All The Pressure Is On Chelsea Against Tottenham
Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have had one of the Premier League’s most entertaining rivalries over the last few seasons. During Mauricio Pochettino’s time with Spurs, Chelsea have been responsible for some of his team’s most painful defeats. Whether it was the 2015 League Cup final, or putting the nail in the coffin for Spurs’ 2015/16 title challenge, Chelsea have presented roadblock after roadblock for Tottenham. When they face off at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, however, those roles will be reversed. Spurs are in the more comfortable league position, and they have the chance to effectively end Chelsea’s pursuit of a top-four spot (which would qualify them for the Champions League) while for Spurs, even a loss would leave them in a relatively healthy place in the standings.
Spurs currently sit in fourth place with 61 points and a game in hand on Liverpool, who are in third with 63. Chelsea are fifth with 56. Spurs have the luxury of losing the game and still being in a good spot, and a draw leaves them sitting pretty. Chelsea, meanwhile, need to win.
Chelsea’s major problem is that despite the fact that they beat Spurs at Wembley Stadium earlier this season, Spurs, over the course of the season, have simply been the better team. They’ve scored more goals, 59 to 52, and conceded fewer 25 to 27, and those stats are supported by their respective expected goals numbers as well. Spurs have generated 58.51 expected goals, and just under 24 expected goals conceded. Chelsea’s expected goals scored stand at just over 48 and their expected goals conceded is just over 24.
On top of that, Chelsea’s style, one predicated on maintaining a disciplined shape, playing without the ball, and then breaking at speed when an opponent overcommits, works to their disadvantage when they are the team more desperate to take all three points. Antonio Conte’s team is built to get Eden Hazard running with the ball at his feet in space, and using his ability to abuse defenders and create chances, even if he’s outnumbered. That works really well when an opponent is playing aggressively. It’s less effective when an opponent can afford to play conservatively and not take chances.
Chelsea’s saving grace might be that Spurs don’t really know how to play conservatively. Even without star striker Harry Kane who is likely, although not certain, to miss the game, it’s unlikely that Spurs will sit back and not take chances. They’re built to take the game to their opponents. And they certainly aren’t afraid to do so against Chelsea. Even though they lost against the reigning champions earlier this season, they outshot the Blues 18-9, had 68% of the ball and conceded on the only two shots they allowed on net. Spurs might have lost the game, but they were by far the more dangerous side for most of it.
Either way Chelsea are behind the eight ball. Spurs can play their normal style, apply a lot of pressure intended to grind Chelsea down and depend on their defenders to break up counterattacks and rightfully expect to be the better team against Chelsea. Or, Spurs, given their five-point lead in the table, and their likely missing superstar, might decide to depart from their normal strategy and play more conservatively. But, then Chelsea will be faced with a team taking away the counterattacking opportunities that suit Chelsea best. That approach increases the chances of a draw as Spurs choose not to attack in order to keep Chelsea’s best attacks at bay. That suits Spurs just fine, too.
Even though they are underdogs, Spurs (+225) hold all the cards against Chelsea (+139). And even if Chelsea do win, Spurs are still up three points in the table and will be favorites to qualify for the Champions League next season. It’s the ultimate proof of how far the rivalry’s balance has tipped in Tottenham’s favor this year. Even if they lose, Spurs are still winning.
All odds current as of Friday afternoon.