Chelsea will begin 2015 aiming to put the frustration of Southampton behind them and get back to winning ways against a team that has proved their favorite opponent over the duration of the Premier League era, Tottenham. The Premier Leaguer leaders came away from St Mary’s on Sunday with just a point and left José Mourinho fuming about a penalty not given and instead a yellow card awarded to Cesc Fabregas. Few will take Mourinho’s familiar cries of conspiracy seriously, with the real reason for his outburst surely a combination of attempting to influence the officiating of his team going forward as well as offering up a classic diversionary tactic.
While Chelsea remain top, they are not, at least yet, the runaway leaders that had many predicted a month or so ago. With a gap of just three points -- it would have been one had Manchester City not failed to beat Burnley later on Sunday -- there is little margin for error.
It would perhaps be overblown to say that Chelsea are stumbling, but it is clear they are failing to put opponents away with the same relentless frequency as they were in the early stages of the season. After dropping just four points from their first 12 Premier League matches, seven points have been left on the table in their last seven contests. As on Sunday, all of their failures to win this season have come away from home. With 10 players who have started at least 15 of their 19 Premier League matches this season, the hectic December schedule is perhaps taking its toll.
History suggests that a trip to Tottenham should provide the perfect fillip. When the teams last met just a month ago, a 3-0 win for Chelsea extended Tottenham’s winless run at Stamford Bridge to 24 years. But Spurs’ woeful record against their London rivals is not just confined to their travels. Tottenham have only ever beaten Chelsea three times in the Premier League, and have not won in the last 10 meetings in all competitions.
It is part of a wider trend of poor results against the Premier League’s big guns that has also seen them so regularly come up short against Manchester United, local foes Arsenal and, in recent times, Manchester City. It tells the story of Spurs’ struggle to truly join that band of elite teams. After yet another return to the drawing board with the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, ambitions are perhaps not yet so high this season. And by that barometer, there has been plenty to encourage of late. Without a defeat in five Premier League matches, Tottenham have found some much needed consistency, both in terms of results and personnel on the field. And they are now within striking distance of the top four, sitting just two points back in seventh.
There was little inferiority complex on show, either, against Manchester United on Sunday. While Pochettino’s men needed one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, Hugo Lloris, to bail them out on an occasion or two in the opening half, they more than held their own in the second. Correcting their recent run against Chelsea, though, promises to be an even steeper challenge.
Prediction: It was a familiar story when the sides met a month ago. Tottenham showed some encouraging signs early on but then buckled when Chelsea went in front. The same could happen this time, with Chelsea significantly more physically and mentally resilient, despite Spurs showing more solidity of late. Chelsea will surely be fired up to rebound from the disappointment at Southampton with a win, and the midfield creativity of Oscar and Cesc Fabregas can exploit a Tottenham team vulnerable to a probing pass.
Team news: Oscar is expected to return from illness for Chelsea, while Nabil Bentaleb should do likewise for Tottenham.
Tottenham 0-1 Chelsea
Kickoff time: 12.30 p.m. EST