Chelsea badly missed Thibaut Courtois and Marcos Alonso in Sunday’s defeat to Manchester United. The wing-back felt ill in the warm-up and should return, while Chelsea are optimistic that the goalkeeper will also have recovered from his ankle problem. Tottenham, as they have been for some time, are without Danny Rose, Erik Lamela and Harry Winks. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Michel Vorm are also doubts.
When Antonio Conte said last Sunday that Tottenham are “the best team” in the league right now, it wasn’t just a mind game. Spurs are playing superb football and have won their last seven games, scoring 22 goals.
Chelsea aren’t exactly capitulating, but they are not as secure as they were, their lead over Spurs at the top of the table down to four points after two defeats in their last four fixtures. The home loss to Crystal Palace could be written off as one of those things, a game in which Chelsea had more of the ball and a string of chances but somehow lost 2-1. Sunday’s 2-0 reverse at Old Trafford was rather more concerning as they failed to register a shot on target in a Premier League game for the first time in a decade.
Tottenham’s record against Chelsea is famously awful, with only seven wins in their last 64 matches against them in all competitions. They did, though, win the last meeting, winning 2-0 at White Hart Lane in January, while Chelsea have won only one of the last five league meetings. Chelsea have won the two most recent meetings at Wembley, where Tottenham have won just one of their last eight games: they beat them 2-0 in the League Cup final in 2015 and 5-1 in the FA Cup semi-final in 2012.
In January, Spurs adopted a back three against Chelsea and matched them shape for shape, with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen playing off Harry Kane. Mousa Dembele and Vincent Wanyama overpowered N’Golo Kate and Nemanja Matic in the middle, with Kyle Walker and Danny Rose won the battle on the flanks against Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso. The option of playing with a back three remains, albeit with Ben Davies rather than Rose on the left, but in the last two league matches, Spurs have used a 4-2-3-1. Given the success of the back three in January, though, it would be a surprise if Mauricio Pochettino didn’t deploy the same formation, with Eric Dier dropping back alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
GETTING HAZARD INTO THE GAME
Eden Hazard has set up 66 chances for Chelsea this season, 25 more than any other player. It’s an oversimplification to say that stifling him is stifling Chelsea but, particularly with Diego Costa out of sorts, he is the main source of creativity. Ander Herrera successfully shut him down on Sunday, and others no doubt will attempt similar man-marking jobs in the future, but Tottenham will probably rely on having Dier push forward from the back three to deal with him if he gets beyond Dembele rather than designating one player to pick him up.
Hazard should benefit too from having Marcos Alonso back outside him.
BEHIND CHELSEA’S WING-BACKS
Alonso returning should restore a sense of familiarity to Chelsea’s left side, but that’s not the only issue with the wing-backs. In the game at White Hart Lane, Rose excelled in exposing Moses’s defensive inexperience. Whether Davies can do similarly is debatable, but Tottenham can still exploit the vulnerability that brought both their goals in the January meeting. Both were scored by Alli, and both were the result of crosses hit deep for a runner coming in behind Moses, whose positional sense was perhaps lacking. He is more experienced now in the wing-back role but having spent his whole career as a winger it’s hardly surprising if certain elements of defending don’t come naturally.
Chelsea are marginal favourites, which perhaps seems a little unexpected on current form. They haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 10 league games while Diego Costa is out of form and hasn’t scored in five. Tottenham’s Wembley form is a concern but given the way they’re playing and how comprehensively they beat Chelsea in January backing them for a narrow win seems to make sense.