Thursday, 20 April 2017

Chelsea vs Tottenham Match Preview (22/04/17): Can the Blues Take One Step Closer to Historic Double?

Team bonding sessions are a great idea for bringing a disparate group of personalities together. A nice meal, a couple of drinks, some laughter and banter….what could possibly go wrong?

What could go wrong is that your players get struck down by a virus, passed around the camp on that fateful Thursday night, just 48 hours before a crunch clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford. Marcos Alonso was so ill that he had to pull out of the side in the warm up, while the likes of Diego Costa and Victor Moses were said to have been struck down with a similar bug but decided to pay nonetheless.

The result, a 0-2 loss, looks awful on paper then, but Manchester United are a decent side that don’t drop many points at Old Trafford. The upshot of Alonso’s absence was that Cesar Azpilicueta had to shift out to the left-wing back position, with Kurt Zouma filling in at centre half. They are both excellent players so that’s not the end of the world, but it’s a reshuffle that Antonio Conte could have done without having to make.

In such a situation a decent start to the game would have been very helpful, but going down after seven minutes to a Marcus Rashford strike. That’s not what the doctor ordered, especially when Ander Herrera handballed in the build up.

Those feelings of frustration were exacerbated when the Spaniard doubled United’s lead after half time, and in truth the Blues rarely threatened to get back into the game. Our lead at the summit of the league table was cut to four points as a consequence.

Perhaps it’s a good thing then that we have a week off from league duty this week, although they don’t come much bigger than this: an FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham. The Blues are 90 minutes away from a chance at landing a historic double in Antonio Conte’s first season in charge.

Chelsea Team News

There’s been a sense of radio silence in the press this week regarding the sickness bug that has swept through the club, although the good news is that messrs Alonso, Costa and Moses are back in training; as is Thibaut Courtois, who missed the United game with an ankle injury.

Another player thought to have been struggling with the illness is Gary Cahill, although there is no indication he is in any danger of missing Saturday’s action. The England international has spoken of the positive effect of that loss this week. "That defeat has given us all a kick up the backside,” he told the Evening Standard.

"We know the league is not over, that it will be difficult, but we know we are more than capable of doing it. I certainly think we can win our last six league games.

"We just need to come back from this now. We need to lean on the experience we have in the dressing room and the players that have been through all this before.”

The good news is that there are no further injury worries for Conte, and that all things being equal he should be able to field his preferred starting eleven on Saturday.

Chelsea vs Tottenham Head to Head

What a rich and varied history these two teams have. There have been more than 150 meetings between them, with Chelsea just shading the head-to-heads by 66 wins to 51.

Looking back at history is fun, but the more recent meetings between the two hold most relevance. So let’s instead look at the last ten: here, Chelsea have enjoyed the best of times with four wins, four draws and a pair of defeats.

This season the honours have been shared. At the Bridge it was Chelsea who took the spoils thanks to goals from Pedro and Victor Moses, while at White Hart Lane it was Spurs who prevailed thanks to a brace from Dele Alli.

How the Match Will Be Won

Stop Dele Alli! That’s how Chelsea will win this match. If you cast your minds back to January, you might remember the England man nodding home not once but twice from diagonal balls floated to the back post – Chelsea’s right side, between Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta. It’s not something that has been exposed before or since, but clearly Azpilicueta isn’t a natural centre back and as such not the best in the air. Let’s hope the blue boys can close down the likes of Kyle Walker and Christian Ericsson before they are able to deliver balls into the box.

Another good idea would be to mark Harry Kane rather tightly. He has the ability to score from any distance, so if he does drop off the front it is essential that one of our back three comes out to block any efforts he may have.

Tottenham’s weakness, currently, is at left back, where Ben Davies is deputising for the injured Danny Rose. The jury is still out on the Welshman, and he certainly won’t have played in many games of this magnitude in the past. We wonder if Conte is tempted to switch Hazard to the right hand side to put him one on one with Davies?

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