Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur meet at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon in a clash which will have huge implications in the race for the top four and qualification for next season’s Champions League.?
?Spurs currently occupy fourth spot, with Sunday’s game a chance for Pochettino’s men to open up an eight-point gap over their London rivals with a victory at the Bridge.
That’s easier said than done, however, as Tottenham haven’t recorded a single league victory away to Chelsea during the ?Premier League era.
?Chelsea, meanwhile, know that anything less than a win will hugely damage their top four chances – potentially beyond repair. Last season’s champions will draw upon August’s 2-1 away win over Spurs as a confidence booster heading into this one.
The two sides produced a Premier League classic almost exactly a decade ago.
Fast forward to the present day and it’s Spurs who appear to have the upper hand over their London rivals, if recent form is anything to go by.
Chelsea have lost four of their last six league games, with recent defeats to Manchester City, Manchester United and ?Arsenal suggesting Antonio Conte’s men have struggled when facing fellow top six sides.
Spurs, on the other hand, are unbeaten in the league this calendar year in a run which includes victories over Manchester United and Arsenal as well as earning a point against ?Liverpool at Anfield.
Both sides will doubtless still be hurting from their recent Champions League exits at the hands of ?Juventus and ?Barcelona respectively.
The most notable team news for either side involves Spurs talisman Harry Kane – with the Englishman’s ankle injury sustained in the away win at Bournemouth likely ruling him out of the Stamford Bridge bout.
In Kane’s absence, Pochettino is expected to opt for Son Heung-min to lead the line with Erik Lamela taking his place out wide.
Toby Alderweireld, who has been plagued by injury all season, completed a full 90 minutes while on international duty with Belgium this week so will be expected to return to Tottenham’s match day squad.
Antonio Conte will be desperate to call upon duo Thibaut Courtois and Andreas Christensen, who face late fitness tests, while the Italian has confirmed David Luiz will be unavailable until late April at the earliest.
Conte will have a decision to make up front, with Eden Hazard in the false nine role being his preferred option in recent weeks.
However, Alvaro Morata has been declared fully fit and finally broke his goalscoring duck against Leicester last time out, while Olivier Giroud found the net for France in midweek.
Should Hazard and Son both start leading the lines, then each side’s lineup will be without a recognised striker.
Potential Chelsea Starting Lineup: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Pedro.
Potential Tottenham Starting Lineup: Lloris; Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies; Dembele, Dier; Eriksen, Alli, Lamela; Son.
For Chelsea this clash has the potential to kickstart a genuine assault towards a top four finish should they win, but in contrast defeat could unravel their league season once and for all.
Spurs may feel their London rivals are there for the taking, given the Blues’ form against fellow top six sides since the turn of the year.
Having said that, history is strongly in favour of the home side, with Tottenham’s remarkable record of never having won a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge potentially playing on the minds of the visitors.
Furthermore, the absence of top goalscorer Harry Kane should not be underestimated. The Englishman has scored a staggering 38% of Tottenham’s goals this season, meaning all eyes will instead be on the likes of Dele Alli and Son to step up and compensate for the goalscoring void, a task easier said than done.
Score prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham