Wednesday’s match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur will be the fourth meeting between the sides this season. Spurs romped to a 3-1 win over the Blues at Wembley in November, beat them again 1-0 at Wembley in the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals, and fell 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in the second leg (before losing on penalties). Now, these two sides are playing for the final time this season in league action.
Both teams are coming off of losses — Spurs dropped a league match at Burnley on Saturday that deeply damaged their (slim) hopes at a Premier League title this season, while Chelsea fell to Manchester City on penalties in the EFL Cup final in a match that was overshadowed by keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refusing to be substituted in extra time.
Both Tottenham and Chelsea have been fairly well matched this season, and despite all the drama swirling at Chelsea right now, Stamford Bridge isn’t exactly a place where Spurs expect to get a result. The 3-1 win Spurs win last April was the first win at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League era, and it won’t be easy this time around either.
Tottenham rolled over the Blues in November thanks to some canny tactics from Mauricio Pochettino. Deployed in a midfield diamond of Eric Dier, Moussa Sissoko, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, Dele was tasked with man-marking Jorginho and did with great success; Jorginho was Chelesa’s lynchpin and as the Brazilian’s effectiveness waned, so too did Chelsea’s fortunes. The two EFL Cup matches were much more evenly matched, however, with Chelsea able to squeeze some excellent play from N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard to squeak past Spurs on penalties (in a series where Spurs scored the only away goal). And this time, Spurs don’t have the services of Dier or Dele to help in midfield. Harry Kane, however, is back.
The wild card in this match is the Chelsea’s fitness. The Blues played 120 minutes of full strength football against City only to lose in PKs, and it’s hard to see them doing any meaningful rotation against Tottenham. Spurs will have less milage on the tires and an extra day’s rest. Maurizio Sarri is also reportedly still deciding whether to bench Kepa for his antics in the cup final. That may give Spurs a slight advantage in this tie, but it will by no means be easy.
How will Tottenham line up against Chelsea?
The loss at Burnley was significant not only because it damaged Spurs’ title chances but also because it comes before a brutal ten day stretch of matches that includes, in addition to this one, a North London Derby at Wembley and a Champions League match at Dortmund. Spurs will need to dig deep to get positive results in all of these matches, and while they have a ten point lead on Chelsea and seven on Arsenal, any slip-ups at this stage could have their impacts significantly magnified as the clubs head into the stretch run of the season.
With Dele and Dier both out, I predict Spurs will again go to the back three formation that they used against Burnley. But Chelsea aren’t Burnley — they are unlikely to play a bunkered defense like the Clarets did, and that should (hopefully!) make the formation more effective. The extra central defender will help neutralize Chelsea’s wide attacks through Hazard and Pedro (or Hudson-Odoi) and I like Spurs’ chances of locking down Gonzalo Higuain.
Kieran Tripper didn’t play against Burnley, but I expect he will start against the Blues, which necessitates Moussa Sissoko in the midfield to help protect him. We haven’t seen Ben Davies yet, but with Danny Rose going 90 minutes against Burnley I think he comes back into the fold on Wednesday. With Dier out, I think we will see Harry Winks at the base of the midfield, with Christian Eriksen occasionally dropping into midfield if it looks like being overrun by Jorginho (or Loftus-Cheek), Kovacic, and Kante.
I don’t see any chance Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min don’t start the match up top, with Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura, and Fernando Llorente on the bench if things need shaking up.
That’s my prediction for Tottenham’s lineup against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. What’s yours?