What: English Premier League
Who: Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea
When: Saturday 20th October, 2012, at 12:45 UK Time
Where: White Hart Lane, London, England
Villas-Boas Takes Aim at Former Employers
Not only is Tottenham v Chelsea the big Premier League match of the weekend, but it throws up one of the most interesting storylines. Andre Villas-Boas, ejected from the Chelsea hot seat halfway through last season, takes on his former club and many of the players who could not get along with his methods at Stamford Bridge. The young Portuguese coach saw his reputation take a battering in West London, but having moved north of the Thames he has made an impressive start to life at Tottenham.
After three underwhelming performances, Spurs’ campaign has taken off, with four successive wins including a stunning victory at Old Trafford. Villas-Boas has shown no favours to anyone since his arrival, opting for the promising Steven Caulker over the established Michael Dawson in defence, refusing to sideline Brad Friedel despite France number 1 Hugo Lloris’ arrival, and likewise for Jermain Defoe with Emmanuel Adebayor up front. It is perhaps in midfield though where his influence has been most obvious. Sandro has shown superb form and it will be hard to see Scott Parker winning his place back, while the Brazilian has linked up well with Moussa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson to create the fluid, energetic midfield that Villas-Boas wants.
It is not just Villas-Boas who will be salivating at the chance to get one over on Chelsea. Tottenham were denied their place in the Champions League this season as Chelsea pulled off one of the most unlikely triumphs in the competition’s history. It was undoubtedly harsh on a Tottenham side who had demonstrated that, over 38 games, they were the better team, and now Spurs have the chance for a bit of revenge. But this Chelsea are very different from last season’s side.
Di Matteo Continues Chelsea Transition
Sitting in the opposite dugout to Villas-Boas is his former assistant Roberto Di Matteo, who has shown how to renew and make the transition between an ageing team and a new, more vibrant side. Chelsea’s own triangle of midfielders, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, have won plaudits for their stylish play so far this season and they have certainly added style to the substance the Blues are famed for.
Spanish striker Fernando Torres, though derided so often, appears finally to be easing into life leading the line at Stamford Bridge. He has been an effective frontman, if not the most prolific, and his presence is enough to unsettle defenders and create space for those around him.
Further back, Chelsea’s defence has looked solid, with Branislav Ivanovic the standout performer, adding as much threat going forward as he does reliability and brawn at the back; Ivanovic looks ideal to counter the threat of Spurs’ Gareth Bale. With John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard forming a reliable and useful double pivot deep in midfield to repel attacks and then start their own forward surges quickly, Di Matteo is developing a highly effective unit.
The major negative for Chelsea has been the off the pitch trouble caused by the John Terry row. Terry has finally accepted a four-match ban for using racist language during Chelsea’s game with QPR last season and will miss this clash. His team-mate Ashley Cole has also suffered a £90,000 fine as a result of his reaction to the English FA’s verdict.
Manchester United 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur (29/09; Premier League)
Panathinaikos 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (04/10; Europa League)
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Aston Villa (07/10; Premier League)
Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea (29/09; Premier League)
FC Nordsjaelland 0-4 Chelsea (02/10; Champions League)
Chelsea 4-1 Norwich (06/10; Premier League)
Tottenham Hotspur: Benoit Assou-Ekotto; Younes Kaboul; Jake Livermore; Scott Parker
Chelsea: Daniel Sturridge; John Terry (suspended)
Players to watch
Tottenham Hotspur – Gareth Bale: Bale has been in brilliant form, helping propel Tottenham’s upturn in fortunes as well as those of his country Wales. His skill and accurate shooting are a perpetual threat and the Welshman can help to stem the forward runs of Ivanovic. He has switched wings at times this season and could also expose Cole on the right if he does that here. Expect more brilliance from Bale.
Chelsea – Juan Mata: When Mata is on form, Chelsea have one of the most reliable playmakers in the Premier League. The Spaniard’s passing and probing is deadly, and he showed against Stoke that he is able to unlock the tightest defences with the most subtle of touches. For all of Chelsea’s new technical midfielders, it is Mata who dictates play for them and if Tottenham allow him too much of the ball they could suffer.
This is Chelsea’s second real domestic test of the season. They passed their first in North London with an impressive 2-1 win over a previously unbeaten Arsenal, but this game may be a tougher task. The Blues were able to win that match because their midfield were able to outrun Arsenal’s, but Tottenham’s trio of Sandro, Dembele and Sigurdsson will be just as threatening. Combined with the width of Bale and Lennon, there is much to occupy Chelsea minds, as Spurs will play wider than Arsenal.
Ramires, so crucial to Chelsea with his running and harassment of opponents, may be more preoccupied out wide than usual, probably with Bale, and so Dembele’s runs from midfield will have to be watched. And given how Cole was exposed and repeatedly beaten in an England shirt by Poland star Lukasz Piszczek in midweek, Aaron Lennon could cause more problems still.
Chelsea can counter attack effectively and if they can get enough width into their forward play they can pierce the Tottenham defence. But the Champions League winners will need Cole and Ivanovic to press forward to be able to do that, and there is always a risk that the midfield will be too narrow to find a way through Tottenham. Two teams in good form mean something has to give and it may just be a sweet early bit of revenge for Villas-Boas. Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Chelsea.
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