Stamford Bridge, London
May 8th, 19:45 GMT kick-off
Tottenham Hotspur have rewritten their records against Arsenal and Manchester United. Their unfortunate run at Old Trafford was ended this season, and now it remains to be seen if can they pull off something similar at Stamford Bridge as well. Spurs haven’t won at Chelsea’s den in the past 23 years. Chelsea need to stop Spurs’ mercurial weapon Gareth Bale, but they aren’t a one man team. It’s somewhat similar to Juan Mata‘s influence for the Blues. An interesting battle awaits at Stamford Bridge with much at stake.
Andre Villas Boas surely has some scores to settle at Stamford Bridge. He once enjoyed time there as part of Jose Mourinho’s staff, but must now forget the mistreatment he got from the old guard and the man-in-charge when Villas Boas was the tactician. A win against his former employers at their home ground will be the best way to say ‘Welcome‘ to Roman Abramovich. It’s not just Villas Boas who will be out for a revenge, however, as the entire Tottenham Hotspur crew will be looking to set things straight after missing out on Champions League last season.
The race for the top four is a big part of this outing: Chelsea can all but secure their participation for Europe’s elite competition with a win against Spurs. On the other hand, a Spurs win would create a deadlock with Arsenal and an interesting three-way battle. Chelsea and Arsenal are in better positions with healthy goal difference compared to Tottenham, but the Champions League spots will be dependent on Chelsea’s and Tottenham’s performance as they head into this vital game.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Chelsea will be heading into this fixture brimming with confidence after getting the better of champions Manchester United. As a win can assure them of Champions League football next season, expect the Blues to go all out against the Lillywhites. Rafa Benitez has shrewdly rotated his squad while maintaining the club’s challenges for top four and participating in Europa League. With the Europa League final one week away and a relatively easy fixture against Aston Villa at the weekend, Benitez might field his strongest possible line-up without much tinkering. Juan Mata is enjoying a fine season and he would not want to put a halt to that before a crucial tie.
A back five of Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz and Cole comfortably dealt with Manchester United’s threat last week and will be hoping to continue their good performance in this proverbial 6-point encounter. Which means Captain Terry and Cahill might have to settle for a spot in the bench along with youngster Bertrand. Eden Hazard had a blistering entry into the Premier League, but has lost his way since then. He missed the last game through injury and that is the main area of concern for Benitez. A timely return for this fixture can give Chelsea more attacking threat, but they would miss the defensive contributions from Victor Moses who got a run of games recently thanks to the rotation policy. Lampard and Ramires will be in midfield, unless Luiz steps up to make a vacant spot in defense.
Fernando Torres is yet to score in this season’s Premier League and in all likelihood Demba Ba is set to keep his place at the expense of the Spaniard. Ba himself has failed to carry his exploits from Newcastle to Chelsea, but he looks a better bet to open the scoring rather than the misfiring Torres. With a wealth of attacking talent behind the striker this position isn’t going to make much difference irrespective of who starts.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole; Ramires, Lampard; Hazard, Mata, Oscar; Ba
Andre Villas Boas has rotated his side’s defence more than any other position, hence we cannot rule out a change in the starting line-up. The most inconsistent position in the Spurs team is at left back, after an injury suffered to Benoit Assou-Ekotto earlier. Since then Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton have tried to make it their own, but they have not impressed the manager so far. Jan Vertonghen has also occupied the position; if Vertonghen plays again on the left, that would make way for Steven Caulker at the heart of the defence. But in all likelihood Villas Boas might opt for Kyle Naughton as he provides more defensive support than Assou-Ekotto. The latter provides more balance to the side, being a left footer, but his lapses in concentration might go against him. Hugo Lloris has nailed down his place between the posts already, while Kyle Walker and Michael Dawson pick themselves automatically.
Earlier in the season when Chelsea visited White Hart Lane, Spurs were without their influential midfielder Moussa Dembele and were overrun in that department, eventually leading to a home defeat. Dembele’s absence was a factor in Spurs losing fluidity then, but Tottenham are better equipped nowadays with Huddlestone and Holby providing selection headaches for their Portuguese tactician. Dembele and Lennon are in the provisional squad, and it will be their fitness levels that decides between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 as Parker is back in the equation after missing the last game. Considering that the Spurs two-man midfield was overrun by Chelsea last time, we might witness a 4-3-3 with Huddlestone, Parker, and Dembele/Holtby dictating the game.
Jermain Defoe had a poor outing against Southampton, and the arrival of Adebayor in second half gave Tottenham more dimension to their attack. Adebayor’s work rate and link-up play can be a better option when you have the triple award winner Gareth Bale lining up alongside him. Lennon’s lack of fitness might restrict him to a cameo role, which means that Clint Dempsey will continue in his inverted winger role.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton; Huddlestone, Parker, Dembele; Dempsey, Adebayor, Bale.
Player To Watch Out For
Juan Mata (Chelsea)
Juan Mata has been the most impressive of Chelsea’s fabulous trio behind their striker. Mata has been brilliant this season, creating and scoring goals. He had a telling contribution against Manchester United three days ago and will be looking to increase his reputation further when he comes up against a well-organized, high defence line. Mata’s craft, guile and vision can open up any defence, and Chelsea fans will be counting on his qualities to nail down a Champions League spot.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
Even though Spurs are facing some striking dilemmas they have been bailed out by Gareth Bale on many occasions. Villas Boas hinted that Bale might return to the wing in the near future. That will keep the opponents guessing, as when on form Bale can cause the opposition tremendous problems. So the uncertainty surrounding his position and role will make it even more difficult for the opponents to execute their plans. Bale had a relatively quiet game against Southampton but still made the biggest contribution; on his day, he will be even better.
Chelsea 2 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea will have some tired legs as non-stop matches have started to take a toll on their players, hence we can expect them to lose the plot towards the end. On the other hand, Tottenham have not been convincing since their brilliant comeback win against Manchester City. But still they have the quality and determination to match Chelsea’s ambitions. Fans can expect an exciting end-to-end match with momentum shifting in favour of both sides, before eventually settling for a pulsating draw.