The Premier League kicked off last week with some surprising results. Chelsea look well short of title champions. A series of unnecessary events has seen Chelsea lose Pedro, Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas to suspension, while Eden Hazard remains on the treatment table. Freezing out Costa and letting Nemanja Matic now appear to be major oversights that have brutally exposed the team’s lack of depth. Tiemoue Bakayoko, Matic’s replacement and preferred partner for N’Golo Kante, is still injured. Tottenham, coming off a strong win against Newcastle last week, are coming up next in the Premier League. How will manager Antonio Conte adapt to these changes?
Chelsea’s existing personnel will have to step up to fill the breach. In defence, David Luiz will need to show more leadership in Cahill’s absence. If Conte retains his 3-4-3 formation, it could mean a baptism of fire for Danish centre-half Andreas Christensen (see photo below), who recently came back from a successful two year loan spell at Borussia Moechengladbach. In midfield, expect Kante to put in a superhuman shift without Fabregas. Alvaro Morata will need the right service to be a threat up front. Retaining the ball well to disrupt Tottenham’s high press will be key, and using their dead ball specialists, like Willian and Marcos Alonso, to put Spurs on the back foot.
A final word on Chelsea’s squad and upcoming fixtures. It was only a few months ago that Chelsea won the league at a canter, but now only have a first-team squad of 17 players – unideal for a title defence, let alone an assault on the cups.
Against this backdrop, Spurs step into this London derby at Wembley as the favourites, and arguably, London’s best answer to Manchester. This is a Spurs team that are mostly unchanged from last season, aside from the sale of Kyle Walker to Man City for £50 million.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team have a strong young core led by the potency of Harry Kane and Dele Alli in the forward positions. Both offer a consistent goal threat. The double pivot of Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama offer power and subtlety from deep. If they are able to restrain Kante, and allow players like Christian Eriksen can get into the game, his vision, in tandem with Kane’s and Alli’s movement, could prove decisive to a Spurs win.
The majority of criticism levelled against Tottenham has been how quiet they have been in the transfer market. However, there are very few players who could strengthen their squad, even if they could with some extra upgrades on the flanks. It is a big year for the Tottenham faithful – Spurs must win honours this year – they have the players to do it – if they are to keep their squad together. The rest of the Big Six will be watching for any signs of weakness to poach their players.
A prediction for the result. If Chelsea can start brightly, and nick an early goal, they may be able to contain Tottenham and play on the counter. This may be Conte’s tactical preference for the game, but it is likely that Spurs’ control in midfield will see them boss proceedings. There is still a Matic-sized hole for Wanyama and Demebele to exploit, and Kante may spend most of this game running backwards! It is inexplicable that one of Kane, Alli or Eriksen will not find the space necessary to decide the game in Spurs’ favour. Spurs to win 3-1, and lay down a market for what is to come this season.