Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the English Premier League this season may rest on them securing victory at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (11am ET).
With eight matches left to play, Chelsea find themselves five points behind their London neighbors who are the current occupants of fourth place in the table. Liverpool are two points further ahead in third, albeit having played a game more than both Chelsea and Spurs.
Defeat on Sunday would almost certainly end Chelsea’s hopes of securing Champions League soccer for next season. A draw would not be disastrous, but still far from ideal. Victory would give them reason for hope, especially as Spurs still have to host champions-elect Manchester City before the end of the campaign.
Chelsea did achieve a 2-1 victory when the two sides met at Wembley earlier this season. The Blues took a first-half lead through Marcos Alonso, and although Spurs eventually got a reward for their increased attacking presence with a Michy Batshuayi own goal that levelled the scores, Alonso popped up again late on to take the three points back to West London.
That was one of Chelsea’s three victories to Tottenham’s one in the four matches between the sides with their current head coaches in place. It is necessary to go all the way back to 1990 to find the last time that Spurs triumphed at Stamford Bridge. So a draw would represent a good outcome for Spurs on Sunday and that is a result they have achieved three times in the last six league encounters at Chelsea’s home stadium.
The form book coming into this weekend’s fixture also suggests that Spurs should have a slight edge. Chelsea have won four, draw two and lost four of their last 10 league matches and have won just six of 18 in all competitions since the turn of the year. Spurs are on a four-match winning streak in league play. They have won seven of their last 10 in the league and have won 11 and lost just one of 18 matches in all competitions this calendar year.
It has been a difficult season for Chelsea, for whom a successful defence of last season’s league title is now mathematically impossible. The FA Cup provides their only remaining hope of silverware, and a failure to finish in the top four would only accelerate the expected departure of head coach Antonio Conte. Tensions between him and the board have been evident all season, while his sometimes negative tactics have grated with certain players.
They do, though, still possess enough quality to tip the balance in their favor if they can otherwise keep the match tight on Sunday. Eden Hazard’s form goes through peaks and troughs but he is always capable of producing a moment of magic, while Willian has been on fire in recent weeks, providing five goals and an assist in his last seven matches in all competitions.
Tottenham will certainly have to be wary. Their defeat to the Blues earlier this season shared certain similarities with the recent 1-2 loss at home to Juventus that brought their Champions League campaign to a disappointing end. Their domination of territory was greater in the latter match, but they were likewise caught out by two well-executed goals.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will also be a little short on firepower this weekend. Harry Kane is unavailable due to an ankle injury, and Spurs will therefore be without the striker who has provided 24 league goals so far this season. Heung-Min Son is, however, very much in form and capable of filling in up top, while there are enough potential scorers in their attacking midfield line to more or less make amends.
It will be interesting to see exactly how Pochettino elects to approach Sunday’s match given that a draw would be enough to maintain a defendable gap to Chelsea. In the Champions League this season, Spurs displayed an ability to play a more counter-attacking game to good success and with Chelsea is much more need of the three points, a similar defend and break approach may pay dividends.
Chelsea need the win and are favorites at home with America’s best betting websites, the form book gives Spurs the edge and a draw is perhaps the most likely outcome.