The next two matches Chelsea play will define the season. There's still a chance, however small, that the Blues can defend their Premier League crown and pull off an all-time great comeback to deny Manchester United the league title, but at the very least the club is now in a position to finish in a respectable second place, and we cannot throw that away by dropping points to Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge. Incidentally, a win tomorrow would see Chelsea clinching a top-four spot, and considering we were in fifth in mid-January that would be a thoroughly heartening accomplishment.
But what of the game itself? Chelsea battled Tottenham to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane in December that was notable for the return of Frank Lampard after a long-term injury as well as a missed Didier Drogba penalty in injury time that would have given the Blues all three points, but what often gets missed from that match (apart from 'penalties') is that Chelsea were essentially thoroughly dominant, having done their best to rough up Luka Modric and Gareth Bale in the early stages, but they had real trouble generating genuine scoring chances.
Time: 5:30 PM GMT (12:30 PM EST)
Location: Stamford Bridge, London
Television: Fox Soccer Channel (USA)
History: 3-0 (H), 1-2 (A), 1-1 (A)
With the Blues back on form (plus totally healthy) and Tottenham very Tottenhamy, I can't imagine that the match tomorrow will follow a similar arc to the reverse fixture. It's not entirely clear how Chelsea will line up now that Fernando Torres' Goal Drought of Woe (TM) is over - it sounds as though Carlo Ancelotti may do his best to fit both Drogba and Torres into one lineup, whether that be 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or a diamond or whatever. The man himself doesn't seem to think that shape will be an issue, but I would disagree with him.
For me, it's imperative that Chelsea run with a three man midfield in order to stop Tottenham's key players from dropping back into space. Although you'll see Spurs listed as a 4-4-1-1, Rafael van der Vaart is, for all intents and purposes, a midfielder, and if Chelsea only use Michael Essien and Frank Lampard in the centre at least on of Spurs' better players will be free. Occupying van der Vaart is the job John Obi Mikel was born for, and a three-man midfield of Mikel, Essien (or Ramires), and Lampard should probably be the first names on Carlo's team sheet.
The defence picks itself. Despite Branislav Ivanovic's poor display against West Ham United last weekend he remains the only real option for shutting down Gareth Bale on Tottenham's left, and the rest of the defenders are on good enough for that to drop one seems a little bit silly. Yes, Alex is back, but I'd much rather have David Luiz playing, at least to start (when we need fourty-yard free kicks scored, though, Alex can come on). John Terry and Ashley Cole will round that out.
Forwards... well, that's an open question. There's a widespread belief that Torres should start after an absolutely scintillating cameo last weekend, but with Didier Drogba also on good form fitting both of them into a 4-3-3 will be a challenge. And let's face it, we're not very good unless we're in a 4-3-3 anyway. Yeah, Drogba might be able to play on the right flank with Torres central, but there's a time to experiment with that and that time is not right now. Chelsea really ought to stick with what's gotten them back into the fringes of contention, and that's Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou flanking Drogba, with Torres and Nicolas Anelka as potential impact substitutions.
Desired lineup (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic; John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien; Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou.
Ultimately, I think that's what Ancelotti will run with as well. The stakes are simply too high to go experimenting with right now. Than again, he put out a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree at Old Trafford in the Champions League quarterfinals, so maybe he just enjoys being crazy. Who knows. The key, though, is to stop Spurs from playing and then exploit their inevitable defensive mistakes. If we do that, we close the gap on Manchester United to three points and see what happens. Could be fun.