Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
White Hart Lane hosts the most important game of the Premier League season to date as Tottenham Hotspur take on Chelsea on Sunday.
Last season's champions Chelsea (4-2-7) have endured a start to the campaign that nobody saw coming, while Sunday's hosts Tottenham (6-6-1) are on a 12-game unbeaten run and turning in performances that have seen them linked with an unexpected title challenge.
The gap between the two clubs is 10 points going into Sunday's game. Win and Spurs will put Chelsea all but out of the reckoning for the league's top honours. But should Chelsea win, they will have a glimmer of hope of pushing back up the table in the second half of the season and claiming one of those four coveted Champions League spots.
Form certainly makes Spurs favourites, while they will also take confidence from the last meeting between these sides back in January, which ended in a spectacular 5-3 win for the Lilywhites. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, however, says his players are going to give everything to get the three points.
"We have to play every match as if we are fighting for the title," Mourinho said. "At this moment we are far from even the European positions and we have to play every game with ambition and determination because every point in the end of the season can make a difference. We've lost so many points already that now we have to fight for every point even more.
"If people tell me that Tottenham are fighting for the title I would not laugh," added the Chelsea boss. "I would accept it because their team is very good. The manager is good, the players are good, they have good stability and are playing well. I think they really are a very good team."
Sunday's game will bring a month of London derbies to an end for Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino's side outplayed Arsenal in a 1-1 draw earlier in November before smashing West Ham United 4-1 last weekend in their best performance of the season. So a win Sunday would end an almost perfect few weeks for the Lilywhites, and midfielder Christian Eriksen is looking forward to the challenge.
"Everybody likes to play in derbies, they are more intense than other games and it's always nice to play in matches like that, but you always have to be wary of Chelsea - no matter what position they are in," Eriksen said. "They were in a good spot last time we played them at the Lane and we managed to beat them, so we'll be looking for a similar result this time.
"Everyone is really happy and going for it at the moment. We all have the confidence to play some good football and that's what we want to do every time we play."
It's been a short turnaround for Tottenham to prepare for this match, but Pochettino surprised many by playing a strong side against FK Qarabag in the Europa League in Azerbaijan on Thursday. Spurs did win that game 1-0 to qualify for the knockout stages - going some way to vindicating his selection - but injury concerns for Nabil Bentaleb and Erik Lamela, plus a suspension for breakthrough star Dele Alli, may limit the coach's options to bring in fresh legs for Sunday's crunch match.
Chelsea have had two days more preparation time than their hosts but also had a long European away trip during the week. The Blues' 4-0 win at Maccabi Tel-Aviv came at the cost of an injury to captain John Terry, who is unlikely to be fit in time for Sunday's game. Midfielder Ramires is also a doubt, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois remains out.
Mourinho's side have claimed just four points in their six away matches (1-1-4) in the Premier League, and Chelsea have enjoyed victory on just one of their last nine visits (1-4-4) to White Hart Lane.
Belgian winger Eden Hazard has found the net in his last three against the north London side, but Spurs have a hot-shot finisher of their own. Harry Kane has scored nine goals in his last six games in all competitions and bagged a brace in the famous 5-3 win over Chelsea at the Lane on New Year's Day.