A clash between two of the early season’s top teams in the country is often enough to promise a fierce contest, add in the factor of it being a local derby to boot, and you’ve almost got a guarantee. If, on top of that, you can spice it up with a pair of managers that hardly speak after being close colleagues, and club hierarchy that both harbour grudges against the other, and the potential for a blistering encounter almost goes off the scale. Spurs entertain Chelsea in a Saturday lunchtime fixture that promises all of the above, plus a collection of some of the league’s brightest talents.
There’ll be more than three points in the league race at stake at White Hart Lane when Andre Villas-Boas’s Spurs team confront Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. The Portuguese pair were first joined as colleagues under the guiding hand of the late-lamented Sir Bobby Robson, and then progressed together at Chelsea and later Inter Milan, where Villas-Boas was detailed to watch opponents and produce reports for the manager, Mourinho. The split however happened when the younger man wanted to grow his role to encompass a greater involvement in coaching. Mourinho was content with his team of assistants, and saw no great advantage, so Villas-Boas decided that if he was to progress, he would need to leave.
He eventually got his chance when he was appointed as manager of Academica in Portugal in 1990, after which he followed Mourinho into both Porto and Chelsea, before being sacked by the west London club and ending up at White Hart Lane. Although it would be wrong to say that the two are not on speaking terms, the resentment from the split remains a source of antagonism between them. It’s therefore little surprise to hear in the ‘papers that there’ll probably be no traditional after game glass of wine between the managers as the Villas-Boas conveniently has to dash off to catch a plane to Portugal to celebrate an event with former club Porto. Equally unsurprising perhaps is the apparent fact that Mourinho will not be joining him there. It would however have been interesting have been the third passenger in the row if he had been on the same flight and seating arrangements had conspired to place them together.
The lack of bonhomie also exists upstairs as well. Chelsea remain irked by Spurs’ refusal to sell Luka Modric to them a few a few season ago when the bidding at one stage reached the realms of some £40million and the Croat had made clear his desire to move. Spurs tenaciously hung on to the player however, and then later sold him to Real Madrid for a fee thought to be some £7million or so less than Chelsea’s bid. Although tempting to claim it was so, there’s no evidence to suggest that there was an element of ‘payback’ in the Stamford Bridge club’s capture of Willian this summer, when a deal seemed done and dusted, but a fairly satisfied smile may have played across a few faces at Stamford Bridge and Cobham when the Brazilian penned the contract to join the Blues.
Strange to say then, that out on the pitch although the rivalry will be keen, there is less of the animosity that characterizes the relationships described above. What will certainly irk any of the spurs players remaining from last season, and for certain all of their fans, is the way that Chelsea again qualified for the Champions League with Spurs missing out in a frustrating fifth place, and this following on from the season when the north London club claimed that all important fourth position in the league only to be usurped by sixth place Chelsea when, against all the odds, they won the trophy and qualified as holders, with spurs pushed out.
With the talent on the pitch alone, a pulsating contest is in prospect, but spiced with the above, there’s a rare old game to be played out. In such circumstances, and with Spurs’ expensively and rapidly assembled team beginning to gel, it’s difficult to see them being beaten on their own patch, so without feeling guilty about it, I’m going to sit on the fence and predict a draw, perhaps goalless, perhaps 1-1. Whatever happens however, it will be interesting to watch.
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