Chelsea vs Tottenham doesn’t need any extra drama or a back story to make it an exciting fixture. This time around however, I doubt that Spurs fans have ever wanted to beat us so desperately; we’ve racked up a good few reasons for them to hate us these last five months. Since the last time we met, and we battered them 5-1 in the FA Cup semi-final, we’ve robbed them of their spot in the Champions League, over taken their total of major honours and signed a world-class young player from a team that they’re in partnership with! The factor that will doubtless dominate all of the preview headlines however, is our re-union with former coach Andre Villas-Boas.
I realise I’m in a minority here when I admit I’ve still got a lot of love for AVB. I can’t help but like the bloke and despite his awful 8 months at Chelsea last season, I still respect him as a coach and tactician – after Saturday I’m backing him and rooting for him to get a top 4 spot.
I joined this blog shortly after Chelsea sacked Villas-Boas, and so never got to explain how ashamed and disappointed I was by that decision. To give him practically impossible directives, along with false reassurances and then to basically give up on him so ruthlessly was completely unfair on our part. Our squad absolutely 100% deserved their Champions League winner’s medals, however, to some extent I think that trophy gave the club bosses vindication for sacking Andre that they didn’t really deserve.
Anyway, fast forward to now, Chelsea are doing brilliantly under Di Matteo and Villas-Boas is at a club that suits his ideas and philosophies far better than we ever did. Tottenham made a slow start but now both sides are thriving and this should be an awesome game for fans and for neutrals.
Tottenham’s typically dreadful start was as understandable as ever this season. In his first few weeks on the job Andre had to deal with losing probably his two best players (Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart), Ledley King finally retired whilst Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto all got themselves badly injured – he also had to wait an age for signings to be made with annoyingly the one player he must have really wanted in Joao Moutinho, eventually deciding to stay at Porto.
Since September though Spurs have looked excellent. Already in a number of aspects they’ve made big improvements from last season. Kyle Walker looks a lot more solid defensively, showing a rate of development that’ll surely get him into the England side before long. Jan Vertonghen also makes their defence look a hell of a lot better than last year. Aaron Lennon it seems has been transformed into a new and better player, from the one-dimensional right winger he used to be, and along with new signings Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey, he’s making the whole team just look more direct and decisive with the ball.
They might not have signed the level of quality we have, or have as much cause to be excited about the future. But Spurs are definitely going through a similar phase to us, watching new, key players integrate themselves into the side and witnessing a fairly drastic change of system. Tactically this should be one of the most interesting matches the two clubs have had in a long time.
One fair criticism to have of Villas-Boas from his time at Chelsea is that he never seemed to work out was his strongest XI was. He started out with Kalou, Malouda and Anelka in the team before all of them got dropped to the bench or out of the team completely. Mikel, Romeu and Meireles were all regularly rotated in the defensive midfield position while Frank Lampard was constantly in and out of the side. None of Bosingwa, Ivanovic or Luiz were ever regulars and of course he never decided which of Torres or Drogba to go with in a big game.
Just a few weeks in to this season however and Di Matteo seems to have cracked it. He’s religiously selecting the back line of Ivanovic-Luiz-Terry-Cole; he also quickly corrected the mistake of fielding Ramires out wide and has fairly dropped Frank Lampard after giving him numerous opportunities to regain his form of April/May last year. He’s also been more than vindicated in my opinion by sticking with Mata, Oscar and Hazard all together in attack, in spite of the temptation that must have existed to use Moses or Marin to add some genuine width. The decision to pick Torres every game so far, has pretty much been made for him.
The only first team regular unlikely to be available for Saturday is John Terry, who is expected to accept his four game suspension. It’s a blow, but it will give Gary Cahill a deserved opportunity to have a run of starts in the PL. He’s recently come out and backed himself to replace Terry with England and Chelsea eventually – and whether you rate him as our 1st, 2nd or 3rd best centre half, you have to admit, he’s too good to spend the season on the bench.
These are my predicted line-ups for Saturday:
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Gallas, Caulker, Vertonghen, Sandro, Dembele, Lennon, Dempsey, Bale, Defoe
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole, Mikel, Ramires, Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Torres
It’s difficult to tell, I think, just who this game is the bigger test for: A Chelsea team who’ve got themselves into a excellent and unexpected position to challenge for the title; A Spurs side making a real statement on four straight league wins, or a young manager that is just starting to build back up his reputation in English football. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw. On paper we just edge it, but all of the extra incentive Spurs have to win this game probably tilts the scales back in their favour.
His team’s win at Old Trafford may have been the biggest of his career so far – victory against Chelsea might be even more satisfying for Villas-Boas however. And looking at his remarkable celebration after beating Manchester Utd, I am genuinely worried he if wins Saturday he might hyperventilate with excitement and pass out on the pitch. For AVB’s sake, we need to win.