White Hart Lane, London
December 12, 2010, 9:30 PM IST
The rivalry between Chelsea and Tottenham, both on and off the pitch, is no secret; however, the fact that the reigning Premiership champions Chelsea will be the underdogs going into the much-awaited clash at the White Hart Lane on Sunday is something neither sets of fans would have ever imagined, at least not in the premier league era. The use of champion and underdog in the same breath, is something not usually seen in sports, but such has been the turn of events that one can’t really avoid it.
Chelsea have taken just five points from the last 18 available in the league, a run that is worst since September 2000; to make matters worse, the West London side even lost the last Champions League group match, away at Marseille. On the other hand, Spurs are unbeaten in last seven games, in all competitions. Long gone are they days when Tottenham’s home was mockingly given the moniker “3-Point Lane” by the Blues – after failing to defeat Chelsea at White Hart Lane for 19 years prior to 2005, Spurs have won three of the last four home encounters. Guus Hiddink, in his brief stint in the 2008-09 season, lost just one match in all competitions and that was away to the Lilywhites. While, Ancelotti too suffered in this London derby last season, a defeat that had the potential to derail Chelsea’s title ambitions.
The gloom within the Chelsea support is somewhat justified – if their team failed to beat a Spurs side while flying at top speed, how can they manage to overhaul their bitter rivals and stem the rot that has seen the champions score a mere 3 goals, while conceding eight in the last six league games? However, as it is with most eagerly-fought derbies, form and records will be thrown out of the window, and only one thing will decide the direction in which the pendulum swings – character.
Team News and Tactical Brief
This season, Harry Rednapp has resumed from where he left last season – Spurs have topped their Champions League group defeating the champions Inter on the way, have won the North London derby by defeating Arsenal in arguably the match of the season, and have put on display a mesmerizing brand of attacking football, with Gareth Bale and new signing Van Der Vaart being at the centre of all good things. However, the latter would not be available to take the field against Chelsea as he is yet to recover from a hamstring injury. Joining him on the sidelines would be Huddlestone (ankle), King and Woodgate (both groin), Kranjcar (hamstring), Jenas (calf), and O’Hara (back).
Spurs, under Rednapp, deploy an old school but highly effective 4-4-2 formation. Come Sunday, the Modric-Palacios pair would fit right into a creator-destroyer model, with man of the moment Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon setting the flanks on fire. Further up field Crouch and Defoe are expected to apply finishing touches to what their creative midfield produces.
If Harry plays his cards right, he would know where to hit Chelsea – in the absence of Bosingwa, and with Ivanovic partnering Terry in the centre, the right-back slot will go to Ferreira. It is here that Tottenham and in particular the insanely talented Bale can hit the Blues. If Chelsea commits more players on the left to deal with the eminent threat, it would leave space in the middle for Modric and co. to exploit. Tottenham should go on the attack and pin the visitors down in their own half right from the onset. An early goal or two would go a long way in securing a win for the Lilywhites and close the gap with Chelsea to just a solitary point.
Probable Starting Line-up: Gomes, Hutton, Gallas, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto, Bale, Modric, Palacios, Lennon, Defoe, Crouch.
Chelsea FC, in the Abramovich era, has spoilt its fans to such an extend that a bad run of form similar to what the club is going though presently, has pulled the rug from under most fans. From leaving the Bridge early and booing their team to calls for Ancelotti’s head, the fans have not been able to handle the decline in the fortunes of their club.
However, Ancelotti, who has been critical of his team’s performances in the run upto the defeat in France, has confirmed that he has the backing of the owner, and that there’s no lack of motivation, neither for him nor for the team. Moreover, both him and John Terry have stated that if they don’t stem the rot and get back to winning ways, they can forget retaining the title which they won after a three year long wait. There is no better way to redeeming themselves than by showing character and the desire to fight in their next three games – away at the Lane, at home to Man United, and finally at the Emirates. If the champions manage to go undefeated in these games, they would have answered all questions.
Frank Lampard, despite resuming training, is unavailable tomorrow, but should feature against United. Jose Bosingwa will miss out on the prospect of dealing with the hottest property in the premiership after tearing his hamstring, and the honour would now go to Paulo Ferreira. Alex and Zhirkov are still out injured, while Benayoun remains a long-term absentee.
Chelsea will take the field in their traditional 4-3-3 formation, with Mikel-Essien-Malouda forming the midfield trio and Kalou-Drogba-Anelka playing upfront. Ancelotti will know the treat posed by Bale on the left and may look towards Essien for supporting Ferreira. However, if that happens the man advantage that the 4-3-3 gives over a 4-2-2 in the central midfield would cease to exist. Ergo, Mikel’s role would become even more crucial as he will have to keep a close watch on Modric’s runs and his through balls. Committing Ivanovic on the right would leave a inviting hole in the centre of defence and Defoe or Crouch are more than capable of exploiting it.
Drogba, more often than not, has managed to get the better of Gallas during the defender’s Arsenal days, and Chelsea will look to their talismanic striker to get them on the score-sheet.
Probable Starting Line-up: Cech, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Malouda, Kalou, Drogba, Anelka.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Gareth Bale (Tottenham): On current form, the Welshman is arguably the best left winger in world football. His dazzling runs and left-footed thunderbolts have been getting rave reviews for more than an year now. Moreover, the utter disdain with he dispatched a player of Maicon’s stature enhanced his reputation even further. However, at Old Trafford, young Rafael had managed to keep a check on Bale. Therefore, stopping him is not impossible, all one needs is self belief and discipline. However, whether Ferreira would manage to do that remains to be seen.
Tottenham 2-2 Chelsea
Questions have been raised about Chelsea’s motivation and ability to arrest this loss of form; players have been criticised and the manager is under pressure. It’s time for the reigning champions to put all the doubts to rest by putting in a fighting effort. They would find the going extremely tough, but one can expect them to earn a hard-fought point from this encounter.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST