Wednesday 4th January 20.00 GMT
There is a huge amount at stake here for both teams. Should Tottenham win, they will be level on points with Manchester City in 3rd. Lose and they stay where they are, level on points with a resurgent Manchester United and 13 points behind Chelsea, a gap that would effectively extinguish any hope they had of a title challenge.
If Chelsea win, they stretch their lead at the top to eight points and should they lose, the gap to 2nd remains at five points. Whatever happens, Chelsea will still be in comfortable position at the top of the table.
Spurs looking good
Spurs have corrected the wobble in form which saw them drop down the table. They had a very successful December and Christmas, taking 18 points from a possible 21 on offer. Thirteen goals scored in their last four games suggests that confidence levels are running high and to watch them play, one is reminded of their better performances of last season. By way of example, Delle Ali is once again showing the kind of form that so dazzled fans this time last year, scoring two goals in their last game.
Chelsea looking better
It hardly needs to be pointed out that Chelsea are also displaying some awesome form but the crucial difference is that they have been doing so for months now. Antonio Conte’s side haven’t dropped a single point since September. Against that fact, it seems churlish to laud their many virtues as the statistics speak plainly enough. Suffice it to say, their success has been such that the conversations of the preceding seasons about the relative merit or otherwise of John Terry have been rendered moot as their captain/leader/legend, silently and unnoticed, develops piles on the sidelines.
Of late, Mauricio Pochettino has been making use of a 3-4-2-1 formation to some good effect. The Spurs boss will have noticed the relative paucity in chances and goals afforded Chelsea in their eventual wins over teams who employed 3 (5) at the back as Diego Costa struggled to cope (relatively speaking) with the lack of space when up against three centre-backs. Another positive to this formation is that it allows Danny Rose and Kyle Walker more freedom to attack down the flanks with slightly less of a mind on the defensive duties required of them when full-backs in a defensive 4.
The devil and his details
The teams have not been announced at the time of writing so the last paragraph might be moot but we have a suspicion that this is how Pochettino will set his team up. He will be all too aware of allowing situations to develop wherein Chelsea can prosper. No team is as bright and aware as the league leaders and in addition to the intensive training which would have been focused on this game, Conte will continue to loudly and deliberately direct his charges from the sideline, making them aware of these situations as they develop on the off-chance that the players themselves don’t immediately spot them. So even as they go on the front foot, Spurs will have a mind on their rear, so to speak.
Have weapons, will fight
A hint of hope for Spurs might lie in Chelsea’s last game. Although they beat Stoke 4-2, they did concede two goals against a team that don’t score many of them. The amount conceded in that game equaled the number they had conceded in their previous 12 games. Was it a one-off or indicative of a defensive malaise? We’re inclined to lean toward the former but what it does show is that it’s possible to get goals against Chelsea and Spurs have players who are well capable of scoring them. Any team with Ali, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen in their starting 11 contains significant attacking threat and intent.
With the form that Spurs are in, this should be one of the sternest tests that Conte and Chelsea have faced for some time. Although they seem invincible at the moment, at some stage they are going to falter and if not here against Spurs, it will be against a team comparable in talent. Conceivably, of course, they might not lose for the rest of the campaign (not a bad little bet, that) but we’ll leave that conversation for another day. The market sees it as a tight affair with Chelsea only a slightly shorter price than Spurs to win but we’re prone to thinking that a draw is not altogether unlikely. The best price for that is 47/20 from BetStars.