The Big Match

Football: Rampant Spurs favoured

Harry Kane (second from left) celebrating with team-mates after scoring what turned out to be the winner for Tottenham against Qarabag in Baku. The 1-0 victory put them top of Group J and confirmed their entry into the Europa League round of 32.
Harry Kane (second from left) celebrating with team-mates after scoring what turned out to be the winner for Tottenham against Qarabag in Baku. The 1-0 victory put them top of Group J and confirmed their entry into the Europa League round of 32.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Pace the key factor against Chelsea but Euro trip may test endurance of Pochettino's side

In troubled times, Chelsea must search for encouraging omens where they can find them.

Their best run of a sorry season was a sequence of three successive wins, one against a side from North London. Now, after bagging back-to-back wins for the first time in two months, they face Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Yet, it is an indication of the role reversal between these clubs that Spurs start as favourites tomorrow.

They may have won only six of their last 60 games against Chelsea and endured a gruelling 8,000km round trip to Azerbaijan this week but their 12-game unbeaten run is the longest in the Premier League.

In contrast, Jose Mourinho has already lost more league games in a season - seven - than ever before and Chelsea's record against England's better teams is abysmal.

They have taken just three points from a possible 27 against the division's top 11 sides, beating only Arsenal 2-0 in September.

They have failed virtually every test and their most pertinent setback may have been a 3-1 home defeat by Liverpool last month. Juergen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino may deny the similarities but both managers deploy a high-paced pressing game that enables their charges to overpower opponents.

Both have beaten Manchester City 4-1. Both have recorded landmark wins over Chelsea. Spurs' 5-3 triumph on New Year's Day, when Harry Kane was inspired, brought the first signs of frailties in Mourinho's side.

They possess physical power but not the raw, relentless speed of Pochettino's more youthful group.

If Chelsea are offered respite, they can thank the fixture compilers. Pochettino has branded the timing of this game "unfair". The last time Tottenham played less than 72 hours after a Europa League game, they overwhelmed Arsenal, only to run out of steam in the last 15 minutes and concede an equaliser.

The danger is they tire again, especially as only Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Mousa Dembele were spared the draining travel for Thursday's 1-0 win against Qarabag. The Belgian assumes a particular importance, with Dele Alli suspended. Ryan Mason is his probable replacement, in a straight swop, whereas Mourinho has grown more defensive during difficulties.

He has shown an aversion to trusting Cesc Fabregas as one of the holding midfielders against better teams. Perhaps he will sacrifice him and play for a point even if recent matches have suggested the Spaniard, like Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic, is staging something of a personal recovery. Yet, John Terry is a doubt and Diego Costa is posing too little of a threat.

Chelsea still exhibit a fragility and Tottenham a buoyancy.

If their legs are willing, they possess a wonderful chance to record the victory that would send them 13 points ahead of Mourinho's team and, even at this early stage, position Spurs to claim the Blues' usual berth in the Champions League.

TOTTENHAM V CHELSEA
Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 8pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'RAMPANT SPURS FAVOURED'. Print Edition | Subscribe