Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his acrimonious departure from the West London club 14 months ago, this time as manager of 5th-placed Tottenham. With just 3 points separating the clubs in the league table and Arsenal making up the filling of the London sandwich, this game will have huge implications in the race for the elite. There are two key areas of the pitch which could prove the difference between joy and despair.
The Tottenham left
In recent games, Clint Dempsey has been chosen to operate on the left side of Spurs’ midfield, however, his natural tendency is to cut inside. This leaves a large gap for the opposing full-back – in this case Cesar Azpilicueta – to charge down the right flank and potentially link up with other right-sided players. Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the Cameroonian left-back for Tottenham, has had an inconsistent season since his return from injury, and could well be exploited if he is not protected by his midfield. This evening, a key source of goals could well be one of Mata, Oscar and Hazard cutting in from the right side of the Chelsea midfield to either shoot or to serve a team-mate.
The Tottenham right
But the North London club can also pose an attacking threat of their own. With Welsh wizard Gareth Bale favouring the centre of the pitch, and Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker bursting down the right flank, Spurs could find themselves outnumbering Chelsea on that side of the pitch if Bale moves across. The pace of Messrs Lennon and Walker could prove crucial in dragging defenders to where they don’t want to go; and with Bale waiting in the middle of the pitch, Chelsea will know that one yard of space can prove fatal. Just ask West Ham.
* Andre Villas-Boas was 12 when Spurs last won at Stamford Bridge
* The score at White Hart Lane earlier this season was Tottenham 2-4 Chelsea, but Spurs were missing Bale as his wife had gone into labour
* Spurs haven’t lost a match in open play since March 17th
* Chelsea haven’t lost a match in open play since April 14th