Not many would have staked their money on Chelsea not conceding a defeat after 12 Premier League games, not because of lack of quality but rather due to the Blues’ management not responding on time to sign a manager in good time to prepare the team for the new season. Surprisingly, Maurizio Sarri has not only improved Chelsea’s quality of play, but the Blues are also yet to taste defeat in 18 matches in all competitions and this is the run today’s opponent-Tottenham Hotspurs would be hoping to halt at Wembley
Top-four rivals Tottenham Hotspurs and Chelsea lock horns at Wembley Stadium in the pick of this weekend’s Premier League action. Spurs have been in better form over the past two months, but they trail their opponent by a point ahead of this evening’s clash.
Tottenham have won nine of their Premier League games so far but, significantly, two of their three defeats have come against top-four rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
Now they have the chance to leapfrog Chelsea with a victory at Wembley, with Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino suggesting the lack of Champions League football is helping his London rivals.
“This season they are competing in the Europa League again and it’s completely different for Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool or us because we’re competing in the Champions League,” he said. “It’s a completely different competition.
“I am not surprised (by their start) because Chelsea have an unbelievable squad and players. This summer they invested. They signed players, quality players and they added to the squad. But it’s normal; they have one point more than us.”
Despite the ongoing negativity due to matters out of Pocheittino’s hands – namely the delayed move into their new ground and a serious lack of ambition in the summer transfer window, Tottenham headed into the final international break of the year on a high.
Six wins from their last eight matches leave them in a strong position in the Premier League, through to the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup and still in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
That five of their last six league wins have come by a one-goal margin, with the exception being a 2-0 triumph away at strugglers Huddersfield Town at the end of September, backs up Pochettino’s point that his players have shown exceptional fighting spirit in the face of adversity.
The problem for Tottenham has been their home form, having collected just 22 per cent of their Premier League points at Wembley this season – the lowest-such tally of any side in the division. Of the 27 points accrued overall so far, only six have come at their temporary home.
Victory over Fulham was followed up by defeat to Liverpool, while their slender win against another relegation battler in Cardiff City came immediately before a 1-0 loss to Manchester City in their most recent match at the national stadium.
With rumours that Spurs’ new ground will not be complete until February at the earliest, and with three home games to come in the next fortnight, Pochettino knows that his players cannot afford to drop many more points in front of their own fans.
Either side of a trip to arch-rivals Arsenal on December 3, Tottenham have huge matches against Chelsea, Inter Milan and Southampton to prepare for. In what has been a strange campaign for the Lilywhites so far, this really is defining the period.
The international break may just have come at the wrong time for Spurs, however, as they had put together a four-match winning run in all competitions prior to the two-week hiatus. Should that run extended to five matches this weekend, Spurs will leapfrog their city rivals into third place – not bad for a side enduring their so-called toughest spell since Pochettino took charge.
Despite many expecting Sarri to struggle upon his delayed arrival at Stamford Bridge in mid-July, the Italian has hit the ground running in his first managerial stint outside of his native Italy.
Sarri, in fact, became the first manager to go his first 12 games unbeaten in the Premier League with the goalless draw against Everton a fortnight ago, surpassing Frank Clark’s long-held record of 11 matches set at Nottingham Forest in 1994.
Not since 2014 have Chelsea started a top-flight campaign on a better run, though the Everton stalemate prior to the international break did halt them in their tracks somewhat, allowing Tottenham to close the gap to just one point, while Liverpool and Manchester City pulled further clear above them.
The Blues, champions in two of the last four seasons, have now drawn four of their last seven league matches, having also been held by West Ham United and fellow big boys Liverpool and Manchester United in the past nine weeks.
Before firing a blank against Marco Silva’s stubborn Everton side, Chelsea had racked up five successive wins in all competitions, including victories over Crystal Palace and Burnley in the Premier League, Derby County in the EFL Cup last 16 and BATE Borisov (twice) in the Europa League.
With their progress to the knockout stages of the Europa League already secured, and a winnable quarter-final tie against Bournemouth in the EFL Cup to look forward to before Christmas, this is shaping up to be a memorable first season at the helm for popular boss Sarri.
Top of the Italian’s list of priorities will no doubt by the Premier League, even if he has tried his best to play down his side’s chances of not only closing the gap on Man City but also holding off a strong Liverpool side.
The good news for the West London outfit is that they have beaten Spurs on four previous occasions at Wembley – more than any club has beaten another at the ground.
Tottenham meanwhile, will be banking on more Harry Kane heroics against Chelsea after their talisman fired England to a dramatic last-gasp victory at Wembley.
Kane scored the winner at Tottenham’s temporary home last weekend to relegate Croatia in the Nations League and exact some revenge for England’s semi-final defeat to the same opponents at the World Cup.
“He is the best goalscorer in the world… his hold-up play, as well as the goals he brings, is critical,” said England manager Gareth Southgate after England clinched a place in the Nations League Finals.
“He is so hungry to lead the team even further.”
Spurs have suffered the after-effects of a demanding summer for most of Pochettino’s squad.
Kane is just one of the three Spurs players not to have picked up a muscle injury from Tottenham’s 12-strong World Cup contingent, nine of whom were involved in the final weekend of the tournament less than a month before the new season began.
Despite battling fatigue and fitness concerns, added to the uncertainty over when the club’s new stadium will be finished, Pochettino has admirably kept Spurs on track for a top-four finish for the fourth straight season.
Sarri has rightly earned rave reviews for his 18-game unbeaten start to life as Chelsea boss. Yet, should Spurs inflict Sarri’s first defeat, they will leapfrog Chelsea into third, thanks to their impressive start to the Premier League season.