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Tottenham are toothless without Kane and Chelsea are back in the groove under Tuchel.
Chelsea to win (+123)
|Tottenham vs Chelsea Information|
|What||Tottenham vs Chelsea|
|Where||The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England|
|When||Thursday, 4 February 2021, 3 PM EST|
|How to watch||NBC Sports|
It was a weekend of contrasting fortunes for Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Thomas Tuchel registered his first win as Blues boss on Saturday, as goals from Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso earned his new team a 2-0 victory over Burnley. Tuchel has needed little time to put his imprint on the side, and Chelsea looks revitalized after a tough run under his predecessor, Frank Lampard.
Tottenham, conversely, were beaten 1-0 by Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, in arguably their worst performance of the campaign. Previously labeled title challengers, Jose Mourinho’s men now have a battle on their hands to qualify for the Champions League. All is not well in the white-and-navy half of north London, so back Chelsea to emerge triumphant in this one.
A 2-0 victory over arch-rivals Arsenal in early December kept Tottenham top of the Premier League table. With Liverpool and Manchester City both experiencing more difficulties than usual, pundits and supporters alike tipped Spurs to mount a sustained title tilt. Yet things have not gone to plan since then. Tottenham have won only two of their last nine top-flight outings. They now sit sixth in the standings, 11 points adrift of first place. Defeat on Thursday would see them drop to seventh – and perhaps even further.
The problems are multifaceted. In meetings with Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Fulham, Mourinho’s tendency towards caution proved costly. Spurs took the lead in each of those encounters, only to concede equalizers after dropping deep and ceding the initiative. On each occasion, Tottenham squandered positions of strength, and what should have been nine points became three.
On other occasions, they have simply been outclassed by stronger opponents. That is what happened when Leicester City, far superior on the day, beat Spurs just before Christmas. And it was certainly the case last Thursday when Liverpool ran out 3-1 winner at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Spurs’ issues have been compounded by the injury Harry Kane suffered in that defeat. The England international faces a few weeks on the sidelines after blows to both ankles. Without him, Tottenham are a much lesser team. It is not just his goals – only Mohamed Salah has scored more than Kane’s 12 this season – but his link-up play, invention, and leadership by example.
Chelsea’s 2-0 success against Burnley on Saturday was as comfortable a win as you are ever likely to see. Sean Dyche’s side can be obdurate opponents but on this occasion, they were outgunned. Chelsea did not even give up an attempt on goal until second-half stoppage time. Of course, no Blues boss will be defined by results in home games against bottom-half teams, but this was a pleasing performance in Tuchel’s second match at the helm.
It is still too early to know exactly what a Tuchel Chelsea team looks like. After all, he was only appointed last Tuesday. But there have been signs in his first two games – the win over Burnley and a 0-0 draw with Wolves – that the former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain coach is beginning to get his ideas across.
Chelsea dominated possession in both games and completed more passes than they tended to under Lampard, although that is large because Wolves and Burnley are among the most conservative teams in the division. More notable was the shift information. In both games, Chelsea lined up in a 3-4-2-1, with Callum Hudson-Odoi deployed as a right wing-back. Alonso, frozen out by Lampard, played the corresponding role on the left to great effect against Burnley.
There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road ahead, but there are signs that Chelsea are starting to get their mojo back. Now level on points with Tottenham and just six shy of the top four at the time of writing, Chelsea certainly go into this fixture in a better frame of mind than their opponents.
Home advantage has been eroded in the behind-closed-doors era, and the absence of supporters could have a particularly big influence on this encounter. There is no love lost between Tottenham and Chelsea, and the home fans simply would not allow their team to play passively were thousands of them present on Thursday night. Without supporters, Mourinho’s team are likely to play reactive soccer, and that could play into Chelsea’s hands.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a counter-attacking approach. Indeed, Spurs beat Arsenal 2-0 this season despite allowing their opponents to dominate possession. Yet those tactics rely heavily on Kane, who drops deep to knit the play together and feeds team-mates like Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn on the break. Without him in the line-up, there is a very real danger that Spurs will not be able to get up the pitch on Thursday.
Tuchel likes his teams to get on the ball, and although Tottenham will not sit as deep as Wolves and Burnley did at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will have the lion’s share of possession here. With the attacking quality they have in their side, you would expect them to make the breakthrough at some point. With Spurs low on confidence, Chelsea looks primed to take full advantage and boost their top-four hopes while dealing a blow to those of their London rivals.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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