Obi Mikel and either Michael Essien or Frank Lampard. David Luiz will likely start from the bench with Gary Cahill partnering John Terry in the centre of defence. Ryan Bertrand and Cesar Azpilicueta started against Swindon but will retake their places on the bench as Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole return to the first 11.
With the easy areas out of the way, much of the focus will be in Mourinho’s choice of attacking players. Juan Mata’s lack of defensive contribution has seen the two-time Player of the Year relegated to cameo substitute appearances, but he has shown willingness to adapt his game. He was involved in three of the four Chelsea goals in this fixture last year and will hope for the same result this time around.
Before leaving Real Madrid, The Special One told Spanish TV programme Punto Pelota (h/t the Daily Mail) “I am a coach who looks for a meritocracy. Whoever I think is best must play—without looking at status or the past.” Fernando Torres is currently Chelsea’s top-scoring striker with one goal, and a solid performance against Swindon means that Mourinho should give him the chance to show his mettle against quality opposition.
Oscar is about the only player guaranteed a start at the moment, and a less-than-perfect performance from Willian in the midweek fixture will see Eden Hazard on the left. However, if the match is going according to plan, Mourinho’s mischievous side might see the Brazilian get some game time against the club he rejected in favour of the Blues.
A Chelsea victory would see them top the table, however briefly, and maintain their bragging rights over their fiercest rivals. Mourinho’s men will understand the importance of this fixture to the supporters, and, whomever starts, there will be no room for error on Saturday lunchtime.