The Season So Far
Tottenham Hotspur’s revival has been almost as surprising as Leicester City’s glorious emergence and almost certain title triumph. From seemingly nothing, Mauricio Pochettino has fashioned the best Spurs side in generations, one which has played with the invention and flair of the club’s most historic sides, and with levels of commitment and determination which seemingly fly in the face of everything we claim to know about Spurs. Alex Ferguson’s infamous "Lads: it’s Tottenham" team-talk has never seemed less applicable.
It’s hard to pick out just one highlight: the emphatic victories over Manchester United, Manchester City and Bournemouth were probably the best overall displays – the recent thumping of Stoke City would count for more had their opposition actually given a shit – perhaps the real highlight for matchgoing Spurs fans has simply been going to games and seeing a proper team again. The sense of drift and discomfort has been palpable at White Hart Lane in recent years, and the emergence of one of the most exciting and potentially successful teams in their history has been reinvigorating. At least judging from social media, Spurs fans have never been so content.
The Last Few Games
Although their title challenge now appears to have ground to a halt, and may well be officially over by the time this game is played, there will be no downing of tools from Pochettino’s men. The Argentine is a Bielsista to the core and would rather set his head on fire than come to Stamford Bridge with intentions of doing anything besides giving 110%, running his players into the ground and taking three points in the process.
It’s worth remembering that a second-placed finish would be an absolutely amazing achievement for Tottenham and that their players have such a desire to achieve that they will approach this game, as well as the rest of those remaining, in more-or-less the same way regardless of the state of their title hopes at the time. In terms of attitude, application and ambitions, it seems Chelsea and Spurs have swapped identities this season.
In terms of formation and roles, there’s nothing really eye-catching here: it’s the same basic 4-2-3-1 template that seemingly every other Premier League and big European side uses. The only variation is in physical intensity and verticality. Pochettino is becoming renowned as one of the game’s best pressing coaches, having quickly created impressive pressing machines at Espanyol, Southampton and now Spurs.
The intensity, relentlessness and verticality of this team are remarkable – almost unheard of in the Premier League era. That’s not to say they’re one of the best teams the division has ever seen, before the trolls in the comments section hunt me down and murder me, it’s just to say that their approach is uniquely modern and eye-catching in English football.
In terms of overall quality and, importantly, balance, Spurs have been unbelievably good this season. The defensive co-ordination is almost flawless, and the attacking combinations are natural, selfless and endlessly productive. If nothing else they’ve set a high benchmark for future sides to play to.
Where to start?
In terms of attacking output they’ve produced spectacular numbers. 604 total shots and 234 on target are the Premier League’s highest figures, while 329 shots from inside the box is the 3rd highest and a 15.1% conversion rate from inside the box is the 4th highest. In full flow they're a close-to-unstoppable attacking force, although the absence of Dele Alli’s incisive off-the-ball runs will be felt in this fixture and Spurs could struggle to reproduce their best play.
Of course, the basis for all this is their pressing: only two teams make more tackles per game and more fouls per game, while only three teams have blocked more passes and only one team has been dribbled past less often. Positionally they’re excellent and in terms of physical fitness and mental intensity, they’re almost unmatchable (for this Chelsea team, anyway).
Such a coherent and effective press has meant that only three sides have faced fewer shots than Spurs’ total of 380, while only 219 of those have been from within their own box. No side has dealt with fewer shots on target than their 105, and no side has recorded a higher save rate than 78.8%. In short: they’re equally as good at both ends of the pitch.
Individually, Harry Kane’s shooting is obviously damaging (4.1 attempts per game, 24 league goals) although he has started taking on some ridiculous long-rangers as though he were some kind of grotesquely narcissistic stat-padding Portuguese hair-gel-enthusiast. Toby Alderweireld’s totemic dominance has been fundamental (a team-leading 7.7 clearances per game as well as a substantial threat from set plays), while Mousa Dembélé’s powerful dribbling (2.9 dribbles per game) is a threat Chelsea’s wide-open midfield must be aware of.
As good as Spurs are, Leicester are going to win the league instead.
With Dele Alli suspended and Eric Dier nursing a knock, the Spurs line-up could be a somewhat unfamiliar one. They did start to look leggy during the home draw against West Brom and Pochettino could well decide to ring the changes, but really it seems safer to trust in the momentum they’ve built up and continue with as settled a line-up as possible.
As for Chelsea… you know the drill. Is it 2016-17 yet?
Leicester City could be champions by the time the game is played and that could have a detrimental effect on Spurs. Equally, Leicester could have lost and put the belief back into Spurs’ players. Chelsea come into the game knowing that a good display and a good result would end Spurs’ title hopes either way, something their fans would undoubtedly revel in, and so a draw feels pretty inevitable.