CHELSEA VS TOTTENHAM : PREVIEW
last season this game effectively ended Spurs title ambitions..which led to an ill tempered end to the game.
But this time its a different chelsea, They have been in tremendous form since Antonio Conte completely altered their formation, storming their way to the top of the Premier League. By way of contrast, Spurs have stuttered in recent weeks and suffered the ignominy of being knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Victory for either side would assert their credentials for a title challenge, while defeat would be nothing short of disastrous. Here’s a tactical guide to where the contest between the two London sides could be won and lost on Saturday evening.
Conte has managed to turn Chelsea into a force since switching to his preferred 3-4-3 formation. They have gone from struggling for form to not conceding in six games, winning every one of those matches. The manner in which they blew away Manchester United was symbolic of the utter quality they possess on the pitch and how the Italian has got them ticking. The way they overcame Middlesbrough, winning 1-0 but looking comfortable throughout a tricky away tie, showed the style of champions.
Spurs have been their solid best under Mauricio Pochettino since the start of the season. It’s easy to forget amid their Champions League exit that they remain unbeaten in the Premier League since the start of the campaign, a similar run to the one they managed as they built their title challenge last season. They have also shown a fighting spirit, turning around the London derby against West Ham in the space of two minutes. The return of Harry Kane, who was at his best last weekend despite a long injury lay-off, is nothing short of a huge boost.
Their formation is fresh enough that no one has yet found a way to exploit it, but there will, inevitably, be a way around it. That is simply how football works. Prior to that tactical switch they were poor and looked as though they would be repeating the mid-table finish of last season. There are also doubts over whether Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso can sustain their performances at wing-back, with neither coming into this run with much pedigree to speak of. Admittedly, there is little of actual note to suggest Chelsea have a weakness over the last six games.
They do not score enough goals or win enough games. That has been their consistent problem in recent weeks. Firm foundations have come at the expense of attacking flair, and a run of only one victory in their last five Premier League games is not good enough for a team pushing for the top four, never mind title contenders. Last season they showed a mental fragility at Stamford Bridge too, judging by the way they lost all discipline following Eden Hazard’s equaliser.
He has managed to reinvigorate a Chelsea side that were worse than they have been at any point since Roman Abramovich bought the club. Conte seemed to hint it would all take time, but he has clearly put in the work on the training ground to improve them since the start of the campaign.
The Argentinian manager is, subtly, one of the most tactically aware manager in the Premier League. He does tend to favour solidity over flair though, and that is becoming a bit of an issue. Pochettino might be best served by allowing his team to express themselves against Chelsea.
The threat of Diego Costa
One of the shining lights of Chelsea’s recent run has been Diego Costa. The Spain international is a superb striker but it looked as though he was struggling at the start of the season. He had pushed in the summer for a switch to Atletico Madrid which failed to pan out, and that seemed to be causing him problems. That is no longer the case.
It would not be a surprise to hear Costa had a baptism around October 1, because he has been playing like a man reborn. He hast five goals in his last six games. He is bullying defences like he did in his first season in England and is combining it with sublime technique.
Jan Vertonghen is no soft touch, but Kevin Wimmer is not first choice at Spurs and any defence needs to be at their absolute best to stop Costa on this form. That can be seen by how frequently he has been fouled – 11 times in just five games – as teams look for any way to stop him.
Spurs’ attacking full-backs against a three-man defence
One of the easiest ways to overcome a system employing three central defenders is to expose the space in-behind on either flank. While Spurs do not play with conventional wingers, Mauricio Pochettino does demand that his full-backs get forward and support attacks.
One issue for the Argentinian is that Danny Rose is suspended while Ben Davies is unlikely to be fit for Saturday’s game, but if Kyle Walker can push forward and look to exploit any gaps left by David Luiz, he can provide a real creative threat.
Walker has already provided two assists this season. Kieran Trippier may be employed on the left and, if so, expect the right-footed full-back to stay wider than he might otherwise be comfortable with to make the most of those gap
Eden Hazard’s return to his blistering best
The Belgian international was, by all fair measures, no where near the levels he can reach last season as he struggled to match his Player of the Year performances. He was anonymous for much of the campaign and finished with just four goals in the Premier League.
He has already stormed past that figure, scoring seven goals in 12 games and could even top his 2014-15 tally of 14. At times he has dribbled past defences like a ghost phasing through walls, acting as though the opposition is not even there. He has completed 76 per cent of his take-ons, of which he has attempted 34.
That figure is the third highest in the Premier League since October 1. Spurs’s midfield – Victor Wanyama in particular – need to keep a close eye on him and not allow him a run at goal. Stopping Hazard would be key to any Spurs victory.