Riding high in the Premier League table, Sunday will provide Tottenham a further chance to provide a significant boost to their title chances, with the added bonus of dealing a another blow to Chelsea’s traumatic season. Seemingly implausible at the start of the campaign, Tottenham will go into the clash at White Hart Lane 10 points above a club that have long reigned over them in London.
Tottenham have only finished above Chelsea once in the past 20 years, and even then Chelsea’s victory in the Champions League that season cost Spurs a rare place in Europe’s premier competition. The gulf between the clubs really grew when Roman Abramovich began pouring his billions into Chelsea in 2003, a fact made all the more painful for Tottenham fans because the Russian oligarch had also expressed an interest in buying their club.
But there is now a level of optimism around White Hart Lane that has rarely been witnessed in recent times. Tottenham are unbeaten in 12 matches -- the longest such streak in the Premier League -- and sit in fifth place, just four points off the summit. In this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, where Leicester City occupy first place and defending champions Chelsea lie down in 15th, even a tilt at a first league title in 55 years is being mooted in some quarters. Indeed, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho does not believe it is out of the question.
“When I watch them play, [Tottenham’s unbeaten run] is not a surprise,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “If they tell, players or managers, that they are fighting for the title I will not laugh. I will accept it because the team is very good. Manager is good, players are good. Good stability, playing well. I think a really, really, really a very good team.”
Tottenham’s good run continued with a 1-0 win over Qarabag on Thursday to progress through to the Europa League knockout phase. But the short turnaround from playing in Azerbaijan on Thursday night to competing in a London derby at midday on Sunday is, manager Mauricio Pochettino has conceded, hardly ideal preparation.
“We are through to the next round and this was our objective,” he said after Thursday’s win, according to ESPN. “The objective is gone now. We will make sure we will arrive in a good condition to play Chelsea. We have a strong squad and a strong mentality, with the maturity.
“It is true we arrive maybe not in the best condition to compete in the right way but respect to our medical staff for what they do -- they will work during the flight and [on Friday] we have a day off. On Saturday we will assess.”
Tottenham will also have to do without Dele Alli, with the impressive young midfielder suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season in last week’s 4-1 win over West Ham. Chelsea have their own selection concerns, with captain John Terry having suffered an ankle injury in Tuesday’s 4-0 Champions League win at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The victory did, though, provided Chelsea with successive wins for just the second time this season. Still, after losing seven Premier League matches already this campaign, Mourinho has insisted that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We have to play every match as if we are fighting for the title,” he said. “The reality is that we need points. We are all focused on doing our job the best we can. The only thing we can do is try to get the maximum amount of points. Our only goal now is to try to get into position where we can smell the top end of the league.”
As well as Terry, Chelsea also have an injury doubt over Ramires. Tottenham will be without Nacer Chadli, but could have Erik Lamela back available.
D: Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose
M: Dier, Mason
Eriksen, Dembele, Son
D: Ivanovic, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta
M: Fabregas, Matic
Willian, Hazard, Pedro
Prediction: Tottenham will certainly miss the drive and quality of the suspended Alli, but the way they have been functioning as a unit under Pochettino means there should not be a huge drop off. Chelsea have been better of late, but they are still some way off their best, both going forward and defensively. And, having proved in a thrilling 5-3 victory in the corresponding fixture last season that they have what it takes mentally to beat their London foes, Tottenham should be favorites to earn another big win.
Predicted score: Tottenham 2-1 Chelsea