THE London derby at Wembley Stadium today has the makings of an intriguing clash between two sides in the English Premier League’s top-four.
Just one point separates fourth-placed Tottenham from Chelsea, who are third.
Both teams go into the match with a good measure of confidence and belief that they will be in the mix come end of the season.
Spurs are chasing a seventh win in eight leagues games, while Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea outfit will be keen on extending their unbeaten start in the league.
In their last outing, the Italian boss set a new unbeaten record of 12 games for a manager on his debut in the English Premier League. He eclipsed the mark set by Nottingham Forest’s Frank Clark in 1994.
Indeed, it has been an inspired run by Chelsea, who many did not give a chance of coming anywhere near challenging for the title. And while they trail league leaders Man City by four points after 12 games, they cannot be counted out – not yet. But this tie could be the toughest test yet for the Blues.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has done well despite the club making no signings before the new season kicked in. He will be aware that a victory at Wembley would see them move ahead of their visitors in the standings and give even more credence to the notion that they themselves could be contending for the title come May next year.
Tottenham will look to Harry Kane to continue his recent good form and deliver the spoils for the home team. The scorer of England’s winner against Croatia at Wembley last weekend that took them to the semi-finals of theUefa Nations League, Kane will no doubt warrant extra attention from the Blues’ rearguard.
But this may well work in favour of Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli, giving them more room to advance on the opposition’s goal.
Alli, in particular, has reaped good dividends playing against Chelsea. The attacking midfielder has scored five times in his last four games against the Blues in all competitions. That’s a massive return, even by a striker’s standards, and he’ll be keen on adding to that stat.
A triumph for Pochettino’s squad would also be the first time they win consecutive league games over Chelsea in more than 30 years. The last time they managed it was in August 1987.
Notwithstanding all that, Chelsea will not travel to Wembley and not prepare to be ambushed.
The unexpected impact and consistent form under Sarri, who moved to London from Napoli at the start of this campaign, encourages one to think that they will not lose their unbeaten record today.
Chelsea have conceded only eight goals so far, which is second only to the two teams above them in the league. And the 27 they knocked in thus far is bettered only by those who lead the standings.
Chelsea expect to have their talisman Eden Hazard back after injury kept him out of their last league match, the goalless draw with Everton.
The club captain has been in excellent form this season and his inclusion against Tottenham would be a huge boost for the side on the road.
The rejuvenated Ross Barley could also make the starting XI again and it would be more than welcomed by the Blues’ fans, some of whom saw him play for England at Wembley last weekend.
Second-placed Liverpool face a tricky trip to Watford. The Hornets got off to a brilliant start when they won four on the trot, including one gainst Tottenham. But they have gone off the boil somewhat.
They drew one and lost two matches but won the two before that. So Liverpool might not know what to expect when they travel to Vicarge Road Stadium. This aside, the Reds will be expected to leave with all three points.
They are two points behind Man City on the log and appear to be the champions’ biggest threat, just as so many had forecast prior to the beginning of the league season.
Mo Salah is back to somewhere near his best form and scoring goals again. The swashbuckling Egyptian and the rampaging Sadio Mane, who’s got six in the league and is just two off the top of the charts, are likely to have too much firepower for Watford.
But quick on the counter-attack, Watford could expose Liverpool’s own raids up field and nick a goal or two in the process.
Watford boss Javi Gracia will look to their leading scorer to show the way, Argentine forward Roberto Pereyra, who has found the back of the net five times to date.
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