Saturday's early kick-off between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea could tell us quite a lot about how each side’s season might pan out.
Chelsea won this fixture in some style last year (in a 4-2 victory), but both managers will know that this is a very different encounter. Interestingly, Unibet have each side available at 2.65 for the win, with a draw priced at 3.20.
Chelsea will opt for a similar side that won 2-0 against Fulham last weekend, although Ramires will miss out through injury. Despite Juan Mata scoring two in this fixture last season he will likely remain on the bench. With Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle and Oscar likely to be the three attacking midfielders for Chelsea. Fernando Torres' bright outing versus Swindon might be enough to get him a start ahead of Samuel Eto'o.
Spurs should also play a similar side to that that won away at Cardiff last weekend, although Danny Rose should be fit again to start at left back. Spurs’ record signing Erik Lamela could also get a start on one of the flanks, whilst Andros Townsend, who is in splendid form, should feature on the opposing flank
Two teams struggling for cutting edge
Both teams spent a lot of money bringing in attacking players during the summer. Chelsea signed Willian for over £30 million, as well as bringing in Samuel Eto'o and winger Andre Schurrle to bolster the forward options. Spurs instigated wholesale changes up top signing Roberto Soldado for a club record fee and then eclipsing that record to bring in Erik Lamela. As a result you'd expect both teams to be free-scoring, but in reality neither side have been scoring goals in abundance.
Spurs have only managed to score five goals in their five games so far, while Chelsea have managed just six. Worryingly for Chelsea, not one of their goals has been scored by a striker. For Spurs, although Roberto Soldado has scored twice, both of these goals came from the penalty spot, with the Spaniard yet to convert from open play.
The more likely candidates for goals might be the midfielders, with Chelsea's top domestic scorer being Oscar on two goals. Gylfi Sigurdsson is joint top scorer for Spurs, also on two goals. As a result it could actually be a much cagier affair than some people might believe, especially given that Jose Mourinho can be more pragmatic, than progressive in the bigger fixtures, as we saw with a 0-0 bore draw when Chelsea visited Old Trafford earlier this season.
Do Spurs have the edge in the midfield battle?
With both sets of strikers less than free-firing at the minute, the midfield battle will be absolutely crucial. This is particularly important if we consider that Spurs and Chelsea have conceded fewest and second fewest goals respectively this season.
One reason for Spurs' solid defensive record has been that their midfield is so strong. Paulinho and Moussa Dembele at the base of the Spurs midfield provide a perfect balance of strength, power, pace and tactical awareness to protect the back four and also play a key role during transitions from defence to attack. Paulinho for examples averages 2.2 tackles per game and 2 interceptions per game, while Dembele is Spurs' second top dribbler with 3 dribbles per game. Paulinho can win the ball effectively, with Dembele adept at breaking out of the midfield with the ball to influence the attack.
In the first few games Spurs lined up with a three man midfield, which again kept them very compact, but recently they have opted to play Christian Eriksen as an attacking midfielder, in front of the defensive midfield duo, meaning that Spurs might be a bit more open against Chelsea's three attacking midfielders.
Eriksen, whose average position in Tottenham's 2-0 win over Norwich that he helped engineer with both assists, can be seen in the graphic above, though might have joy against Chelsea's midfield duo, likely to be John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard, a pairing that lack mobility. Lampard will have to time his runs forward carefully if he’s selected in the centre of the park in place of the injured Ramires.
Which defensive midfield pairing can deal with the opposition's attacking midfielders best will probably decide this game. Chelsea's attacking set-up will be better against a team like Spurs, who will be pushing the tempo, rather than defending deep, so we could see more of a counter-attacking mentality from Chelsea.
Despite the attacking talent on show this could be a relatively tight game. Both managers are meticulous tacticians and neither will want to concede any ground early on. Chelsea might look to counter-attack and soak up the pressure, rather than setting the tempo early on. The attacking midfielders for both sides will be absolutely crucial and which ever set of defensive midfielders has a better game might be what decides the outcome of this London derby.
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