Expect Chelsea to hand lacklustre Spurs a dose of the blues, writes Stephen Tudor.
It is exceedingly rare for a top six clash to hang on a single facet but maybe that’s the case this Sunday as joint table-toppers Chelsea travel the short distance to North London.
That’s because, for all of the complexities usually at play when these sides meet, it is one team’s limitation that jumps out as the crucial determining factor when pre-judging this contest. Indeed, it is a shortcoming so severe that it could result in this not being a top six fixture at all next season.
The limitation in question is Tottenham’s present dearth of creativity, especially through the middle and it’s particularly pertinent as this notable weak link in Nuno Espirito Santo’s side is expected to somehow break down Chelsea’s core strength, a defence that has only been breached every 175 minutes since Thomas Tuchel took the reins back in January.
In fact, before we go any further, let’s assume they won’t. Chelsea are +188 to win to nil this weekend and that is tremendous odds considering it feels nailed on to happen.
Under Thomas Tuchel Mendy has only conceded 12 goals and has 19 clean sheets!
— Unibet (@unibet) September 14, 2021
Why does this eventuality feel almost inevitable? Because since the Portuguese coach was appointed as Jose Mourinho’s successor at Spurs he has set his side up exactly how the supporters feared he might, replicating the conservative approach he undertook at Wolves that saw them score only one goal more than West Brom last season, a side that was relegated with three games remaining.
Against Crystal Palace last Saturday, Santo selected a midfield three of Oliver Skipp, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and Harry Winks and frankly there is little to distinguish between them, blessed as they are with commendable graft but very little craft. Worse yet, as Palace found ways to bypass the trio, constructing successful raids down the flanks and eventually taking a lead, the Tottenham boss still refused to add some adventure; still refused to roll the dice even when he had nothing left to lose.
It was an extreme example of risk-aversion that resulted in Harry Kane cutting a frustrated and isolated figure throughout and by the game’s end it was revealed the England star had precisely no touches in the opposition box. That has never happened before. Not to Kane, not in the Premier League.
Harry Kane with no shots and zero touches in opposition box. For the first time. Surprised its not happened before with how often he plays deep pic.twitter.com/0GSqfc75TN
— The FPL Fan (Andrew Yee) (@TheFPLFan) September 11, 2021
Perhaps Tottenham’s cautious mandate had previously been under-played prior to their defeat at Selhurst Park, courtesy of three 1-0 victories that briefly saw them at the summit. After all, winning is everything and the means of winning is a secondary concern. Or perhaps, the presence of Son Heung-min in those opening fixtures blinded us to just how safe and predictable Spurs have become, the South Korean darting into spaces where a creative midfielder traditionally thrives; compensating.
Son was missing against Palace after returning from international duty with a calf strain. He is set to miss this one too.
To put Tottenham’s current self-inflicted predicament into full context, consider this: in their opening four games of last term, Kane and co fired off 63 shots, this under a manager in Mourinho who was routinely lambasted for his negativity. From their first four this time out, Spurs have managed just 38. Last season, they had 12 goals to their name at this point. Now they have a meagre three.
Such figures will hardly worry a superbly drilled Chelsea back-line that have gained headlines for their meanness under Tuchel, while up front they possess a formidable striker who enjoys the close company of colleagues that Kane craves.
Attempts: 2, On target: 2, Goals: 2.
A stat that perfectly summarises what Romelu Lukaku has brought to Chelsea. pic.twitter.com/jDzzL5NMM4
— LDN (@LDNFootbalI) September 13, 2021
Remarkably, since departing Old Trafford in the summer of 2019, Romelu Lukaku has scored 87 goals in 127 games for his clubs and country and the prolific Belgian is showing no sign of easing up after his record-breaking move to West London either, with a goal every 90 minutes to date.
Lukaku is +123 to score anytime at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Far better value however can be found in backing Mason Mount to find the net at +380. Mount is Chelsea’s leading goalscorer in the Tuchel era.
For balance, it needs pointing out that Tottenham’s surrender last Saturday could well have been an anomaly, as before that they had kept three clean sheets, a run they managed only once last term. But still, Chelsea so regularly find a way, only firing blanks twice in their last 15, and furthermore they are not adverse to doing so early, scoring five of their last ten inside half an hour.
If the Blues score often what they don’t do is score in abundance, with last Saturday’s late third against Aston Villa a rarity. An exact winning margin of two at +430 feels about right.
If Tottenham’s scant ambition and Chelsea’s brilliant rearguard puts the latter at a distinct advantage, history too, of the recent kind, is on the visitor’s side. Spurs last bested their capital rivals in the Premier League in 2018 and although this isn’t quite the famous jinx that spanned the entire 90s and beyond, it does suggest an away victory is hardly a fanciful proposition. A modern trend of Chelsea being awarded, and scoring, penalties against their upcoming opponents also bodes well for the title contenders, especially with spot-kick master Jorginho in their ranks.
Last season, the penalty count for Tuchel’s side reached double figures and they are +400 to be given another in what might conceivably be a comfortable triumph.