After a short international break, the Premier League is back with matchday 32. A London Derby highlights this set of fixtures as Tottenham travel to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea.
Stamford Bridge has been a place of horrors for Tottenham as they haven’t won there in any competition since 1990. Just two seasons ago, Tottenham visited Chelsea late in the season in the midst of the title push. They went up 2-0 before conceding two goals in the second half to draw 2-2. Throughout the fixture, tempers flared between both sides and with that draw, Leicester City were crowned champions.
Tottenham currently sit third in the table, five points clear of Chelsea who sit in fifth. However, Chelsea are the only team to win at Tottenham’s temporary home ground this season, Wembley Stadium, winning 2-1 in August.
Tottenham enter this fixture in great form having won five out of their last six in all competitions. Their only loss in that span came in the Champions League at the hands of Juventus. With Chelsea hot on their tail in the race for the top four, a win at Stamford Bridge would go a long way towards guaranteeing top four for Spurs.
Like their previous two games, Tottenham will most likely be without their star striker Harry Kane who is dealing with an ankle issue. Nevertheless, they have scored seven goals in their past two matches without Kane, albeit against worse defenses. Toby Alderweireld, who hasn’t featured in the starting eleven in the Premier League since November because of a hamstring issue, was fit enough to play ninety minutes in the Belgian back-line in a 4-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia. However, Mauricio Pochettino holds his players to incredible fitness standards. So, being fit enough in the eyes of Belgian manager, Roberto Martinez, is not equivalent to being fit in the eyes of Pochettino
Son Heung-Min enters the match in the best form of his career and should start in place of Kane up top. The prolific Korean attacker has scored seven goals in his past five matches in all competitions for Tottenham. With Son playing up top, either Erik Lamela or Lucas Moura will start in his usual position out wide. Lamela is the more likely of the two as he not only has attacking prowess going forward but is also exceptional tracking back and helping out his fullbacks. Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli will round out the attacking quartet.
Dembélé will almost certainly start as one of the two center midfielders against Chelsea. The other spot in the midfield will be held by either Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama. However, Wanyama was rumored to have picked up a small knock on international duty. Thus, expect Pochettino to play it safe and start Dier. A jack-of-all-trades, Dier has already played as a center midfielder throughout this season while Wanyama was previously injured.
With Chelsea entering the fixture in desperate need of a win, a sturdy Tottenham defense will be key. Both Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier are both possible options for Pochettino at right back. Aurier is better equipped to deal with the pace of Chelsea’s wingers. However, he is also incredibly prone to making mistakes and is known to give away boneheaded penalties. Trippier is certainly the safer option although Aurier has a bigger upside.
Toby Alderweireld, who is in the midst of a contract dispute, has recently regained his fitness. However, it is a tall task to ask him to start his first Premier League match since November against Chelsea. When in form, Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen form a dynamic center-back pairing. However, in Alderweireld’s absence, Davinson Sánchez has filled in remarkably well. Pochettino should keep Alderweireld on the bench for this match and wait to bring him back in a more favorable setting.
Look for Tottenham to line up in a 4-2-3-1 with a back line of Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen and Ben Davies. In the center midfield, Moussa Dembélé will start along Eric Dier. Ahead of them will be the trio of Lamela, Alli, and Erisken. Leading the attack, Son will try to continue his great goal-scoring form playing as the lone striker. Finally, Lloris will get the start in net for the away side.
Chelsea conclude a relatively difficult set of fixtures, including games against Manchester United, Manchester City, and Barcelona by hosting Tottenham. The Blues enter this match in less than stellar form having won just two matches out of their last six in all competitions. However, they did pick up a win in their last outing beating Leicester City 2-1 in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Manager, Antonio Conte is already under immense pressure from both the fans and the board alike heading into this fixture. Thus, winning against Tottenham is of the utmost importance for Chelsea. They are already slightly adrift from the top four and a loss in this fixture would only exasperate that. However, with history on their side, they have to feel incredibly confident heading into the match.
The Blues enter the match with fewer injury concerns than their counterparts. There are question marks around the fitness of goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, and center-back, Andreas Christensen. However, both are expected to play. Center-back, David Luiz, is unlikely to play as he is still recovering from a previous ankle injury. Although he was not expected to play to begin with, Ross Barkley will also likely miss the match due to injury.
The biggest concern facing Conte ahead of the match is who he wants to lead his attack. If he decides to play one striker, he could elect to play Eden Hazard up top in a false-nine role. Willian and Pedro would both play alongside him on either wing. Conte could also decide to go a different route and play either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud, both more typical strikers. Morata broke his goal-scoring drought in Chelsea’s last fixture. This should instill some confidence in him heading into the clash with Tottenham. If Conte decides to go with a two-striker formation, he will start Hazard alongside either Giroud or Morata. However, playing a two-striker formation would involve benching Willian who has been in incredible form.
The midfield combination that Conte decides to go with will depend on which formation he uses. If he goes with his usual 3-4-3 alignment, N’Golo Kanté and Danny Drinkwater will be the center-midfield pairing. If he elects to go with a 3-5-2 formation, Kanté and Drinkwater will most likely be joined by either Tiémoué Bakayoko or Cesc Fàbregas in the center-midfield. Despite his poor form, Bakayoko is the more likely of the two as he is more defensive minded and could help contain Dembélé. In either formation, Marcos Alonso will line up on the left side while Davide Zappacosta will line up on the right.
The only question mark for the Chelsea defense is whether or not Christensen will be fit. If he is fit, he should slide into a back three along with Antonio Rüdiger and César Azpilicueta. However, if he is not fit, Gary Cahill would start in place of him. There is a noticeable dip in quality for Chelsea going from Christensen to Cahill. Thus, if Cahill starts, expect Tottenham to attempt to exploit him throughout the game.
Look for Chelsea to use a 3-5-2 formation as Conte adapts his tactics to better contain this Tottenham squad. Assuming they’re all fit, Christensen, Rüdiger, and Azpilicueta should line up together in the back. Bakayoko, Kanté, and Drinkwater will all play in the center midfield as they pack in tight and try to dominate the middle of the field. As per the usual, Zappacosta and Alonso will line up on the right and left sides respectively. Up top, Hazard will play alongside Morata as Chelsea look to cause the Tottenham back-line trouble with the two-striker approach. Finally, Courtois will start in net. Willian, Giroud, and Fabregas should all provide good attacking options off the bench if Chelsea are chasing a goal late.
Tottenham enter the match in far better form out of the two teams. However, previous form never seems to matter in this fixture, especially following an international break. Despite not missing a beat in their previous two games without Kane, Tottenham might struggle to break down Chelsea’s defense. Chelsea’s backline is a totally different monster compared to those of their previous opponents, Bournemouth and Swansea City. Tottenham would likely be content with leaving Stamford Bridge with a draw. Thus, they may play fairly defensively and try to hit Chelsea on the counter while settling for a draw.
Desperately needing three points, Chelsea should come out of the gates playing very positive attacking football. An early goal would especially do wonders to bring the home supporters behind the squad. If Kante and Bakayoko can effectively contain Eriksen and Dembélé, Chelsea should be successful in stifling Tottenham’s attack. With great options off the bench, Chelsea will be able to bring on attacking quality if chasing a late goal.
Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham
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