Monday, 2 January 2017

Tottenham v Chelsea Match Preview (04/01/17): Record May Go Unbroken... For Now

The carrot of winning the Premier League title after a derisory 2015/16 campaign is, frankly, more than enough for any Blues supporter, but the side-effect of such an outstanding run of form is that records can tumble along the way. The opportunity to beat Arsenal’s run of 13 straight league victories in 2001/02 – and at White Hart Lane no less – is a tantalising proposition come Wednesday evening.

Of course, Chelsea equalled the Gunners’ record on Saturday with a compelling, if slightly awkward at times, 4-2 win over Stoke City. The full-strength Blues made hard work of the victory and needed a late Diego Costa goal to add any gloss to the scoreline.

It had all started so well too, and after half-hour of domination the Blues finally made the breakthrough with a Gary Cahill header after 34 minutes. But a Bruno Martins Indi strike seconds after the restart was a bitter pill to swallow.

No matter. Willian gave the Blues the lead early in the second period, and from there we really should have kicked on and secured a handsome triumph. But Peter Crouch equalised soon after, and it took a fine effort from Willian again to put Chelsea back on the front foot. A late goal from Costa, who was outstanding throughout, took the pressure off.

There were positives and negatives to be taken from the game then, but the overriding impression is that Chelsea will need to be better – certainly defensively – if they are to extend their winning run at Tottenham on Wednesday.

Spurs have been in fine fettle of late with four straight wins and 13 goals scored, and we will need to be resolute in our own half of the field if we are to come away with a positive result. Liverpool, just six points behind in second, are snapping at our heels.

Chelsea Team News

The boat has been rocked somewhat with the possibility that Marcos Alonso, who has played every minute of the 13-game winning streak, could be missing. He posted on social media a rather cryptic image that suggests he has suffered an injury of some kind against Stoke. No official news has been released, but the absence of the Spaniard would be hard felt.

Other than Alonso, Chelsea should be at full strength with no other injuries reported and David Luiz and Nemanja Matic both avoiding the yellow cards that would have suspended them for the trip to White Hart Lane.

We would expect Matic to come in for Cesc Fabregas, even though the Spanish midfielder has been excellent in deputising for the Serb and N’Golo Kante of late, and otherwise Antonio Conte will name the same side that started the Stoke clash.

If Alonso isn’t fit to start the game, then Conte will have something of a headache. There isn’t a natural replacement in the left wing-back role, and yet he will be loathe to switch from this exciting 3-4-3 set-up. The most likely solution would be Cesar Azpilicueta shifting to the left-hand side and either John Terry or Branislav Ivanovic coming in at centre back.

Tottenham v Chelsea Head to Head

As two of English football’s most decorated sides, there is no surprise that they have met on some 138 occasions in the past. It is the Blues with the overall upper hand with 59 wins to 44.

In the modern age Chelsea have enjoyed rather the better of their encounters with Spurs, having suffered just one defeat in the last 15 meetings (seven wins, eight draws).

Results at White Hart Lane have been a bit more mixed, with four of the last six meetings there ending in stalemate.

How the Match Will Be Won

That’s an easy question to answer – although the actual specifics remain a mystery. In his pre-match press conference Conte referred to ‘work of the past’ in answer to how his side will beat Spurs on Wednesday; even if what he is referring to specifically is hard to fathom.

“Tottenham is another challenge, another type of football to face," the Italian said. "We have to prepare very well because this game will be very tough, for us and for them.

“We only have three days to prepare for this game, but we also have a lot of work we did in the past and we need that in this moment because we haven’t a lot of time to find a solution for this game.”

Answers on a postcard as to what that means, but we would expect the Blues to line up with the same strategies that have informed their progress in these past 13 games. More will be expected in a defensive sense from Eden Hazard and Willian however, who will look to support Moses and Alonso in dealing with the dangerous Spurs pair of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. Both Matic and Kante will have to play deeper in an attempt to shackle the likes of Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son, too.

Spurs have conceded in each of their last three outings, however, and so Diego Costa will be hoping to feed off any scraps he may be given. This is one of the few matches in which Chelsea may not dominate possession, and so a counter-attacking proposition – backed by a high press to ensure Tottenham’s centre-halves aren’t overly comfortable with the ball at their feet – will be required.

This looks set to be a ding-dong battle with no quarter given and none asked. A moment of magic – or madness – could settle it.

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