Avenging Spurs out to halt Chelsea drive
Tottenham Hotspur will have revenge in mind when they tackle record-chasing Premier League leaders Chelsea beneath the White Hart Lane floodlights on Wednesday.
Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 when the teams last met in November, but it is last May’s 2-2 draw between the London rivals, which ended Spurs’ title hopes, that will be uppermost in the hosts’ thoughts.
With Chelsea seeking to pull eight points clear at the summit and pursuing a 14th straight win – an unprecedented feat within a single English top-flight season – the boot is now on the other foot.
“Maybe we will feel how Leicester felt last season, when all the teams were with them and against us,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino told AFP, citing the team who pipped his side to glory last season.
“Maybe now we are Leicester.”
Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge in November completed a run of one win in 10 matches in all competitions that suggested they would struggle to repeat last season’s exploits.
But since then Pochettino’s side have rediscovered their rhythm, winning five of their last six league games and scoring 18 goals in the process.
They welcome Chelsea to north London 10 points behind the leaders, but seeking a fifth successive league victory.
Sunday’s 4-1 win at Watford, which followed a 4-1 success at Southampton, briefly, took Spurs into the top four, only for Manchester City to supplant them by beating Burnley on Monday.
Dele Alli is the Premier League’s form midfielder, having scored five goals in his last three games, and he will not be satisfied with anything but victory against Chelsea.
“We’re in good form and we’ve got good confidence,” the England midfielder told Spurs club website after the New Year’s Day victory at Vicarage Road.
“It’s a good atmosphere in the changing room. This is an important win for us and for our mentality going into the next match because it’s a massive game for us and it’s important that we win it.”
Jurgen Klopp, manager of second-place Liverpool, has been doing his utmost to rattle Chelsea by claiming it must be “annoying” that they have not been able to shake the Merseyside team off.
But his words came back to haunt him after Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Sunderland on Monday left Chelsea five points clear.
Antonio Conte’s side have not failed to win since their 3-0 loss at Arsenal on September 24.
They racked up win number 13 by overcoming Stoke City 4-2 on New Year’s Eve, equalling Arsenal’s 2002 record for the most consecutive wins within the same Premier League campaign.
Victory at Spurs will equal Arsenal’s overall record of 14 successive wins — set over two seasons in 2002 — and leave them one win from claiming the record outright.
With history beckoning, Chelsea’s players are doing their level best to treat the game like any other.
“It’s not like all week we’ve been saying, ‘We want this record, we want this record,'” centre-back Gary Cahill told Chelsea TV.
“We’ve just kept going. And I think that’s the right mentality to have. Being aware of the record and wanting to achieve them, there’s nothing wrong with that. For sure I want to achieve it.
“Every player wants to be a part of records – I’m not shy about saying that – but it’s not something we speak about. We just have to keep focused on the job that we’re doing.”
Although spared from the 48-hour turnarounds imposed on some of their rivals by the fixture schedulers, both Pochettino and his Chelsea counterpart Conte could elect to rotate their starting XIs.
Pedro Rodriguez returns from suspension for Chelsea and will hope to recover his place from Willian, while Cesc Fabregas’s position is under threat from the more defensively minded Nemanja Matic.
Spurs will welcome back first-choice defenders Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen, both of whom missed the trip to Watford through suspension.