A Tottenham team without a win at Stamford Bridge since 1990 is all that stands between Chelsea and establishing a seven point lead at the top of the Premier League. With Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City not in league action this weekend, Jose Mourinho’s side will have huge motivation to continue to pile points on the board and pressure on their rivals. Tottenham sit 10 points back, in fifth place, and need the points themselves if they are to have a chance of catching one of the sides ahead of them to capture the all-important fourth place. Here’s a rundown of how the teams match up.
Petr Cech can still be a formidable presence, but commits more errors now than during his peak. The last two goals Chelsea have conceded, against Fulham and Galatasaray, came from some indecisiveness from Cech at corners.
Hugo Lloris on his day is arguably the finest goalkeeper in the Premier League. However, his decision-making, particularly in rushing out, which is one of the things that makes him so good, has got him into trouble this season more often than is ideal.
Jose Mourinho has found a settled defense that suits his style well. John Terry, aged 33, still remains a crucial part of that. While he has never been blessed with pace and he has been especially creaking for a couple of seasons now, that weakness is rarely exposed with the way Mourinho has his team sit deep. Instead Terry’s strengths come to the fore -- his backs to the wall defending in the air and on the ground. Gary Cahill has a similar skillset and has done a solid job alongside him. Both are likely to relish the physical challenge provided by Emanuel Adebayor on Saturday.
At full-back, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta also fit Mourinho’s defensive-first approach. Ivanovic is better going forward than his build suggests, but is still not exactly the second coming of Cafu. On the left, Cesar Azpilicueta has done a fine job defensively, but playing on the wrong side means his attacking qualities are diminished. While the two work well in the counter-attacking game, they struggle to provide an outlet to what is often a narrow team ahead of them when Chelsea are tasked with breaking down stubborn opponents.
In Michael Dawson, Tottenham have a defender with similar strengths and weaknesses to Terry. It is no surprise that both were horribly exposed under Andre Villas-Boas’ high line. Under Tim Sherwood, the defensive line drops deeper, but a lack of protection in front of him has still left him exposed on occasion. With Younes Kaboul back in contention, he could get the nod alongside Dawson with Jan Vertonghen moving to left-back in place of the injured Danny Rose. Kyle Walker should also return from injury at right-back. Walker, who is still far too prone to switching off and allowing runners in behind him, faces a massive test up against Eden Hazard.
Nemanja Matic has made a huge difference to Chelsea’s midfield since arriving in January. His crucial role in front of the back four was shown in his absence against Galatasaray when the Turkish champions were allowed back into the game. Still, a tandem of Matic and Ramires can often struggle when the onus is on Chelsea to take the game to the opposition. That may not be a particular issue against a Tottenham side that has not been set-up under Sherwood to frustrate the opposition. Still, Frank Lampard could be selected, especially with Ramires having had a return trip to South Africa in the week.
There is little prospect of Sherwood opting for quite as open a setup he utilized at home to Cardiff last time out. Sandro looks a certain starter to provide Spurs with a natural defensive midfielder, with likely Mousa Dembele alongside him and Paulinho in a slightly more advanced role. Such a setup would give Spurs some solidity in the middle, but even when deploying such a setup, the team has still sometimes looked ragged with players not appearing to have clear instructions.
And that trio also lacks creativity when on the ball. With Christian Eriksen likely to again be out injured, recent performance suggest Tottenham will struggle to get invention from their likely wide duo Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend, or even the alternatives Nacer Chadli and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Chelsea’s first-choice attacking midfield trio has looked a little short of their best of late. Oscar, in particular, has failed to reproduce his fine performances of earlier in the campaign. But Mourinho is blessed with enviable strength in depth and last week Andre Schurrle came into the side and struck a hat-trick. The German’s ability to run in behind may see him again get the nod against Tottenham. Hazard will fancy his chances of rediscovering his mojo going up against Walker.
While he may have been embarrassed, Mourinho’s captured remarks about his lack of firepower will not have surprised anyone. Samuel Eto’o has been the best of a bad bunch this season. His nous and ability to be a facilitator for the talent behind him has been evident, despite the slowing down of a player who will turn 33 on Monday.
While Fernando Torres scored at Galatasaray, he still not only looks a painful shadow of his former self but lacking in the intensity required. The big exception to that came in the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane earlier in the season. It was there that Torres began to harry his opponents and play a key part in Chelsea getting backing to the game in the second half before his fieriness eventually boiled over in a clash with Vertonghen and saw him sent off. That same level of determination has not been seen since. Yet, with Eto’o having played 90 minutes for Cameroon in midweek, Mourinho may well opt for the man left out of the Spain squad in the hopes he can rediscover it.
Tottenham’s scoring options got a boost last week when Roberto Soldado grabbed only his second Premier League goal from open play. Still, the big-money signing from Valencia is likely to have to make do with a place on the bench against Chelsea. It is hard to imagine the often recklessly bold Sherwood going with two men up front at Stamford Bridge and Adebayor’s form means he will start.
Sherwood has shown more tactical flexibility and nous than he initially hinted at when taking the reins at Tottenham. Yet, there remains a worrying sense that he is learning on the job, often correcting obvious errors from game to game and even as matches are going on.
On Saturday, he comes up against arguably the Premier League’s most tactically astute manager and the one most adept at identifying opponent’s weaknesses and then ruthlessly exploiting them. Sandro will have a massive job on his hands in midfield, but he has not yet rediscovered his best since return from injury. Chelsea are still not the finished article, but Tottenham will have enough faults for them to expose and get what should in the end be a fairly comfortable win.
Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham