In a season that has born so much change at the top of the Premier League, simultaneously overseeing some remarkable improvements along with some pathetic declines, the routine relentlessness with which Tottenham Hotspur continue to tread water in 5th place almost defies belief. On paper, I think Spurs are an interesting side to consider anyway, but with all the changes they’ve undertaken these past two years, among the playing and coaching staff, you’d have expected either some sort of progress to be made or for an equally compelling backfiring of certain decisions to have taken place. Instead they remain roughly where they have been for a long while now, with arguably no better or worse prospects for the short to mid-term future.
But, like I said, on paper they’re interesting to consider whilst matches between them and Chelsea usually tend to pretty entertaining, so let’s have a think, how much of a threat do they pose exactly, this weekend?
Firstly I would point out, though they don’t always make it obvious, Tottenham have one of the most balanced squads, probably in all of Europe with quality in every area. Hugo Lloris is a fine keeper (probably the second best in the league) and a terrific leader from the back, as is Jan Vertonghen, who when fully fit is at once one of the classiest and most physical defenders in the league. Paulinho is a wonderfully well-rounded midfield player and a sure starter for Brazil at the World Cup. Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela joined the club last summer with respective reputations as two of Europe’s most exciting young creative talents (statuses I think they both still have the potential to justify and fulfil despite slow starts). Meanwhile Roberto Soldado is one of the best penalty box poachers in the world, though currently a lack of confidence and suitable service threatens to cut his career in England short.
That Spurs have the team to compete for a top four position can hardly be called into question, yet despite not performing badly by any means, I think very few ever really thought they had a decent chance of finishing that high. It seems to me the entire club is being held back by some panoptic sense of uncertainty. No one I think is really sure whether Tim Sherwood has the credentials or the talent to take the club forwards as manager. His record has been reasonably impressive but at times he has been exposed as lacking tactically, most notably in his side’s poor FA Cup defeat at Arsenal. I also think there’s some uncertainty over whether select key players will be happy to stay with the side without a decent chance of Champions League football for most likely the next two seasons at least. It also seems not many are sure whether the club intends to stick by the players it purchased last summer (most notably Soldado and Lamela), or whether it plans on cutting their losses, selling them back to Spain and Italy and trying again elsewhere.
It’s the amalgamation of these factors that makes Spurs a lot less of threat than I think their team sheet would suggest. It must be fair to say that they’re lacking that sense of allegiance and collective responsibility we’ve demonstrated in the grinding out of results this season, as we chase our down targets. It’s extremely hard to see them getting anything from the game unless they play close to as well they can, whereas it isn’t too hard to imagine us picking up another scrappy home win, via another rather uninspiring performance – certainly in this respect I think we’re miles ahead of our opponents this weekend. I’d also suggest that their recent form book presents little cause for concern, with the only three wins in their last six coming against (all but relegated) Cardiff, (desperately out of form – at the time) Newcastle and rather undeservedly against Everton.
To make things even worse for Sherwood’s side they’ll arrive at Stamford Bridge with several key absences and fair few injury doubts as well. Both Danny Rose and Zeki Fryers are out so Kyle Naughton will probably move over to the left allowing Kyle Walker, who also seems to play terribly against us, to fit back in at right back. The perennially injured Younes Kaboul isn’t likely to be available either, meaning Michael Dawson will keep his place next to Vertonghen at centre half. Mousa Dembele was rested by Belgium mid-week so he’ll be fit to play in midfield with Paulinho. Gylfi Sigurdsson has a good record against Chelsea and could start – I think they’re more likely to stick with their two striker formation though, with Adebayor’s standard annual resurgence the pinnacle of Sherwood’s tenure thus far.
For ourselves, the back five has been established for some time now – the only other definite starters in the XI however are Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard. In midfield, Mourinho seems to prefer using Frank Lampard alongside the big Serb in home games. With Ramires in poor form and David Luiz having played almost 90 mins in South Africa on Wednesday, I think he’ll stick with that partnership. The other main selection dilemma involves Oscar, who, as one of the best players in the side by a distance you’d think really should be starting in games of this importance and at this stage of the season. At the same time however, his recent form can’t be wholly ignored, whilst Andre Schurrle also deserves a chance to build on his impressive hat-trick last time out. Up front, Samuel Eto’o has usually gotten the nod over Torres in these big home matches – his link up play with Hazard on the left flank should be enough to cause Walker hell throughout.
The past two years, our home draws against Tottenham weren’t regarded as particularly terrible results, anything less than three points on Saturday will be a disappointment this time however. The opportunity we have to move nine points clear of Man City before they next play cannot be passed up; neither can the chance we have to maintain our perfect home record against the league’s top sides ahead of Arsenal’s visit in a fortnight. The only danger I can see is of Tottenham randomly playing out of their skin and catching us off guard. If we can control the tempo of the game and make of it a typical Chelsea gritty tactical contest – then a home win is the only result I can see.