If you’ve spoken with either a Chelsea or Tottenham supporter in the last few days, chances are the topic of conversation was similar between the two. Both sets of fans had cause for joy after the weekend, as Chelsea pulled off a narrow 1-0 win over United on Sunday after Gareth Bale had lifted Spurs past Southampton on Saturday. They both hope to see their club playing in Europe’s premier competition next season rather than its second string tournament. Most significantly, though, both groups are keenly aware of the gravity of the match their sides will contest at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
It’s the time of the year when Blues and Spurs fans sit around their cubes at work crunching numbers and points totals. “70 will be enough” says one. “We need 72 to be sure” says another. At this crucial late stage of the season, the points are what matter. Spurs fans are a fickle bunch in particular, hardly pleased with the manner in which the team went about its business against Southampton last weekend but by and large content with the result.
The late-season emphasis on results is what makes this tie most intriguing, since both sides have made a habit of picking positive results up over the last month. Neither has lost in their last three league matches, and both have edged recent games by one goal margins, suggesting a mental fortitude that can be critical at this stage of the season. One key difference, however, is the team’s respective results in the Europa League, and the fitness implications of those results. Spurs, having been eliminated by FC Basel, have had fewer fixtures to contend with over the last few weeks. Chelsea, meanwhile, have been playing a match just about every three days lately due to their European exploits. Fatigue, it seems, could play a major role in this one.
On that note, Spurs supporters will take encouragement from the fact that Chelsea did look decidedly leggy and average against a United team that could hardly be considered Sir Alex’s strongest on Sunday. Juan Mata’s deflected winner was perhaps what the Blues deserved, so woeful were their opponents, but they are hardly playing teams off the park lately and are vulnerable at the back. For all his attacking talents, entre back David Luiz finds himself out of position shockingly often for a top-flight defender. Petr Cech, while still a top-class goalkeeper, is hesitant to claim crosses, free kicks, and corners, putting his team under extra pressure when defending set pieces. In the attacking third the Blues are much more solid, though, and the combination of Mata, Torres, Oscar, and Hazard is incredibly dangerous on its day.
Blues fans, meanwhile, will point to Spurs’ propensity to underwhelm as proof that the visitors will struggle to get a result. It is true that the Lilywhites have a maddening habit of playing down to their opposition, and for almost 85 minutes on Saturday it looked as though their complacency against lower level opponents would cost them two precious points. Bale spared them their blushes with a trademark match-winning intervention, however, and the confidence from snatching a late win from the jaws of a home stalemate may carry over into the Chelsea match. Factor in the fact that Spurs have actually performed quite well against other top four sides this season, having beat United, Arsenal, and City at least once each, and one can definitely see an upset on the cards at the Bridge.
As with last week, much will depend on team selection from the two managers. Spurs’ gaffer Andre Villas-Boas will sweat the fitness of midfielders Moussa Dembele and Aaron Lennon, who will make the match day squad but may not be capable of enacting their typical influence on proceedings. Lennon was largely anonymous against Southampton at the weekend, and Dembele only lasted 35 minutes, so Spurs may have to look to players like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lewis Holtby to slot into midfield instead. In attack, Emmanuel Adebayor’s superior link play may see him start over Jermain Defoe, who seems most likely to inflict damage late in the match as a substitute when defenders are tiring. Bale will, as always, be key to Spurs’ plans, and if he produces when it counts they could walk out winners here.
Matches between these two sides are always tough to call, as they are both equally capable of either scintillating football or dreadful kick-and-run. It really comes down to who wants it more. For Chelsea, a loss is not really catastrophic; they’d still be ahead of Arsenal by a point with a superior goal difference and the same number of matches left to play. Their destiny would still be in their own hands. For Spurs, however, three points (or at the very least one) are necessary if they want to remain the masters of their own fate. A loss leaves them two points adrift of fourth placed Arsenal and level on matches played, meaning the Gunners would have to slip up in their remaining two fixtures for Spurs to pip back into the top four. Possible, sure, but not likely.
I’m expecting a personally-motivated AVB to lead Spurs to a narrow victory here. 2-1 Spurs, Adebayor and Bale on target for the visitors with Torres grabbing the goal for the hosts.
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