Superficially, Chelsea’s game with Tottenham at Wembley is just an FA Cup semi-final. To think of it in this way would be naïve, however. With the two sides separated by a meagre four points at the top of the Premier League, there’s far more riding on this fixture than just a place in the FA Cup final come the end of the season. Whoever wins, we could be looking at potential double winners and here’s why.
The fight for the psychological edge
Football isn’t purely about who has the better players and the better tactical system. There’s a deeper aspect to the game that extends into psychology and mentality. One of Jose Mourinho’s greatest managerial ploys is the ‘siege mentality’ he employs at every club he’s ever managed. His players buy into it and their mentality often carries them over the line against far superior teams; see Inter Milan’s defensive masterclass at the Camp Nou in 2010, the year they won the Champions League.
When these two sides meet on Saturday, they’re not just playing for a place in the final, rather a psychological advantage in the title race. After months of cruise control, Chelsea suddenly must take control of the wheel again and steer themselves over the final line. Tottenham have caught up and it’s no longer a simple stroll in the park for the Blues.
You can already feel the momentum shifting and should Spurs win, it could potentially knock the wind out of Chelsea’s sails. Should Chelsea win, Spurs may be psychologically crippled, lacking the time to overcome such a crushing defeat and see their season peter out into oblivion.
A Tottenham win increases the pressure…
At the end of the day, there’s a significant amount of ‘if, buts and maybes’ littered amongst this, but the psychological victory should Tottenham win at Wembley would be massive. Not only do they overcome their Wembley hoodoo, a mental victory in itself, but the momentum will be entirely with the Lilywhites for the final six games of the season.
Six games is ample time to overturn a four point deficit should Chelsea falter, a falter they might if they lose to Spurs in the manner in which they were defeated at White Hart Lane. They weren’t beat, they were destroyed. The 2-0 score-line doesn’t reflect the competent way Spurs put the sword to them, despite a 13-game winning streak at the time.
“It could be a big thing psychologically. If we win it might put a bit more doubt in their minds regarding the Premier League.” – Harry Kane
Pressure is an interesting beast. Too little can breed stagnation, whilst too much can cause implosion. Chelsea have experienced the stagnation, so is the implosion imminent? The pressure on the leaders would increase astronomically if Tottenham win, which puts even more immediate pressure on the Blues to win this weekend.
…Or acts as a reality check
The flipside to a Tottenham victory is that it could provide the opposite effect to that which is desirable. Instead of inspiring a capitulation of epic proportions, it could reinvigorate the Blues and ignite their iron determination that has brought them this far. Unfortunately for Tottenham, a defeat for Chelsea could hand them a reality check, one they take back to the training ground and work tirelessly to ensure doesn’t happen between now and the end of the season.
That was the case the first time around after the 2-0 defeat in January. Without losing a game until April 1st, Chelsea won ten games out of the following 12. Antonio Conte doesn’t strike me as the sort of man that would follow a defeat with another defeat.
Disappointments of this magnitude, such as gifting Lazio the Italian Serie A title on the final day of the 1999/2000 season after losing four out of Juventus’ last eight games, after which captain Conte did not sleep for six nights, have fuelled his perfectionist habits. Even after the loss to Crystal Palace, for example, the Blues beat Bournemouth before losing to Manchester United.
What does a Chelsea win achieve?
The pressure might be on Chelsea right now and the momentum with Spurs, but a Chelsea win would knock Spurs right back into their place as the underdogs to win the Premier League. It’s a label and status they relish, happy to quietly go about their business in a way that reflects Mauricio Pochettino’s calm demeanour, but one that ultimately amounts to nothing in the football’s grand scheme.
Pochettino, as of now, remains the best manager in the world never to win a trophy. Tottenham know that the FA Cup is their best chance of winning this current generation’s first piece of silverware, and Tottenham’s first since 2008, but such pressure could be unbearable. If Spurs were to lose, the pressure then translates into the Premier League and there are questions marks over their ability to cope given their collapse at the end of last year.
Pat Nevin made a valid point when he said that Chelsea can afford to drop points, whereas Spurs cannot. All the questions are being asked of Chelsea without touching on directed at Spurs: What happens if they have an off-day at any point? It’s not something they can contend with and it might signal the end of what has been an encouraging season overall. Saturday could be that off-day and could theoretically gift Chelsea the title.
Will Saturday's game affect the Premier League title race? Let us know in the comments section below.