Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is relishing managing in what he sees as the most competitive Premier League season since he first arrived in England almost a decade ago. Mourinho will lead his squad across London on Saturday into a match against a Tottenham side he believes are genuine competitors for the title.
“In our time before it was a clear race between Chelsea and Man United,” he explained, according to Chelsea’s official website. “Finally Man City broke that period of blue and red dominance.
“In this moment the situation is different because the top six -- with all the respect to the other teams who are working to be in that group -- any one of the six teams can be first, any one of the six teams can be sixth. In my time before that was not possible.
“That's the beauty of the league. Instead of people complaining that we have all lost matches and no one of us have 15 points, it's better like this.”
Mourinho attempted to deflect attention from a first-ever contest with Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas. The Tottenham manager was part of Mourinho’s coaching staff in his first spell at Stamford Bridge, as well as at Porto and Internazionale before the pair had what their pre-match comments suggest was something of an acrimonious split.
Mourinho is likely to be more concerned about a cruciate ligament injury suffered by Marco van Ginkel in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Swindon Town in the Capital One Cup in midweek. The young Dutch midfielder has undergone surgery and Mourinho revealed that he will be out for five or six months, if indeed he returns at all this season.
In the immediate future, Chelsea’s preparations to take on Tottenham are further hampered by a hip problem that forced Ramires off on Tuesday after replacing Van Ginkel.
Tottenham completed their daunting run of three matches in six days with an impressive 4-0 win over Aston Villa in their respective League Cup tie. The result continued their fine defensive performance this season which has seen them now just concede a solitary goal in nine competitive matches. But Villas-Boas is anticipating a much tougher test against Chelsea.
“We’ve looked solid at the back, very focused and it's not just the clean sheets, but the amount of opportunities we’ve allowed and the chances we’ve prevented from opponents,” he said, according to Tottenham’s website.
"Again, this is a completely different proposition on Saturday, a team that will have more chances, but we have to show our ability to be solid at the back again."
Tottenham will again be without Aaron Lennon and Etienne Capoue. Danny Rose is expected to return, while Younes Kaboul faces a late fitness test.
D: Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Rose
M: Paulinho, Dembele
Lamela, Eriksen, Sigurdsson
D: Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole
M: Lampard, Mikel
Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard
Prediction: Both managers will have to select three players from an enviable array of attacking midfielders. In Tottenham’s case, the in-form Lewis Holtby will vie for a place with Christian Eriksen, who has made a fine start to his Tottenham career. Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend will also compete for two places out wide.
Chelsea’s options are likewise plentiful, though they have not hit the heights of their Tottenham counterparts as yet. The man snatched from under Tottenham’s noses, Willian, was disappointing against Swindon in a match where the out-of-favor Juan Mata was given a chance to prove his worth. It is doubtful, though, that the Spaniard will ever do so under Mourinho.
Tottenham certainly look to have the advantage up front, having finally gotten a reliable goal-scorer at the top level in Roberto Soldado. For Chelsea, Samuel Eto’o has yet to get up to speed and the much-maligned Fernando Torres may even start on Saturday after scoring in midweek.
While Chelsea perhaps have the advantage defensively, Tottenham are the stronger going into the clash. Mourinho is likely to go into the game striving to frustrate the home side and keep things tight. Given the early kick-off time, which often leads to a sleepy 90 minutes, he may just succeed.
Tottenham 0-0 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Premier League match will kick off at 7.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.