Tottenham v Chelsea: Jonathan Wilson’s tactical preview


Jeremie Boga’s inclusion in Chelsea’s team for the defeat to Burnley last Saturday was seen by many as a pointed selection from Antonio Conte to highlight his lack of options, but those options have been reduced even further for Sunday. Pedro may be back to take Boga’s place if he has recovered from an ankle injury sustained in being sent off in the Community Shield, but Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas are both suspended, Eden Hazard is almost certainly absent with his ankle injury and Tiemoue Bakayoko is still a doubt as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. Victor Moses is available again after suspension but is also a slight injury doubt. Diego Costa is still in Brazil. Tottenham, meanwhile, are without a pair of full-backs in Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier meaning Kyle Walker-Peters and Ben Davies will continue to deputise, while Erik Lamela continues his rehabilitation from a hip injury.



After winning the league last season, Chelsea have generated a crisis from nowhere. They may have spent a net £19.5m but a squad that was already slim has not been expanded despite having the Champions League as well as domestic issues to deal with. Antonio Conte’s sudden preference for a tracksuit rather than a suit seems a conscious gesture (much as it was at times for Jose Mourinho) and the widespread unease at the club was evident in the way they capitulated after Cahill’s red card in the 3-2 defeat to Burnley. Tottenham began the season with a 2-0 win over Newcastle that was ultimately relatively straightforward, but the reverberations of Danny Rose’s interview in which he expressed frustration over the club’s wage structure and lack of signings continue to be felt.



Spurs and Chelsea met three times last season and all were finely contested games. Tottenham went 1-0 up at Stamford Bridge only to lose 3-1 but then overpowered Chelsea in the return league game, winning 2-0 at White Hart Lane, both goals coming from balls played to the back post to exploit the gap between Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses. Tottenham had more of the ball in the Cup semi-final, but the introduction of Hazard and Diego Costa from the bench tipped the game Chelsea’s way and they won 4-2.



Unless he makes more statement selections, there aren’t many decisions for Conte to make. If Bakayoko is fit, he presumably comes into midfield alongside N’Golo Kante, with Moses back at right wing-back and Azpilicueta replacing Cahill in the back three – although Andreas Christensen could start. The bigger issue is at the other end if Pedro is still ruled out. Willian was probably Chelsea’s best player last Saturday, then it’s a question of whether Conte fields both Michy Batshuayi and Alvaro Morata or selects one and tries to find a deeper-lying presence from somewhere – perhaps Boga again.



Tottenham played with a back four at Newcastle last week, but in beating Chelsea at White Hart Lane last January and in the Cup semi-final, they matched Conte’s 3-4-2-1 shape. In both games they seemed to have a physical edge and although they ended up losing the semi-final, the sense was that they had had the better of much of the game. Given the likely vulnerabilities in the Chelsea line-up, it seems probable that Mauricio Pochettino will go back to the back three, with Eric Dier slotting in alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, and Mousa Dembele alongside Victor Wanyama in midfield.



Tottenham have lost six of the 10 matches they’ve played at Wembley since it was reopened; given they dropped only four points at White Hart Lane last season, that is an obvious concern.

In a sense, the statistic isn’t as bad as it appears: those games at Wembley were mostly Cup finals or Champions League ties so you would expect any team to perform less well at the national stadium than at their own home. It’s also true, though, that Wembley is a metre wider and five metres longer than White Hart Lane, which may require an adjustment of style. Opponents may be inspired by paying there, while the atmosphere can never hope to replicate White Hart Lane particularly not if there are 20,000 empty seats as will be the case on Sunday for security reasons.



If this had been at White Hart Lane, Tottenham could have been backed with abandon. They showed last season they could at least match Chelsea and given the champions’ struggles, there is every reason to believe they could win quite comfortably. The instability caused by Rose’s comments and playing at Wembley raise certain doubts but still, Tottenham at a little better than evens look good value.