After the desperate disappointment of being held to a 1-1 draw by West Bromwich Albion on Monday, Tottenham face the prospect of their now remote Premier League title hopes being fully extinguished at the home of their London rivals Chelsea. Craig Dawson’s second-half equalizer at White Hart Lane means Tottenham now trail leaders Leicester City by a massive seven points going into the final three games of the season.
To make matters worse, Dele Alli has since been suspended for the final three games of the season, after delivering a punch into the midriff of Claudio Yacob. Tottenham’s chances could now be officially over even before they take the field at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening. A Leicester win at Manchester United on Sunday would see the trophy headed to the King Power Stadium. But even a draw would be enough if Tottenham fail to beat Chelsea.
Such an outcome would be particularly painful, not only because of the long rivalry between Spurs and Chelsea but because Chelsea have made it abundantly clear they would relish handing the title to Leicester.
“The fans, the club, the players, we don't want Tottenham to win the Premier League,” Eden Hazard told the BBC's Match of the Day program after Chelsea’s win over Bournemouth on Saturday. “We hope for Leicester because they deserve to be champions this season. We have a good game next week against Tottenham and if we can beat them it will be good.”
Yet while it is clear that those at Stamford Bridge will extract a certain schadenfreude from denying Tottenham, it cannot detract from the fact that Chelsea have endured a season of bitter disappointment and will finish it below Spurs in the table for just the second time in 20 years.
Tottenham may not win the league, and there is reason to see it as a chance missed, but it has still been a terrific campaign under Mauricio Pochettino. With a bright young manager, the youngest team in the Premier League, a Champions League berth all-but secured and a move to a new stadium in two years’ time, Spurs can look forward with plenty of optimism.
For Chelsea, the immediate future is more uncertain. And Tottenham will, even if the title is gone, see Monday’s encounter as an ideal opportunity to get a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1990.
It has been a been a pitiful Premier League title defense for Chelsea, even if a 4-1 win over Bournemouth last week took them into the top half of the table. Antonio Conte has been confirmed as the manager for next season, taking over for interim coach Guus Hiddink, but the future of a number of players remains in doubt.
Hazard is at the top of the list after a dramatic fall in his performances since he was voted the best player in England last season by both his fellow players and football writers. Indeed, his 34th-minute strike at Bournemouth was his first goal in the Premier League this season. The midfielder who assisted on the effort, Cesc Fabregas, has since painted a stark picture of the final months under Jose Mourinho by saying “I just forgot how to play football.”
The former Arsenal star has particular reason to be at his best on Monday. And even if Chelsea’s poor start to the campaign means their season, in terms of tangible objectives, has long since been over, Monday’s match should at least offer ample motivation, not just to potentially end Spurs’ title dreams, but to signal that they should not get comfortable in the position of London’s top dogs.
Chelsea: Captain John Terry is on course to make his return on Monday after missing a month with hamstring and Achilles injuries.
Tottenham: Already missing the suspended Alli, Tottenham have a doubt over his midfield partner Eric Dier, after he suffered a concussion in the draw with West Brom.
Prediction: Tottenham were hobbled by tension in the second half against West Brom, leading to a result that surely ends their title hopes. How they react to that and the loss of the hugely influential Alli will be key to whether they can end their long winless streak at Stamford Bridge. Pochettino’s men at full force would have too much for a Chelsea team that has been so lackluster for so much of the season. But against a Chelsea side, which could be boosted by the return of Terry, likely to be up for the challenge, a draw may be the most Tottenham can muster.
Predicted score: Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham