Why Chelsea Could Ruthlessly Expose Tottenham's Injury-Hit Midfield At Wembley
Tottenham are yet to break out of second gear this season, but they are still enjoying their best start to a Premier League season. That, in itself, is remarkable.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will look to secure their fifth consecutive win in all competitions when they welcome Chelsea to Wembley for the late kick-off on Saturday.
Last August, Marcos Alonso snatched the three points late on for the visitors at the national stadium, yet it was ultimately the Lilywhites who had the last laugh that season.
They now face a rejuvenated Chelsea, who are one of just three sides not to have lost a single game all season, title favourites Manchester City and Liverpool being the others.
How Sarri has bridged the gap
Chelsea finished the 2017/18 campaign seven points behind third-placed Spurs and five off the Champions League places. That spelled the end of the club’s fractured relationship with Antonio Conte but Maurizio Sarri has wasted no time in turning their fortunes around.
The former Napoli boss has begun by revamping their training sessions. The players no longer work with weights, instead focusing on fitness drills, agility, and in-game situations.
Sarri has also increased their understanding of tactics and while his side look a well-oiled machine, all working in tune with one another, he also tailors the Blues’ system to benefit individuals. He ensures Alvaro Morata is given the ball directly – the Spaniard has three goals in as many league games, despite his wider struggles – and allows Jorginho to dictate when the rest of the midfield presses forward.
Where Spurs vs Chelsea will be won and lost
Just as Jorginho was key to the way Napoli played, he has arguably been the most important tool in bringing ‘Sarri-ball’ to Stamford Bridge.
Crucially, this weekend, the Italian international is up against Tottenham’s sparse central midfield, with Mousa Dembele out and Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks still being eased back in.
That leaves Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko to step in, the latter likely to drop deep while the much-improved Frenchman roams forward. It will nevertheless prove a tough ask for the pair, who will also have to navigate N’Golo Kante’s new role.
The hosts will give a late fitness test to Christian Eriksen but will almost certainly be without Kieran Trippier, who withdrew from England duty last week. In recent seasons, Chelsea have often been able to exploit Spurs down the right and it will likely be Serge Aurier who is tasked with stopping that flow this time around.
The international break has seemingly taken its toll on both sides. While Eden Hazard is available, he has complained of fatigue, as well as an ongoing back problem, and playing all but 15 minutes of Belgium’s two games will have done little to appease him.
As the Premier League’s second highest-scorer this season, the playmaker poses Chelsea’s biggest threat and he may find himself up against 20-year-old Juan Foyth, who has proven both hero and villain in his early days at Spurs – though he has always impressed in his cup appearances.
Since giving away two penalties on his Premier League debut at Wolves, the young centre-back has scored the winner at Crystal Palace and been named man-of-the-match in his first senior appearance for Argentina.
Foyth returned back in London ahead of schedule and he may well be needed, too. Davinson Sanchez is yet to return to full training and while there is talk of a possible early return for Jan Vertonghen, the north Londoners will not want to rely on the Belgian’s fitness. Danny Rose is still a few weeks away from returning.
Over the last four games, Pochettino has had to utilise three different centre-back partnerships and consequently, his side have looked far from solid defensively.
Keeping out an attacking force who have scored three or more on eight occasions in all competitions will be no easy feat.
It’s set to be an intriguing test of Chelsea’s unbeaten run.