Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/April 1, 2018
Welcome back from the international break as we welcome Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham team to Stamford Bridge for what’s sure to be a tough game for both these teams as the race to finish among the top four becoming as competitive as ever, with only Manchester City assured of a place in next season’s Champions’ League with just eight games of the season remaining (Liverpool has seven having played a game more than their nearest rivals). A draw on Sunday will favour Spurs more than Chelsea and an outright win for them (God forbid!) will almost certainly take Chelsea away from the equation hence Antonio Conte and his charges will be under no illusion as to the enormity of the task before them on Sunday. Although a draw will be a perfect result for his team, I doubt Pochettino will set his team up just for that result because he’ll know, better than anyone, what a win for Spurs at Stamford Bridge will do for their confidence going into the remaining seven games of the season. This surely will be a feisty game of football if the events of May 2nd 2016 are anything to go by but I also expect it to be an enjoyable game of football for the neutrals.
This is surely one of the fixtures in Spurs’ football calendar that their supporters will not be looking forward to with much optimism, if any, as they are still looking for their first Premier League win at Stamford Bridge in their 26th attempts. Overall, there have been a total of 159 matches between these two London giants with Chelsea recording 68 wins, 40 draws and 51 losses. Tottenham Hotspurs has just two wins form their last fifteen matches against Chelsea in all competitions (L8 D5). This is the 52nd meeting between Chelsea and Spurs in the Premier League and the north London club will be seeking just their sixth win in that run. Spurs had to wait 14years to record their first win against Chelsea in the Premier League when they defeated a Mourinho-led Chelsea team 2-1 in November 2006 having fallen behind to a sumptuous Claude Makelele strike. In the 28 matches prior to that win the north London club had just 10 draws to show for their efforts with Chelsea winning the remaining 18. Chelsea failed to score just three times in the last 15 encounters against Tottenham Hotspurs losing just one of those matches (D2) although that run also included the 3-5 loss at White Hart Lane en route the 2014/2015 season’s Premier League title. So, Antonio Conte will be hoping his strikers have their scoring boots on on Sunday afternoon as well as improving his own personal head to head against Mauricio Pochettino which currently stands at 3 to 1 in favour of the Italian. I personally cannot wait for this match to kick off on Sunday.
The duo of Andreas Christensen and Thibaut Courtois came back from international duty earlier than expected with both of them missing their respective country’s friendly matches during this recent international break with muscle complaints and Antonio Conte said both of them will be assessed ahead of kick off to determine their availability. Willy Caballero has proven this season that he’s more than capable to fill in for Courtois should he be unable to recover in time for the match on Sunday. Antonio Conte also said during his prematch conference that Gary Cahill will fill in for Andreas Christensen if the Danish Prince isn’t well enough to start on Sunday and that’s where I have my reservation because I think playing Cahill down the middle of a back three against Spurs is courting trouble, considering the pace in Spurs’ attack and our captain’s lack of pace. Other than the aforementioned duo and the trio of David Luiz (Knee), Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) and Ross Barkley (Hamstring) Antonio Conte has a fully fit squad to choose from. Should Christensen not be passed fit then the trio of Toni Rudiger, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta will be playing in front of Courtois, whom I expect to be fit, in goal. Danny Drinkwater hasn’t made it to a match day squad since Tiemoue Bakayoko made his return to the first team but I expect the Englishman to at least make the substitutes’ bench on Sunday with Bakayoko’s less than impressive showing against Leicester City still fresh in the memory. N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas should continue their partnership in central midfield on Sunday with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso continuing in the wingback positions. With Tottenham likely to line up with Davison Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen in defence, I think the more physical Olivier Giroud will be more suited to this kind of games but I know Conte will most certainly start with the front the of Alvaro Morata flanked by Eden Hazard and Willian. Ross Barkley should also be making his long-awaited return to the first team after his recent bout with his hamstring injury.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Hazard, Giroud, Willian.
Last Five Matches: WLWLL
Injuries: David Luiz (Knee) – Out; Ross Barkley (Hamstring) – Doubt; Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) – Out.
With Harry Kane a major doubt for this match Mauricio Pochettino will turn to Son Heung-Min who has been in imperious goal-scoring form throughout this season. The Argentine gaffer will hope that Dele Alli will respond to his snub by Gareth Southgate will spur him to greater heights this season with the youngster having a somewhat subdued season so far compared to his two previous seasons at White Hart Lane. Pochettino has tried the three at the back formation against Chelsea before and he may likely do that again if he chooses to finally bring back want-away defender Toby Alderweireld into the team or play Eric Dier at the back rather than his preferred position in front of the defence. But with the duo of Jan Vertonghen and Davison Sanchez having formed a long-standing partnership in central defence in Alderwiereld’s absence Pochettino may decide to go with a four-pronged defence with those two as the central figure flanked by Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose. Both Ben Davies and Serge Aurier are also options for the full back positions. I think Pochettino will go with a 4-3-3 formation rather than his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation especially if Harry Kane isn’t fit enough to start and should that be the case the trio of Victor Wanyama, Moussa Dembele and Christian Eriksen will play in the midfield. Son Heung-Min will most likely spearhead the Spurs’ attack flanked on either side by Dele Alli and Erik Lamela. Harry Kane has developed into the kind of player that a coach will be willing to take a chance on even if he’s not fully fit especially for such an important fixture so I’m betting on Pochettino throwing him into the starting eleven on Sunday except his fitness isn’t up to scratch.
Lloris; Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen; Alli, Kane, Heung-Min.
Last 5 matches: WWLWW
Injuries: Harry Kane (Ankle) –Doubt; Harry Winks (Ankle) – Out.
N’Golo Kante vs. Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen is the creative lynchpin in this Spurs team and stopping will go a long way in stopping their team from functioning effectively and who better in our team to do such a job than our French dynamite. Hopefully he’ll carry the day on Sunday like he almost always does.
Cesc Fabregas vs. Victor Wanyama
Like Kante, Victor Wanyama will be all out to stop Cesc Fabregas from having as much impact on the game as he’ll like but unlike Eriksen Fabregas will have a little bit of help from the likes of Hazard and Willian and even N’Golo Kante who shipped in with an assist for Pedro’s goal against his former side last time out..
Willian vs. Danny Rose
I expect Mauricio Pochettino to go with Danny Rose’s experience in this sort of games over the industry of Ben Davies in the left back position for Spurs on Sunday and should that be the case then he’ll be coming up against Willian who’s in the form of his life hence I won’t be envying Danny Rose on Sunday.
This will not just be a game of football. It’s a battle for survival for Chelsea and a chance at redemption for the Spurs’ players. A win for Chelsea will bring back some hope in the race for a top four finish while a win for Tottenham will almost cement their place in next season’s Champions’ League. Antonio Conte has the edge in his head to head against Mauricio Pochettino having won three and lost one in the four matches against the Argentine since arriving in the Premier League last July but as we know this matches are not played based on history or statistics it’s the team that shows up on the day that carries the day. A win in this match is a must if we’re to make a late push for Champions’ League qualification having already made it to the last four of the FA Cup. Without mincing words, this is the biggest match of the season for Chelsea as it holds the key to determining how we finish the season. Here’s hoping for the continuation of the domination of Spurs at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and until next time Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Bleacher Report
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