Chelsea host Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night in what promises to be a cracking midweek derby at Stamford Bridge. Although the visitors trail the Blues by 13 points going into this fixture, this game comes on the back of an impressive home win for the North London side against Everton, and Mauricio Pochettino will be looking to make it three wins on the bounce by besting the league leaders on their own turf. Chelsea, meanwhile, have an excellent record against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge, and will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing goalless draw at the Stadium of Light that saw champions Manchester City reduce the gap between the two favourites to just six points.
Given this is an important clash both for Chelsea and their title ambitions, as well as Spurs and their hopes of getting into the top four, it is unlikely that either side will have the conservative approach that Sunderland adopted on Saturday, and it should make for an open game with plenty of chances. In this feature, Chelsea fan Malhar Bhadbhade and Spurs’ supporter Manu Jagan discuss the big game as well as the two teams’ prospects for the rest of the season.
MB: How would you assess Spurs’ start to the season? Could Pochettino be doing better?
MJ: If Spurs’ previous track record is anything to go by, we should have been welcoming a new manager by now. I’m quite sure Tottenham have had better starts with other managers in the past. However, Pochettino has immense potential and anyone to yield results must be given time, a factor everyone except Daniel Levy seems to have understood. I do hope the chairman has come to senses and waits before he makes any drastic changes to the management. However, the victory over Everton is a breath of fresh air and I believe even though we face an opponent as tough as Chelsea, a draw if not a win, will be signs of good things to come.
MB: Diego Costa is suspended for the derby. Do you think that’ll be a big boost for Spurs and help them push on and try to get a win?
MJ: Diego Costa is no doubt a striker every manager, defender and goalkeeper fears. His absence will be a huge relief for the team. However, the dismal performance of the Spurs defence is something that causes me worry no matter which striker is put up against them. I have complete faith in Hugo Lloris who in my opinion is currently the best keeper in the Premier League. Vertonghen and Fazio looked quite solid against Everton and Ben Davies with his more regular Premier League games seems to be getting comfortable to the Tottenham way. However the right back position is what has caused a lot of damage to the team. Most of the goals Tottenham have conceded have come from their right side (e.g. the equalizer against Newcastle and the Mirallas goal against Everton.) With a host of players such as Dier, Naughton and Chiriches being used I fear neither of them will be up to the task. If they can sort this problem and ensure a clean sheet, I don’t see why we cannot beat Chelsea.
MB: Who would you say is your key man for the game? Who will Jose be most worried about?
MJ: Spurs have immense quality in the form of Erik Lamela, the crafty Christian Eriksen and even the hard working Aaron Lennon – and all these players are someone the opposing manager needs to worry about. However, one name that stands out is that of Harry Kane. His direct approach, aerial ability and his urge to shoot when in front of goal is a threat to any opponent. His presence has not only brought about a cheer among fans but also boosted the morale of his team mates which I believe will be a catalyst to a good performance. That being said, I believe Tottenham does not have any sole player in consistent form we can rely on, initially Chadli was on fire, followed by Lamela then Eriksen and Kane. Tottenham will be recognized as a threat only when the team starts to play as a united force rather than a bunch of talented individuals.
MB: Where do you think the battle can be won for Spurs? What area should they be targeting?
MJ: Our defence has been dismal and our forward line has been suffering a goal drought. I believe the only level playing field between the two is midfield. Though lacking in big names, the Spurs midfield is composed of hard working individuals who for sure can match up to the world class players in the league. In Mason, Tottenham have found the deep lying midfield they so missed since Modric’s departure. The youngster’s relentless hard work has seen him earn a start in every Tottenham game in the Premier League ever since his goal in the League Cup. Etienne Capoue had been the league’s most efficient defensive midfielder before his injury. His return will be crucial as his hard tackling and defensive nature would prove helpful for Tottenham when he guards the back four. However Bentaleb has more than compensated in midfield with his return against Everton. The trio of Lennon, Kane and Eriksen were a delight to watch against Everton and I believe Pochettino will play the three against Chelsea as well. With Lamela ready to come off the bench, I can confidently say Tottenham’s midfield is its strengths and if they click will pose a huge problem for Chelsea.
MB: The last time Spurs finished in the top four, they were denied a spot in the CL due to Chelsea winning the competition. Do you think the top four is a realistic aim for Spurs this season?
