Tottenham Hotspur host Chelsea on Sunday morning in front of their begrudging fans who are becoming less content with their temporary home by the day – but handing the Blues their first loss of the season in this London derby will go a long way to lifting their spirits.
Tottenham have had an indifferent start to 2018-19 – looking at their season purely on their ladder position and wins to losses ratio, the are not too far from where they would have expected to be – within touching distance of Manchester City atop the Premier League, but not quite close enough to even sense the vibe around the trophy,
In many ways, the performances of their talisman Harry Kane have been indicative of Spurs overall – far from easy on the eye and apparently inactive throughout games, yet always coming alive at the right moments to walk away with a positive result.
Chelsea have been quite the opposite – they have played an entertaining brand of football that has long been disassociated with the club, as the powers that be opted for more pragmatic approaches.
But for all their positive play and apparent invincibility, they already find themselves four points behind ladder-leaders Manchester City, and only one point ahead of their hosts this weekend.
It is not hard to appreciate that chasing City in a title race must resemble running on a gradually inclining treadmill – every time you think you are keeping pace, the task only gets tougher.
But if Chelsea are to mount a title-challenge this season, as many prematurely excited Blues fans were tripping over their own laces to tell anyone who cared to listen they would, this is exactly the type of game they need to win – away to a fellow top four contender, a result that would send the message of, ‘we’re not competing with you, we’re in a league with the champions.’
As for Spurs, they simply cannot afford to lose and give their North London rivals Arsenal a chance to leapfrog them into the top four ahead of next weekend’s local derby.
Key Battle – Jorginho vs Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen’s future at Spurs this week has been under the microscope as doubts of his faithfulness to the club coming into question, but one thing that is not in a whole lot of doubt is that in the shape of Jorginho, Eriksen will be coming up against one of the most skilled and tactically adept Italian midfielders of his generation, and that is saying something.
Jorginho has the ability to dictate play like not many others in the Premier League can, and he sees things that others do not try to imagine. His ability to completely take charge of whichever midfield he sits in the heart of is most impressive – his impact at Chelsea has been immediate, and we are not even sure if he speaks the language.
If Eriksen plays as the furthest forward of Spurs’ midfield, his role will include shutting down the influence of the Italian, as well as forcing him to face his own goal and focus more on the dirty side of the defensive midfield role, leaving less time for the creative imagination and positive influence.
It is always difficult to know how players will come back after an international break, but from all reports, it is Spurs who have it all to be worried about in terms of unavailabilities.
Right-back Kieran Trippier and centre-half Davinson Sanchez are both likely to miss the clash, with only the slight hope of Jan Vertonghen becoming available for selection for the first time in two months acting as the silver lining.
One would expect Vertonghen to slot into the heart of the defence, and in Serge Aurier Spurs have a very capable deputy in the right-back position, so the injuries may not hamper them as much as they may have first thought.
Head to Head
Historically Chelsea are the more dominant of these two sides in this particular fixture, with the Blues winning 68 of their 160 matches against Spurs.
Spurs put Chelsea to the sword in front of their own fans back in April, with a brace from Dele Alli and a goal from Eriksen helping Tottenham overturn an early deficit courtesy of an Alvaro Morata opener.
The result all-but sealed Spurs’ place in the top four, and resigned Chelsea to a place in the Europa League.
It is easy to see this game going both ways – an early goal for Spurs will vitalise the crowd and make the 90,000 seater guest room which is Wembley Stadium feel like a home again.
But if Chelsea were to score early, Tottenham may just start feeling sorry for themselves and may find it hard to turn the game around as they did in April.
Spurs have been very good at staying in games, either with a slight lead or level-pegging, and then striking in a short and sharp spell, as they did against Manchester United earlier this season, so they cannot let Chelsea build on the momentum they have generated by their unbeaten start to the season.
Spurs just have not convinced so far this season, but one gets the feeling that they have caught Chelsea at the right time, just as they are slowing down just a little.
This game will be a great indicator of Spurs are made of, and put the bed any thought that Chelsea are closer to glory the new management of Maurizio Sarri than Spurs have ever been under the tutelage of the ever-soughtafter Mauricio Pochettino.
Prediction: Tottenham 2 Chelsea 1