Leagues return across Europe this weekend after the end of international break as Chelsea host Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on Sunday in a match set to have huge implications for the race to finish fourth and qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Chelsea is fifth in the Premier League table, five points behind fourth-place Tottenham, ahead of the London Derby at Stamford Bridge.
After both teams made their way to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Tottenham’s trip to Chelsea could prove to be a trial run for the final on Sunday.
Chelsea faces Southampton next month, and Tottenham have the trickier task of finding their way past Manchester United to reach the final at Wembley on May 19. It took extra-time for Antonio Conte’s team to beat Leicester City, while Spurs eased past Swansea City.
Yet, the FA Cup will be put to the back of the two teams’ minds over the next fortnight, as the majority of the squads return to the team after international break.
The consistency of Mauricio Pochettino’s team since the turn of the year has seen Spurs build a five-point lead over Chelsea. It was the small implosion in West London in the same period, with Antonio Conte’s team winning just three EPL games this calendar year that has seen Chelsea slip out of the Champions League positions.
Harry Kane will not be available for Tottenham, having damaged ligaments in his ankle, which will aid Chelsea’s pursuit of that coveted fourth spot. But that hasn’t harmed Spurs so far, scoring seven goals in the 150 minutes they’ve been without the England striker, who has 39 goals this season.
Although keen to win his first trophy and silence the critics, Pochettino has insisted it is more than silverware that he wants at Tottenham.
“In the cups, you can arrive to the semi-final or final and win, like Swansea [League Cup winners in 2013] or Wigan [FA Cup winners in 2013], who were then relegated,” he said.
“This type of competition is about enjoying the process and about enjoying when you lift the trophy, but it’s not going to give a different level or status as winning the Premier League or the Champions League to put the club on a higher level.”
So Spurs will need to avoid defeat by Chelsea, the only team to win at Wembley in the Premier League this season, at Stamford Bridge if they are to strengthen hopes of a top-four finish. Tottenham’s run-in is far from easy. They hosted Manchester City and travelled to Manchester United, with 2016 champions Leicester City visiting Wembley for the final game of the season.
Chelsea’s only truly challenging fixture in the remaining weeks of the season is the visit of Liverpool to Stamford Bridge in the penultimate game of the season. By then, if they haven’t beaten Tottenham, if Tottenham have struggled against the Manchester duo, the race for the top four could be set for a photo finish.
Chelsea have been increasingly reliant on star turns from individuals recently, with the team ethic so prevalent when they won the title last season deserting the struggling Blues.
Even so, Willian’s form gives hope manager Antonio Conte’s side can still qualify for the Champions League. The Brazil international has been exceptional lately, both creatively and in front of goal.
He proved to be the catalyst for Chelsea’s 2-1 home win over Crystal Palace last time out, per Squawka Football.
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Rüdiger, Moses, Fàbregas, Kanté, Bakayoko, Alonso, Hazard
Tottenham: Lloris; Trippier, Sánchez, Vertonghen; Son, Dembélé, Dier, Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Lamela
Total Chelsea Tottenham Draws
Total Matches 141 61 44 36
At Stamford Bridge 71 26 25 20
At Wembley Stadium 70 35 19 16
FA Cup Matches 4 3 0 1
Carling Cup 2 1 0 1
Premier League 135 57 44 34
Total Goals Scored 416 218 198