On a reduced Premier League weekend due to FA Cup action, there is little doubt where the biggest match lies.
Stamford Bridge will host Chelsea’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening, with the Blues knowing that a victory would take them a huge seven points clear of second-placed Liverpool, albeit having played a game more than the Reds and Arsenal and three more than a Manchester City side they’d be nine points ahead of.
Jose Mourinho will know that such an advantage will heap all of the pressure on to his title rivals and so he’ll be desperate to beat a Tottenham side which held the Blues to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane back in September.
Much has changed since then of course, not least Tottenham’s manager.
Tim Sherwood’s time in charge at Spurs has been largely successful so far, but there are concerns that the current top four are starting to move away from them, with results such as the 1-0 loss at Norwich in their last away game hardly helping matters.
Problems in front of goal have been key for Spurs all season, with their tally of just 37 Premier League strikes almost half of the 73 that Liverpool have scored and the same amount as 14th-placed Swansea City.
Chelsea haven’t conceded in 372 minutes of home action and so that mean defence coming up against a misfiring attack is likely to be one of the key elements of the game. Let’s also take a look elsewhere at where the contest will be won and lost.
Tottenham’s troublesome top two
Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado may have combined for the latter’s goal in the win over Cardiff last weekend―only the Spaniard’s second Premier League strike from open play―but they still don’t convince as a pairing.
Sherwood’s move to play both against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men did surprise some, but after the 1-0 victory he might be tempted to let them loose from the start again at Stamford Bridge.
Both often look to take up the same position,s though, and there appears to be little or no communication between them.
As we can see from the images above from the Cardiff clash, when left-back Zeki Fryers gains possession and looks to cross the ball, both Adebayor and Soldado take up similar positions, and even when the visitors attempt to clear the ball, there remains no communication as both forwards try to win it back.
This creates a vacant space in the middle of the penalty area which no Spurs player is in and so if the ball had dropped loose, then the chance would have been gone simply because the two forwards didn’t talk to each other.
Missing out on such chances against Chelsea will severely hamper their hopes of victory.
Andre Schurrle’s movement from the right
At Fulham last weekend, Andre Schurrle scored the sixth Premier League hat-trick of the season, with Chelsea players now responsible for each of the last three (Samuel Eto’o against Manchester United and Eden Hazard against Newcastle).
Schurrle combined with Hazard for each of his first two goals and Fernando Torres for his third and final strike, but each goal showcased his ability to drift in from the right flank and then make use of his striker’s instinct in front of goal.
After such an impressive haul, you’d surely think that Mourinho will pick Schurrle again here, and his ability to drift away from Tottenham’s inexperienced left-back Fryers could be a huge attacking weapon for Chelsea.
As we see from Schurrle’s second goal against Fulham, the German international’s ability to move inside but keep himself onside is crucial, with the wide man able eventually to latch on to Hazard’s precise and perfectly timed pass to finish off the chance.
Obviously Hazard’s pass is just as important as the run and the finish here, but given the form that the Belgian is in, you can almost be sure that he will pick the right ball more often than not, with Schurrle able to make that easy for him.
Tottenham need a repeat of Old Trafford showing
In searching for inspiration ahead of their trip across London, Tottenham could do worse than recall their 2-1 win over Manchester United on New Year’s Day.
In that clash, Spurs kept things compact at the back and looked to break at pace through Adebayor, Soldado, Christian Eriksen and Aaron Lennon, with that quartet responsible for scoring and creating both goals.
With Eriksen potentially still injured for this clash, that attacking impetus may be lost somewhat, but that doesn’t mean that Tottenham’s defensive approach has to change.
As seen here against United, Spurs got 10 men behind the ball in a bid to break quickly and powerfully, an approach which they are likely to have to repeat on what could be a long evening.