16:30 KO (BST); Sunday 20th August; Wembley Stadium (London, England)
With White Hart Lane under a mound of builders, Tottenham’s first Premiership game at their temporary home is already upon us. Having suffered a string of poor results in Wembley last season when they attempted but failed to qualify from the Champions League group stages, twice.
Many believe the stadium is cursed for Spurs, others believe it’s due to the size and surface quality. Whatever you believe, the game is happening this weekend and it comes against their fierce London rivals. No not those ones, the ones in Blue.
Chelsea are the opponents on this historic occasion and as the reigning title holders, they appear to have fallen under a curse of their own. Both previous Premiership champions have crumbled under the pressure of defending their title. First José Mourinho then Claudio Ranieri watched their respective teams spectacularly falter before paying for the collapse with their jobs.
While Antonio Conte still has time and fixtures on his side before any such notions are even considered, he does seem to be setting himself up for quite the fall should his side fail to regain their footing.
LAST TIME OUT
Newcastle 0 – 2 TOTTENHAM (Premiership)
Tottenham took all three points from Newcastle with a strong display and two second-half goals. The first half was fractured by two of Newcastle’s defenders having to leave the field through injury, the second of which could arguably have seen Harry Kane receive a red card for the lunging tackle from behind which earned him a yellow.
With Jonjo Shelvey being rightly dismissed directly after the break, Tottenham were afforded more space on the pitch which allowed their quality to shine through and clinch the win.
Much of the talk after the match centred around the impressive Kyle Walker-Peters, however, Ben Davies played equally as well on the opposite side of the pitch. Each wing-back managed a passing accuracy of 91% while they both managed to use their bodies to block the ball on four occasions each.
One key difference was the fact that Newcastle concentrated much of their attacks down their left flanks which targeted the young Tottenham defender in the right-back berth. This allowed Davies to get forward in support of his sides attacks more often, a feat which was rewarded in the 70th minute when he scored the killer goal to seal the win for Spurs.
CHELSEA 2 – 3 Burnley (Premiership)
An eventful game at Stamford Bridge did not go how Chelsea fans would’ve envisaged the game prior to kick-off. Gary Cahill’s early red card was quickly followed by three first-half Burnley goals without reply to leave the defending Champions shell-shocked at the interval.
While Burnley defended admirably after the break, Chelsea were able to mount a fightback, particularly through Álvaro Morata who made his entrance to the game after an hour of play.
With Michy Batshuayi having been largely anonymous during the first hour, Morata replaced the young Belgian and made an instant impact on the game. Having scored within ten minutes of being on the pitch, everything positive for Chelsea was connected to the Spanish striker, even as the Blues were reduced to 9 when Cesc Fàbregas was also sent off for a second yellow awarded for dissent.
With an assist for Luiz’s goal at the end of the game, it will be a huge surprise if Morata again fails to make the starting eleven for Chelsea this weekend, especially considering the lack of available bodies for the fixture.
Tottenham Hotspur Lineup
Mauricio Pochettino will again be without both of his first-choice full-backs as Danny Rose (knee) and Kieran Trippier (ankle) remain sidelined. Erik Lamela (hip) will also be unavailable, however, both Victor Wanyama and Heung-Min Son are expected to be fit again and ready for selection.
Conte has major decisions to make ahead of the derby against their London rivals. Eden Hazard (ankle) and Tiemoué Bakayoko (knee) are both unexpected to feature, while Pedro (ankle) is also looking doubtful to start the game. Following their red cards last weekend, both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fàbregas will be suspended, although Victor Moses returns from suspension after his red card in the FA Cup final.
This could mean that a defensive reshuffle is needed to both cover the missing players and allow David Luiz to play in the centre of midfield. In other news, Diego Costa is still 5,000 miles away from Chelsea’s training pitch.
Key Battle: Harry Kane vs Thibaut Courtois
Harry Kane may have won the Premiership’s golden boot during the previous two campaigns, but he’s never been able to score in August. If the referee at Newcastle last weekend had reached into his pocket for a different coloured card after his scissor-tackle from behind on Florian Lejeune, this unfortunate record would have continued for another year, however, Kane’s destiny is now within his own control.
Having scored 22 goals from the previous 27 games he’s played against London opposition, the chances would seem to be in his favour of breaking his duck.
The main and last obstacle between Kane and the end of his August nightmare is a tall Belgian goalkeeper. Courtois is rightly regarded as one of the world’s greatest current keepers, however, with a makeshift defence and an underpowered midfield in front of him, this week should see Courtois really earning his money in the Chelsea goalmouth.
Not only will he need to match the efforts of the Spurs striker and his teammates, he will also need to help organise the impromptu defenders who stand before him.
Beating the Champions
Chelsea were one of only four teams to defeat Tottenham last season and they did it in both the Premier League and the FA Cup. As last year’s top-two teams line up against each other at Wembley, Spurs will be eager to beat the team who ended two of their dreams towards silverware last year. If this happens to come at great expense to their rivals, then so much the better.
This is possibly an attitude that Chelsea will regularly face as all teams like to take a scalp, especially if it’s from a side who have their own trophies to prove how good they’ve recently been.
Tottenham may have more reason than most though, with the fact that Spurs are hoping to climb an extra place in the league table this season making it seem even more important that they can beat last season’s title holders.
Lacking in depth
Mauricio Pochettino was facing much criticism recently due to a lack of activity by Tottenham in the transfer market. This weekends game puts this claim into perspective and serves as a future warning as they face a Chelsea side who are almost struggling to find eligible players.
The problem faced by Tottenham may be partly connected to Levy’s handling of the purse strings – despite the disregard for value he showed when Sissoko was signed a year ago – but also in trying to find a player available who can either force his way into a talented first-team or be happy with a lesser role in the squad while still possessing immense talent.
Chelsea, by comparison, have seemingly been the victims of their own plans. In not ensuring new players were sealed before allowing others to leave, Conte is now left with a squad that is no bigger than the threadbare side he used last year with no major interruptions from injuries or suspensions.
With handfuls of new names being linked with the Blues every day, there’s a feeling of chaos behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge and suddenly Tottenham’s predicament doesn’t seem quite as bad, especially with Davinson Sanchez now practising his signature on official documents.
A dilemma named Costa
The current situation with Chelsea’s striking striker has been brewing since a training ground dispute with a fitness coach led to Diego Costa missing Chelsea games in January due to a “back injury”. It was generally felt at the time that Conte had handled the situation perfectly by keeping the problem in-house and finding a resolution which seemed to benefit all concerned.
Half a year later and it’s fair to say that the situation is no longer amicable. With only two weeks left before the transfer window closes and traps Costa in Lagarto for the foreseeable future, it’s still unclear as to who is going to be the biggest loser from this fallout.
PREDICTION: Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 1 Chelsea
Chelsea are far from imploding and a loss at Wembley will not summon a crisis within the walls of Stamford Bridge, however, two consecutive losses will be a hammer-blow to their hopes of successfully defending the league title.
With a shortage of first-team players, Conte will be at a disadvantage when they face a London rival who produced some slick football at times last weekend when they slipped three points away from St James’ Park.
This won’t be an easy game by any stretch, but I can see Tottenham taking the bragging rights along with another three points for their season.
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