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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea Preview: An early London derby will be a key measuring stick

Another huge test for Spurs and their new manager.

FBL-ENG-PR-TOTTENHAM-CHELSEA Photo by KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur cooled off after its strong start to the season, finally collecting a Premier League loss on Sunday and following it up with a draw in the Europa Conference League. A draw on the road against Stade Rennais is not the end of the world, especially with the current number of injured players, but Spurs could use a win this weekend to restore the positive momentum.

Last weekend’s collapse at Crystal Palace was predictable after Japhet Tanganga’s red card. Spurs were left without too many key pieces — and then lost Eric Dier early in the match — and it was only a matter of time before the 10-men side would concede its first goal(s) in the league. Even before the send-off, it did not seem like a win was in the cards, though. Spurs have been lacking in attack all year and without Heung-Min Son there was little chance of that changing.

Now the task becomes even tougher with Chelsea making a visit. The Blues look like one of the league’s best squads and bolstered their attack by bringing home Romelu Lukaku this summer. Their season has started impressively with 3-0 wins over Palace and Aston Villa, a road victory at the Emirates, and a draw against Liverpool. Buckle up.

Tottenham Hotspur (t-5th, 9 pts) vs. Chelsea (t-1st, 10 pts)

Date: Sunday, September 19
Time: 11:30 am ET, 4:30 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK)

This will again be another hodgepodge starting XI for Tottenham. The hope will be for a low-scoring affair, just like last year’s derbies which featured just one goal: a Jorginho penalty in North London. With Tanganga suspended and Dier probably still injured, it will be up to some combination of Davinson Sanchez, Joe Rodon, and Cristian Romero to hold down the fort in defense.

Should the back line be able to do its job, this could set up for the type of match that Nuno Espirito Santo wants to embrace. Spurs have been happy to play without the ball and hope to get something off the counter. This was successful at times under Jose Mourinho, but ultimately failed when the defense could not protect the lead. So far Tottenham has been able to keep both Manchester City and Wolves off the scoresheet despite plenty of chances, and this weekend will be another test of that strategy.

The problem is that without Son there becomes a big hole in attack. Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn would be the next best options, but both had to come off against Rennes, so their fitness could be in doubt. Tanguy Ndombele finally made it onto the pitch and reminded everyone of his pure ability, so perhaps he and Dele Alli can provide some life in the final third.

Three themes

  1. One player who could overcome the lack of attacking success thus far is of course Harry Kane. Fully back in the side after all of the summer drama, the Tottenham striker has yet to bag a league goal. Nuno needs him to lift the squad in matches like this, especially when the lineup is shorthanded. It seems like only a matter of time before Kane turns it on.
  2. While Nuno’s tactics can be debated, his substitution strategy is much harder to defend. The manager has been reluctant to make changes nearly every league contest, often not even using all three. Last weekend represented a clear opportunity to bring on some sort of attack-minded option to help save the fixture; instead, he went defensively with Ben Davies then took his final sub home with him.
  3. It is still only September, but this match can cause a big swing in morale. A win, or even a hard-fought draw, will feel like things may be getting back on course, especially against a rival. However, a loss will leave Spurs with nine points through five matches, essentially erasing the positive start to the season.