This weekend, the Premier League’s biggest clash pits two teams in starkly different form against one another.
Chelsea, the hosts, have won six on the bounce in the league by a combined score of 17-0. Tottenham, the visitors, have won just one of their last nine games in all competitions—and even that solitary victory came courtesy of two extremely late Harry Kane goals.
With Spurs having been knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage with a game to spare on Tuesday, spirits will be low. “We need to improve our mentality,” Mauricio Pochettino told reporters after losing to Monaco, and that needs to happen really quite fast.
The last time Tottenham won at Stamford Bridge in the league? 1990, thanks to goals from Gary Lineker and David Howells. Chelsea have won more Premier League matches against Spurs (25) than any other team. Rarely does this fixture constitute happy hunting for the Lilywhites.
Chelsea Team News
Chelsea’s team news is easy, because there is none.
Antonio Conte named the same starting XI for the fifth week in a row against Middlesbrough, and none of his players gave him any reason to drop them. None are injured, none are suspended for the visit of Tottenham, and they all played well in the north east.
That means John Terry, Oscar, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas must all continue to bide their time. Willian has been absent from the last few squads, and it remains to be seen when he’ll rejoin the group.
Tottenham Hotspur Team News
Pochettino is in a very different situation to Conte; his options are limited, which shape he’ll use is unknown, and there are key men either out of form or unavailable.
The first problem is at left-back, where Danny Rose is suspended and Ben Davies is injured. Jan Vertonghen could slide in, but he often seems a reluctant full-back, so perhaps a back three will return. That’ll mean he accompanies Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer, with Toby Alderweireld confirmed as missing again, per Sky Sports.
But who plays on the left? Kieran Trippier? Kyle Walker-Peters? Georges Kevin-Nkoudou? The options are far from compelling.
Harry Kane is at least back and firing, having netted four goals in three games since finding fitness, but Heung-Min Son’s form has dropped off alarmingly. It might be that Vincent Janssen partners Kane and the South Korean drops out, although if it’s a similar 3-4-3 shape to the performance at the Emirates, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen could float just off Kane.
Erik Lamela is still out with a hip issue.
Pressure point 1: Tottenham’s left side
Whatever the formation, whoever plays there, Tottenham’s left side will be picked on. Despite Eden Hazard playing on the other side, it’s clearly an area Chelsea can work to their advantage—although they’ll have to stray from the usual egalitarian policy of sharing the ball out equally between the three thirds.
Pedro’s form this season (two goals, five assists in league play) has been one of many pleasing surprises for Chelsea, and it’s fair to say the new 3-4-3 shape suits the Spaniard just as much as it does Hazard. The man behind Pedro, Victor Moses, is enjoying his new right-wing-back role even more.
Despite Moses’ fancy feet and Pedro’s Barcelona upbringing, this right-sided tandem is fearsome because it’s so direct and fast; it smashes you in the mouth. Moses holds the width and barrels down the touchline, allowing Pedro to dip inside a little, and he’s proved he can produce in front of goal when given the chance.
How any of Spurs’ players—Vertonghen, Nkoudou, Walker-Peters—are going to handle this combo play is anyone’s guess. Nkoudou could match them for speed but would be undone positionally; Walker-Peters might be overawed on such an occasion; and Vertonghen can do the job, but his heart isn’t in it on the left.
Pressure point 2: Relief points?
A big chunk of Chelsea’s 17 goals over the last six league games came against Everton, where Ronald Koeman’s men were turned over 5-0 at Stamford Bridge. The Blues’ performance in that game was perfect, and this was rubber-stamped by the fact their opponents mustered one shot, zero on target.
At home, Chelsea play very aggressively and pin teams into their own half. The centre-backs stick to the opponent’s striker(s) like glue and follow them into deeper areas to disrupt their passing and starting of attacks. They’re able to do this because they play with three, so even if one travels into the midfield, there are still two left.
Everton continually looked for Romelu Lukaku during that 5-0 defeat, but he was pressured so intensely that he wasn’t able to bring the ball down very often and use it. He did manage some passes into Yannick Bolasie, but he was then pressured and gave it away.
Against high-intensity teams, you need a relief point; a man who has the strength to shrug off these challenges, hold the ball for three or four seconds and allow his team-mates to push up the pitch. If he can’t hold onto it, the attack breaks down before it has even begun.
In light of this, Kane’s hold-up skills will need to be sharper than ever, and there’s even an argument for playing Janssen alongside him in a two-striker formation. If you have two relief points, there’s more chance of success (and Janssen is very good at holding the ball up), and it might force Chelsea to be a little less aggressive in pushing centre-backs forward, as they’ll be three vs. two, not three vs. one.
If Spurs can’t bring it down and protect it, they’re in trouble. For reasons other than goalscoring prowess, Kane’s performance is key to any result they manage.