Chelsea vs Tottenham: 5 things to look forward to
With Harry Kane still missing for Tottenham, can Heung-Min Son step-up and deliver a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1990?
Last season, the Premier League title ended up as a race between these two London-based sides.
This season, the race remains but the prize is much less auspicious: a place in the top four of the Premier League and, with that, a place in the Champions League.
That doesn’t mean that the encounter between these two teams will be any less contested, though. Spurs come into this one as the form team but, given Chelsea’s off-pitch struggles this season, there always remains the possibility for Antonio Conte’s team to pull off a victory.
If Chelsea can do so, their arrears on Spurs will be reduced to just two points, making the battle for fourth place look very finely balanced indeed.
With that in mind, here are five things to look forward to from the clash:
1. Champions League battle
Anything less than a win over Tottenham on Sunday will leave qualification for next season’s Champions League a very tall order for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.
The Blues sit five points adrift of fourth-placed Spurs and last season’s Premier League champions must beat a top-four rival for the first time since November to close the sizeable gap.
Incredibly, Spurs haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League era, Gary Lineker being the last player to score a winner in the league for the visitors, a run stretching back to February 10, 1990.
Kante & Co. have recent losses to Manchester United and Manchester City but remain the only team so far to topple Spurs at their temporary home in the league this season, with a Marcos Alonso double defeating Mauricio Pochettino’s men way back in August.
2. False nine for Eden Hazard?
Antonio Conte may deploy the enigmatic Eden Hazard in the ‘false nine’ role, although Alvaro Morata recently netted his first goal in 2018 against Leicester while Olivier Giroud bagged a goal for France during the international break.
First choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has had hamstring problems in recent weeks and Andreas Christensen has suffered from fatigue – however, according to reports, both are expected to be fit for Sunday.
Ross Barkley is still unavailable with a recurring hamstring injury, alongside David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu – who both have ankle ailments.
3. With Kane out can Son step-up?
Tottenham will be without talisman Harry Kane again, meaning Son Heung-min will lead the line at Stamford Bridge – but can he produce the goods against top quality opposition?
The South Korean forward boasts an impressive record of 12 goals and four assists in 29 Premier League appearances this season.
The 25-year-old forward remains criminally underrated by many in the footballing sphere. However, Sunday’s fixture against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge could prove to be the game in which the former Bayer Leverkusen man announces himself to the world.
With Kane out until sometime in April, Erik Lamela will probably take over Son’s usual position on Spurs’ left wing,
Otherwise, Pochettino’s squad is in reasonable shape with just Harry Winks sidelined with an ankle injury, though Toby Alderweireld’s continued rehabilitation is being assessed.
4. Tottenham are the form team
Tottenham are most definitely the form team coming into this top-four crunch tie, something that will give Spurs fans hope they can end their Stamford Bridge hoodoo.
Son & Co. have only lost once in their last six games in all competitions, with a 3-0 victory over Swansea in the FA Cup quarterfinal and a 4-1 pummeling of Bournemouth still fresh in the memory.
And it must, of course, be noted that the Lillywhites’ only loss in six came against Italian champions Juventus in a hard-fought, quality Champions League tie in which Tottenham exited with their heads held high.
Chelsea’s form is a patchy at best. However, they have a played Barcelona twice, Manchester City and Manchester United in a run of six games that has seen Conte’s men pick up two wins and a draw in all competitions.
However, the Blues have won nine of their last 11 Premier League home matches and have there have been an average of 2.5 goals scored in six of Chelsea’s last seven league games.
If those stats are anything to go by, then expect a high-scoring game.
5. Cancelling out formations
Although Antonio Conte has attempted to move past the 3-4-3 formation that famously won him the Premier League last season, the 3-5-2 hybrid that he has tried to implement this season has never quite succeeded.
As a result, it will be interesting to see whether or not he returns to the winning formula at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
If he does, the game could slip into something of a war of attrition. The best way to counter the 3-4-3, as Mauricio Pochettino knows having used this approach last season to beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane, is to adopt the same formation.
However, in doing so, the players become cancelled out as they can be marked one-on-one by their opposition. Once this happens, the game has a tendency to fizzle out as any real creativity is muted.
What do you think will happen in Sunday’s game? Let us know what you think by commenting below.