As big as a mid-season fixture ever could be. Certainly bigger than any similar game at the Lane in the Premiership period. You can’t overhype this one. Let’s count the ways.
- The obvious chief storyline concerns Chelsea. They are attempting to set a league record (for this era, at least) of 14 consecutive victories. I don’t claim to be triskaidekaphobic (yes, it’s a real word) but it’s funny to me how many streaks become undone either at, or about to touch, the number thirteen. Let’s be Judas to Chelsea’s…well, that analogy is all wrong but you get the gist;
- More importantly, Chelsea are trying to put the title in a nice little West London box just past New Year’s, and flaunt their talents for the remaining four months as their principal rivals slog through Europe and/or a domestic cup run. Should they win today, they will be proclaimed certain winners— they are better than even odds favorites (4/6)—that will move to 1/3 at worst with a victory at the Lane according to Bet365.
- Let’s face it—Jan Vertonghen was spot on when he admitted that while the Gooners may be our long-term historical and geographical rival, for the players, and I believe now the supporters as well, the blood rises just a little bit more vs. the Blues. The Battle at the Bridge established the current primacy of this London rivalry—Round Two’s nearly-equal but controlled intensity confirmed it. (Has any game at the Emirates in recent years approached either of those two matches for passion? Kane’s brace in 2014 did, but that was a home affair) Due to respect and hatred—and I for one have both sentiments coursing through my veins when it comes to Chelsea—the collective we at Spurs wants to beat them more. And of course what adds to that desire is the stunning past failure to do so—hell, we’ve beaten Arsenal loads of times, but Chelsea? Never at the Bridge, and only four times at the Lane in this era, the last the New Year’s five goal orgy just two years back—amidst a season when we (ahem) finished 5th and they still won the league;
- But this is also a crucial marker for Spurs, and it comes at a time when all of our other Top Four competitors just exposed their weaknesses. Klopp moaned about the holiday fixtures, and his side gave away two needless points to hapless Sunderland. He still doesn’t know if he has a quality keeper and he certainly does not have a championship-level defence. Pep has been equally critical, but not just about the fixture list—it seems he doesn’t really believe in his team either, since he is talking retirement (that happened at Barca and Bayern too, it must be said), making more expansive critiques about English football and one of his associates claims that Guardiola actually believes his side to be a “second-tier La Liga” outfit, such as Villareal. Whether this is posturing or not, those Blues are getting long in the tooth, and simply seem a cut below the other five. As for United, after several games with frustrating failures to score and a few choice referee decisions which seemed designed to infuriate the combustible Mourinho, they have found their form but needed two huge boosts from Mike Dean to continue it and defeat the Hammers. And Arsenal sleepwalked through an hour on the South Coast last night before waking up to salvage a draw—can anyone really take them seriously as a title contender?
This is the chance for Spurs to once and for all show everyone that we belong. That it just might be us most capable of challenging Chelsea. That on the cusp of the new stadium and all the glamour and (one can only hope) coin that might accompany its benediction, we can climb into that top story and drop into a lounge chair with a brandy just like the other five. (Liverpool must do dual duty as a waiter—sorry, Reds)
Make no mistake, this is a game where it’s three points or bust. A draw resolves nothing, just keeps everyone in limbo a little longer and lets the chorus of doomsayers reach a stronger voice no matter what we do in the weeks ahead. A loss reverts everyone to the previous status quo—Chelsea will win, Spurs to Europa. But a win—a real slam bang victory after a Vin Diesel-Paul Walker fast and furious 90 minutes? Do that, and the entire world opens up.
It’s Chelsea, lads. Find your inner Keano and smash them.