White Hart Lane, London
October 20, 2012; 12:45 GMT
Chelsea against Tottenham is one of the fiercest derbies that London has to offer; often rivaling the hatred and intensity of the North London derbies. You add the retribution of a sacked coach, of a club thrown out of Europe’s elite competition and what you get is perhaps the most-awaited clash of the season in progress. When Chelsea travel to White Hart Lane to take on a resurgent Spurs side on Saturday, there would be absolutely no love lost between the two camps.
Andre Villas-Boas was supposed to be the manager of Chelsea today, overseeing the project he so famously talked about after Roman Abramovich had parted with £13m to bring him to England from Porto. However, today he stands against Chelsea, in the camp of their rivals, yearning to fight them till perhaps the lost drop of blood. The romance between the young tactician and the West London club was short-lived; Villas-Boas was fired in March with the club’s fortunes in free fall in almost all competitions and the dressing room on the verge of a revolt. The manager feels he was wronged nonetheless. He has an opportunity this weekend to strike the first of perhaps many blows.
Tottenham Hotspur’s stars have been on the rise since picking up merely two points from their opening three games of the new season. They have won four games in a row, with the win over Manchester United at Old Trafford surely announcing their claim to a place in the Champions League, come next season. The problems that had marred their early season form seem to have dissipated and they, and their manager, would do anything to halt the progress of their London rivals, Chelsea.
Roberto di Matteo, on the other hand, is living a dream. Appointed the deputy under Villas-Boas and then pushed into the limelight upon his departure, he has since won the FA Cup, led Chelsea to the top of Europe, and sits atop the Premiership as he leads his troops to face his erstwhile boss. The same team that had appeared disjointed, the same set of players who had appeared demotivated and devoid of joy under Villas-Boas, went on to showcase unparalleled unity, grit and determination under di Matteo, on their way to a historic finish. He too, along with the players, will have a point or two to prove against Tottenham.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Andre Villas-Boas will have Kyle Naughton and Jake Livermore available for selection, as they have recovered from their respective injuries. Benoit Assou-Ekotto may also be fit in time for the Saturday kickoff.
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Tottenham are likely to start Hugo Lloris in goal, as Brad Friedel is slightly slower to react. The pace and movement of Chelsea’s forward line demands a quick and agile goalkeeper, and Lloris fits the bill perfectly. Naughton, who is available for selection, can play at right-back or left-back, and although Kyle Walker has been below par this season, he is expected to keep the right-back slot. Despite the possible return of Assou-Ekotto, Vertonghen is expected to start at left-back, with Gallas and Caulker completing the back four, which has looked settled and assured in the games leading up to the match against Chelsea. The pace of Walker, Vertonghen and Caulker might come handy against the free-flowing Chelsea attackers.
Sandro is a sure starter even though Jake Livermore returns from injury. The combination of Sandro and Dembele has filled the void left by Parker and Modric adequately by contributing equally at both ends of the pitch. The positioning of both players has lead to a large number of interceptions and successful tackles; if the Spurs can vest the control of midfield from Chelsea, they’d be better placed to get a favorable result at home.
Tottenham are blessed with electrifying wingers in the form of Bale and Lennon, who are capable enough to change the course of any game by virtue of their counter-attacking exploits. Lennon has been in hot form this season, while Bale is slowly getting back into his groove. For all their attacking talent, Chelsea remain susceptible to attacks down their flanks. If the away side decides to double-mark Bale, space may open up for Clint Dempsey to exploit, playing behind the striker. Jermain Defoe has been playing well and is expected to keep Adebayor on bench for another match. His pace, finishing ability and a willingness to remain involved throughout the game has served the Spurs well this season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Lloris(GK); Walker, Caulker, Gallas, Vertonghen; Santos, Dembele; Bale, Dempsey, Lennon; Defoe
John Terry, after deciding not to appeal the FA’s decision, will begin his four-match ban this weekend. Roberto di Matteo may also be without the services of Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand for the trip, after the pair missed the World Cup qualifier for England. The only positive news for the visitors is the possible return of Daniel Sturridge from an injury that has kept him out since the Champions League game against Juventus.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that the manager prefers appears more settled today than it was at the start of the season. Di Matteo has often used horses for courses in the third band of attack, with Fernando Torres leading the line. The calmness of Mikel and the energy of Ramires are expected to influence proceedings though the centre for Chelsea. Despite his wayward form this season, Ivanovic will start again at right-back but he will need to be much more disciplined positionally and keep his attacking instincts in check if he’s to keep Bale in control. On the opposite side, Cole will be entrusted with the job of keeping a check on Lennon. In the absence of Terry, the pair of Luiz and Cahill will start at the heart of the Chelsea defence, with Petr Cech between the posts.
The manager has two options further forward. Use Lampard, who’s expected to shake off his injury given the enormity of the fixture, alongside Mikel in the pivot and Ramires on the right-flank to counter the threat posed by Bale or deploy Ramires in the centre and continue with the extremely fluid and versatile combination of Hazard, Oscar and Mata behind Torres. Di Matteo can also continue with the creative trio, with Ramires positioned more towards the right and under clear instructions to help out Ivanovic. In such a scenario, Oscar may drift into deeper positions to fill the void left by Ramires’ rightward movements and keep the midfield balance intact. All in all, this selection dilemma and the associated battles that may follow has the potential to turn into a fascinating contest, with no team leaving any stones unturned to bring about the downfall of their rival.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech(GK); Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Torres
- Chelsea have failed to win in their last six Premier League visits to White Hart Lane since a 2-0 victory in August 2005 with goals from Asier Del Horno and Damien Duff
- Victory for Tottenham would be their 50th over Chelsea in all competitions. Chelsea have 61 wins
- The north London side have lost just two of their last 22 league matches at White Hart Lane (W15, D5, L2)
- Chelsea’s tally of 19 points out of a possible 21 represents their best start to a season since 2005-06, when they registered 10 wins and a draw in their opening 11 matches
- They have the best defensive record in the division, conceding only four goals so far and keeping four clean sheets
- Tottenham have scored at least 2 goals in their last 4matches in the Premier League
- Chelsea are undefeated in their last 5 matches against Tottenham in all competitions
Player To Watch Out For
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
Even if we merely go by the amount of headache the right-wing selection will cause di Matteo and ignore the fact that Bale has managed maximum shots on target this season, it’s clear who’d be the central to Chelsea’s plan in this clash. If Mata/Ramires fail to provide defensive cover or if Ivanovic is too cavalier in his approach, Bale can settle this contest on his own. A special player deserves special attention – and, Chelsea are expected to take the threat posed by him very seriously.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Hazard has settled into life in the Premier League well. He had a role to play in the first 6 of 7 goals scored by Chelsea, has displayed remarkable understanding with other forwards at Chelsea, especially with Mata, and more recently, he has been denied a handful of penalties. His speed, ability to change direction and trickery can make the evening a painful one for defenders, and especially for Gallas. Hazard was recently criticized for providing less than adequate defensive cover, before being benched for Belgium’s World Cup qualifier. Ergo, he’ll have a point to prove this weekend.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Chelsea
Both teams are in fine touch, at least they were until the international break halted their progress. Both camps have burning collective and individual vendettas to settle, and both sets of fans would be baying for blood on Saturday. In such a scenario, a highly entertaining and fiery derby is on the cards, with both teams sharing the spoils the more likely outcome.
Blast From The Past