MJ: As a true Tottenham fan, I would like to believe Chelsea will drop points in the next 6 games and we will win the Premier League. But in reality with a poor start such as this one, I don’t see how that’s possible. However, Chelsea and Manchester City are the two contenders for the title – add to that our fiercest rivals Arsenal – but I don’t see why we cannot finish in the top four if we can manage to beat the others. United have had a mixed run of form, and we have already beaten Southampton. West Ham and Swansea are the ones that stand in our way. If we do not drop easy points and beat the above two rivals I do not see why we cannot finish in the top four. Nevertheless my gut feeling is that Spurs will finish 5th or 6th this season and the only way we get a spot in the Champion’s League is if we win the Europa League, a competition I believe is ours to throw away.
With roles now reversed, Malhar answers a few questions from the Chelsea point of view.
MJ: With two points dropped in the previous game against a team you should have beaten, how confident will Chelsea be going into this fixture?
MB: The Sunderland game was probably Chelsea’s first ‘bad’ result of the season. We failed to break them down and didn’t score a single goal which was a first for the team this season. From the comments of Jose and a few of the players though, the team seems to have accepted that there will be games like the ones against Sunderland. It appears they’ve moved on quickly and turned their attention to the derby on Wednesday night. I think given the quality in the side, even without Costa, and Chelsea’s 100% home record so far this season, the team will be confident going into this fixture. The fans are always up for this particular game and given it’s an evening kick off, the atmosphere will be even more charged. Mourinho’s men should be aiming for a win in this one.
MJ: Chelsea clearly look the strongest side this season. However post December usually the league leaders lose form and slip to a lower position. Do you think Chelsea will have the same fate?
MB: Mourinho’s previous two Premier League winning sides have been relentless throughout the season. I think there has been an evolution in the Chelsea team compared to last season, and that, like the Chelsea of 04-06, they’re more prepared now physically and mentally to play for the team and grind out results. The addition of experienced campaigners – and more importantly, winners – like Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa has certainly helped in that aspect. So I don’t expect Chelsea to cede ground that easily in the festive season. Having said that, injuries and suspensions to key players could play a role, and it remains to be seen whether the likes of Andre Schurrle, Jon Obi Mikel, Mohammed Salah and others can step up when needed. That will probably be Chelsea’s biggest challenge.
MJ: With no Diego Costa for this game, do you think Remy and Drogba are good enough to get you the goals?
MB: I think Didier Drogba has already shown this season that he’s capable of doing a job when called upon. He doesn’t have the legs to make runs in behind and stretch the opposition defence any more, and creating space for our midfielders by doing that is crucial to our play, so it will be a bit of a surprise if Jose opts for him at the start of the game. He can still make a huge impact coming on though, and he remains a big threat from set-pieces. On the other hand, Loic Remy is definitely more mobile than the 36 year-old, and has been very decent when he’s started for Chelsea this season. He has got on the scoresheet a few times already this season, so I am confident he will be up to the task if he’s chosen to start. The absence of Costa is a blow to Chelsea, but given Drogba and Remy are far better back-ups than what Chelsea had last season, they should be able to get a positive result regardless.
MJ: What kind of set up do you think Mourinho would use for this clash?
MB: Unlike most other top teams, Mourinho has had the fortune of being able to name a very steady starting XI this season. Given it’s a home game and one he’ll expect to win, I can’t see him deviating from the usual 4-2-3-1. Nine of those spots are fixed I’d say, with only the striker and the right wing position a mystery. Willian has been first choice on the right flank, but given both Matic and Fabregas are a booking away from suspension and so will be more cautious in their defensive duties, I wonder whether Ramires will start this game in place of Willian. He’s more than capable of doing the dirty work in the centre of the pitch, and providing the energy and drive from midfield that Chelsea so conspicuously lacked at the Stadium of Light. Schurrle is probably best-placed to take advantage if Spurs play a high line, but given he’s recovering from an illness and hasn’t played much football recently, it’d be very surprising if he started. I think Jose will be looking to attack this Spurs defence, and get on top early on.
MJ: Do you think Chelsea will win the Premier League and/or the Champions league this season?
MB: I think Jose and the team will be very disappointed if they don’t win the league given the start they’ve had. The only real competition this season are Manchester City in my opinion, so if Chelsea can maintain their lead over them until the end of the festive period, I think there’s a very good chance that the Premier League trophy will have dark blue ribbons on it come May 2015. As for the Champions League, I think Chelsea can certainly go deep into the knock-out stages. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are still the clear favourites in my opinion, but with an improved squad compared to last season, Chelsea will feel like they can take on any side in the world and win. Jose Mourinho has an exceptional record in the competition, and if there’s one man who knows how to get results, it’s him. Having said that, I’ll be surprised if Chelsea go on to win the competition. The likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have just too much individual talent, most of whom are at the peak of their careers. This Chelsea team still has some ways to go before it reaches its best, and that may not come this season.