The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Tottenham
What's that coming over the hill? Just Mauricio Pochettino's worst nightmare coming to life...
- S’land 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Schalke 0-5 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Maribor 1-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Spurs 2-1 Everton (Prem)
- Spurs 1-0 Partizan (EL)
- Hull 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- Spurs 1-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Asteras 1-2 Spurs (EL)
Not so long ago, this fixture represented a mouthwatering affair in the league calendar, a game poised on a tightrope. Spurs were a side of game-changers: Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart; Chelsea a club of unpredictable European champions.
Oh, how things have changed. The Special One has returned to Chelsea and blended mesmerising attacking flair with a pragmatic brawn. Balance has been brought to a team that looked occasionally lop-sided, while old guard stalwarts and dud performers have been shipped out with an unwieldy ruthlessness.
A similar mentality has been employed by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, though his blade has been more Game of Thrones broadsword than surgical knife. Competent managers have been beheaded (not literally, that would be awful), top billing players flogged; Spurs have gone from Champions League quarter-finalists to Europa League plodders in a heartbeat.
Looming large over this predicament is the shadowy image of Levy's talent spotter-in-chief, director of football Franco Baldini. The awkwardly mismatched line-up on display here is mainly a result of his Black Friday-style shopping binge in the wake of the Bale sale. Up until recently, Spurs v.2014 have looked weak, technically bereft and, far worse, unable to work to their manager's high-pressing game plan.
Sunday's 2-1 win against Everton was cause for optimism, however, and the dynamism and work-rate as typified by Pochettino's Southampton was very much in evidence.
The worrying news for Baldini, though, was that victory had been sourced from a homegrown core - the academy's Ryan Mason, Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb - rather than his expertise.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have looked casually devastating in the run-in to the winter period with the summer additions of Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and last season's reclaiming of Nemanja Matic.
Despite a shaky 0-0 draw with Sunderland at the weekend (where Costa was given licence to bend the rules of the game to his liking), they are a team intent on running a whole season unbeaten.
Still, they looked occasionally ruffled against Gus Poyet's men: Sunderland hit the woodwork twice and were unlucky not to get more than a point.
It's likely Spurs will provide the perfect tonic. On the evidence of 80% of their season, they possess neither the guile nor guts to match Chelsea's superiority. This is great news for Mourinho, sad for the neutral, and a horror show for anyone linked to Tottenham Hotspur.
Only a bozo would back Pochettino to halt Mourinho's progress at a ground where they have endured nothing but misery in recent decades.
Mourinho has a near-full complement to choose from. Only goal-machine striker Costa is suspended for this fixture. For Spurs, Kyle Naughton returns from a ban and Vlad Chirches should overcome a knock sustained in the Everton game. The likes of Andros Townsend and Danny Rose are all returning to full fitness.
Player to watch: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Such is the resolve of France's No.1 that few Spurs fans would begrudge him should he decide to jettison from White Hart Lane next summer. At times, Lloris has saved Spurs from draws, particularly away from home; he has restricted limp defeats to a one or two goal margin rather than a humiliating spank across the backside.
Presently, he is the only man capable of preventing this match from becoming a pummelling. Matic is likely to bully Pochettino's work-in-progress midfield; up top Chelsea will make merry hell with the swashbuckling craft of Mourinho's attack dogs, Willian, Oscar and Hazard. It will need a career-best performance from the Spurs goalie if Spurs are to get something here.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 4-0 Spurs (PL, Mar 14)
- Spurs 1-1 Chelsea (PL, Sep 13)
- Chelsea 2-2 Spurs (PL, May 13)
- Spurs 2-4 Chelsea (PL, Oct 12)
- Spurs 1-5 Chelsea (FAC, Apr 12)
Mourinho was left frustrated by the goalless draw at Sunderland, though a promise to grant his squad a Christmas party has not been withdrawn. “Of course this year’s party’s still on,” he said. “Sunderland defended very, very well. Some people, some football Einsteins, criticise defensive teams, they say defending is a crime but I don’t, they were playing for a clean sheet, they were successful in that objective and I praise them. We tried everything to win but we couldn’t win – and don’t forget we arrived home from Schalke at 5am in midweek.”
Luckily, Spurs are a team who revel in gift-wrapping a shot in the arm to their rivals - Aston Villa and Hull both ended goalless droughts against a defence that has lacked stability all season. But against Everton, they seemed to find a fresh momentum.
"Our mentality and our spirit were fantastic," Pochettino said. 'This is what we want. We need to keep this feeling. It is impossible always to win but with the spirit and mentality we showed, it will be easier to win games. The team sent a different signal to our supporters and it is important to keep this feeling and mentality for the rest of the season."
Facts and figures
- Jose Mourinho's side have kept 11 clean sheets in their last 14 Premier League home matches.
- Didier Drogba has scored 3 goals and assisted 4 more in his last 8 Premier League games against Spurs.
- Tottenham have not won away at Stamford Bridge in any competition since February 1990 when Gary Lineker scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win (W0 D10 L17).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
It's Christmas, but Spurs will need a miracle to avoid a rout here. Chelsea to win by a (Santa) hatful. 4-0.
Back 4-0 at 18/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication