A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home tie against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
As we return to club football after this season’s final international break, Chelsea come up against their bitter rivals in Tottenham Hotspur. But as we lock horns with the almost team, there is more than just bragging rights and 3 points on offer this time around. The 2 clubs lie either side of the Champions League qualifying divide, with all the consequences of which european competition the clubs may be participating in next season on the line.
With The Blues lying 5 points behind their North London neighbours and with only 8 league matches left this season, this match up will rightly be classed as a must win tie for Antonio Conte’s side. Anything but a win would leave The Blues with an insurmountable gap to close with the top 4 especially if the recent form of Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs continues.
The lilywhites are unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League matches, which is the best current run of any side in the division, but they are still on a frighteningly long poor run of form away at The Blues.
It was February 1990 when Spurs last won away at Stamford Bridge. Margaret Thatcher was still the Prime Minister, Nelson Mandela was still in prison and Liverpool were still winning the league title, while fans still stood on terraces behind the goals. There will be a fair portion of the crowd and many more watching on tv throughout the world who weren’t even born then.
Chelsea themselves are actually on a good run at Stamford Bridge, despite the feeling that their recent results have been far more negative. They have only lost 1 of their last 11 home league matches, in which they’ve actually won 9 and drawn once.
Antonio Conte is still without long term absentees David Luiz and Ross Barkley, while both Thibaut Courtois and Andreas Christensen may not be in contention after recent hamstring and fatigue issues. So we can expect Willy Caballero and Gary Cahill to start in their places.
For Mauricio Pochettino Harry Winks, Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane are all doubts despite the Spurs manager claiming that his striker may be involved in the tie even though it was only 3 weeks ago when he suffered ankle ligament damage in their 4-1 win away at Bournemouth. However even if Kane is not fit enough to start, his likely replacement, Son Heung-Min, is in top form with 7 goals in his last 5 games, while Davinson Sánchez has been an impressive replacement in central defence for Alderweireld.
For Chelsea to come out on top, they will need to be strong in central midfield. Even though N’Golo Kante has been in breathtaking form and Cesc Fabregas has worked hard on his defensive duties they will need some help to counter the strength and power of Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembélé.
However the visitors will need to change their mental state if they want to finally break their winless run at The Bridge. Despite taking the lead on both visits in the last 2 seasons, they didn’t have the mental strength to hold out. Famously 2 years ago they capitulated from a commanding 2-0 lead as Eden Hazard’s beautiful finish ended Spurs’s hopes of beating Leicester City to the league title. Last season, Christian Eriksen put the visitors 1-0 up but The Blues rallied to record a 2-1 win.
So a match between two of the best teams in England, with more than just 3 points on the line, looks like a real Easter cracker. Remember Chelsea are the only side to beat The Cockerels at their temporary home of Wembley this season and The Blues came out on top in their FA Cup semi final last season.
For Chelsea to close the gap to just 2 points they will need to show the resilience they showed when beating Leicester in extra time of their quarter final, along with the form they showed in outplaying Barcelona twice in the Champions League. A tight match will be settled by the grit and determination of everyone playing right up until the final whistle.
Written by Jon Ellis. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue