Blog by: Aditya
So yet another edition of the London derby goes on the floors, but it’s not one that traditionally garnered this much attention. To be sure, Tottenham were never a team to be taken lightly, even before Gareth Bale’s rise to prominence, but never were they seen as anything more than a tough hurdle in the path of the “big teams”; the ones in realistic contention for the title.
But things have changed, and the winds of change have blown strongest over White Hart Lane. Chelsea will be more than wary of having to face a Tottenham side who’ve emerged from the transfer window smelling of roses, and who have a surprising amount of depth to them. So, let’s take a look at what might possibly tip this fixture in the favour of the North Londoners.
1) André Villas-Boas’ personal vendetta
It is no secret among the footballing community that the former teacher and protégé had a fall out. Numerous theories have surfaced, and among them, some of the more famous ones stating that Villas-Boas felt that he was not valued as much as he ought to have been. Whispered accounts indicated that he had not received enough support from Mourinho in his pursuance of training-ground responsibility.
On Thursday (26/09/13) Villas-Boas stated in a press conference, “We had a great personal and professional relationship before, that we don’t have now. I don’t think we need explanations on friendship and personal relationships. But our relationship broke down. I think we have the mutual respect for each other and we understand what we have been through cannot just disappear but it’s not like it was before. I don’t lose any sleep”
While Villas-Boas might try to shrug it off and say that he is not as affected by it, but the subtext says otherwise. The erstwhile pupil will be desperate to go one-up on his former mentor, and what better way to do it than by throwing a wrench in Mourinho’s plans.
2) Tottenham’s newfound ambition
After 5 games played, Tottenham find themselves just behind Arsenal in the table, both teams having 12 points, with the former behind on goal difference. They will look to keep the momentum going and pile on more pressure on Arsenal.
The club’s assured foray in the transfer window showed some iron-clad ambition, and Spurs will look to solidify that with a win against Chelsea. With their only loss this season coming from a narrow 1-0 defeat to bitter rivals Arsenal, they will be keen to prove that they can perform against the top clubs in their quest to make Tottenham a winning team.
In the Premier League, Tottenham have a record of W W L W W in their last five matches. A win against Chelsea will go a long way in cementing Tottenham’s status as genuine title-contenders, and this will be something that will surely spur on the Tottenham players.
3) Great defensive showing
In the 9 games they have played this season, Tottenham have managed to keep clean sheets in all but one of the matches, that, of course, being the loss at the Emirates.
This has partly been due to the exemplary form shown by Tottenham’s French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Lloris has been spectacular this season, keeping clean sheets in 4 of the 5 matches that he’s played in the EPL this season, amassing 13 saves en route.
Another factor has been the partnership forged by Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen in the centre of the Spurs defence. After looking certain to leave the club last season, Dawson has worked hard at his game and has been named the Spurs captain this season. Vertonghen, meanwhile, has carried over his impressive form from last season that saw him being named to the PFA Team of the Year, and looks set for another impressive campaign.
On the flanks, both Kyle Walker and Danny Rose look rough around the edges as far as the defensive aspect of their game goes, but there’s time for improvement.
Though Spurs initially had problems scoring from open play at the start of the season, Villas-Boas can take heart from the fact that his team’s defence has looked more than solid. But the 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup ought to have allayed any concerns over Spurs’ inability to score.
4) Improved squad depth
Tottenham’s impressive work in the summer transfer window has seen them add some very impressive talents to an already talented squad. The acquisition of players such as Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, Étienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli and Vlad Chiricheș has been both a statement of intent and a much-needed shot in the arm for Tottenham.
They now possess a strong bench to go with a formidable-looking first team. Even though Tottenham had to put up with the loss of Gareth Bale after his record-fee transfer to Real Madrid, they have reinforced the squad with some exciting talents, foremost among them Erik Lamela, who could assume the mantle worn by Bale at Tottenham.
Also, some early-season good form from Paulinho and Nacer Chadli will be encouraging for Villas-Boas. He will also have been buoyed by Vlad Chiricheș’ performance against Villa in the Capital One Cup, for which he was voted as man-of-the-match by the Tottenham fans.
Apart from that, Capoue can provide some much-needed cover for the injury-prone Sandro. The burgeoning partnership between Rose and Chadli is also something that will give the manager something to smile about.
5) No Gareth Bale
Yup, you read that right: Gareth Bale’s absence might yet prove to be a blessing for Tottenham. Don’t get me wrong, Bale is a player any team would want to count among their own, what with his speed, dribbling ability, knack of turning defenders, a wicked shot and potent free-kick taking abilities, but there was a feeling last season that Spurs had become over-dependant on their now-former talisman.
They visibly struggled in the matches in which he was out with an injury, and towards the end of last season it was not surprising to learn that Tottenham had won courtesy of a piece of magic from the Welshman. Even at the start of this season they looked as if they were still hung-over with the unavailability of the wing-wizard, but have found themselves becoming decreasingly in need of his services.
It is akin to what had happened with Manchester United post the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Madrid in the summer of 2009. Then, as is now, the loss of the talismanic player in each case forced the team to become a more cohesive unit. Similarly, Tottenham look like they have put Bale behind them and this might help them against Chelsea.
So, let’s see how it folds out on Saturday. But, whatever way the result goes, it looks to be a cracker of a match at the outset.