Stamford Bridge will be empty for one more game on Sunday but there will be no shortage of interest in a big London clash between in-form teams. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton debate the derby…
This fixture can safely claim to be the meeting of London’s current top two clubs. Four seasons have come and gone since Arsenal finished above either Chelsea or Tottenham, and Sunday’s combatants share the best goal difference in the top flight.
Heading into this weekend, only nine points separate the top 15 teams. Should Liverpool mess up in their Saturday lunchtime appointment at Brighton, the winners of this London derby will end the day top of the table.
The Blues and the Lilywhites have already met this season in the Carabao Cup. The game was a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes but Tottenham prevailed after a penalty shoot-out.
Overall, Chelsea have dominated the quarter-century of Premier League games played against Tottenham since 1995/96. The Blues have won 28 times compared to Spurs’ seven, have a net goal advantage of 90, and earned almost three times as many points: 99 against 36.
Last season’s home and away double against the Cockerels was the 11th achieved since our clubs first met in 1909/10. They have managed just one clean sheet in their past 17 trips to the Bridge.
This is Chelsea’s 1,000th match of the Roman Abramovich era, which began in July 2003. The Blues have a 60.9 per cent win rate since then, compared to 44.3 per cent overall
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Chelsea team news
A year ago Frank Lampard was discussing with journalists the type of player he was looking to bring in to strengthen his squad. He outlined experience as something that would augment his young squad and was asked what that meant for the Academy graduates who had done so well. This is Chelsea Football Club, Frank replied. They, like everyone else, have to reach the standards expected of anyone else wearing the famous royal blue.
If anything, substitute Olivier Giroud’s last-gasp headed winner in Rennes provided the example. Whether old or young, it takes searing endeavour to allow technical brilliance to work. And over the past few weeks Reece James, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all weighed in with plenty of both.
It is the Blues’ quicksilver thinking and execution in moments of transition in midfield that has especially impressed, and that could steer the outcome of Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash. Chelsea will have space to exploit behind Spurs’ advanced full-backs and against a makeshift centre-back pairing, while Harry Kane has a new role designed to expose teams who sit off.
Kane arguably causes less trouble for a centre-back than a defensive midfielder these days and it will be intriguing what measures the Chelsea coaching staff deploy against his habit of dropping into midfield, drawing out centre-backs and creating gaps for his fellow forwards.
Man City were inattentive to this ploy last weekend and in-form Son Heung-min’s goal against them was a case in point. Someone will devise a plan to thwart this main source of Spurs goals, and there is no reason that cannot be the Blues.
Communication between midfielders, defenders and goalkeeper is crucial against a dynamic front three, and it has been interesting to hear the on-pitch calls in these crowdless stadiums. In Chelsea’s case it is multilingual, but with French a common tongue for Kurt Zouma, Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Edou Mendy.
Hidden in the usual frenzy of a London derby, a distinct clash of styles may just be discernible. Chelsea have made the most passes in the league this season, 5,814 (86 per cent of which found a team-mate), representing 20 per cent more than the far more direct Tottenham.
In the recent Carabao Cup meeting the Blues created plenty of chances from sustained possession around Spurs’ box, and that was before this rising team had gelled.
Jose Mourinho is likely to set up against Chelsea pretty much as he did against Manchester City, defending deep, bypassing their pressing by playing the ball long to a forward, and hoping to take chances when Tottenham’s pace and ingenuity delivers them.
However, as has been clear in recent games against sides using the low block approach, including Newcastle last Saturday, Chelsea have strength in wide attacking areas that City currently lack, and few teams have an answer to Hakim Ziyech’s chance creation.
Centre-back Toby Alderweireld had played a key role in Spurs securing three clean sheets in four top-flight matches prior to Sunday’s groin strain. The Belgian’s absence may mean an expedited return from injury for Japhet Tanganga or Davinson Sanchez (both of whom played on Thursday), though the inexperienced Joe Rodon, ineligible in the Europa League, would offer more height in the box. (Mourinho habitually picks his tallest available players against top-six sides, and the Blues’ formidable aerial prowess at Rennes will only have restated that case.)
The former Chelsea coach should be able to recall Covid sufferer Matt Doherty at right-back, and Harry Winks may be fit to figure. The Lilywhites are unlikely to change their midfield pivot, however, as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s forceful ball recovery and the box-to-box coverage of Moussa Sissoko has served them very well this season.
How to watch Chelsea-Tottenham
This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK – Chelsea’s first primetime Sunday 4.30pm slot since Liverpool at home in September.
To find the relevant broadcaster where you are elsewhere, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
Chelsea TV’s global available matchday shows – including early team news, exclusive interviews and analysis – are on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live and the official YouTube channel.
For five pleasant hours last Saturday Chelsea were top of the Premier League pile. The leadership has changed 12 times so far this season and shared by seven different clubs: Arsenal (12 September), Leicester (27 September), Everton (3 October), Liverpool (31 October), Southampton (6 November), Chelsea (21.5pm, 21 November) and Tottenham (7.15pm, 21 November).
Is it really too early to determine the title challengers? At the same stage last season three of the eventual top four – Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea – were already in place.
After nine games of the 2018/19 season all the Champions League berths were occupied by those who would go on to secure the same places – City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham – and a year earlier three of the final quartet were already present and in order: City, Manchester United and Tottenham.
In fact, the only recent instance of the champions not topping the table at this juncture was in 2016/17. Having completed nine matches, Antonio Conte’s Blues were fourth behind City, Arsenal and Liverpool. And we all know what happened next.
Leaders after nine matches and eventual outcome
2019/20 - Liverpool - champions
2018/19 - Man City - champions
2017/18 - Man City - champions
2016/17 - Man City - third (Chelsea champions)
Lowering the Lilywhites
Unless Brighton do a number on Liverpool, the champions will be top of the table before this all-London affair kicks off. Otherwise we would be in the unfamiliar situation of one team in the fixture being top of the league, and it not being Chelsea.
The last time Spurs were top of pile before facing the Blues was on Saturday 1 February 1964 at White Hart Lane. ‘Both Chelsea and ourselves,’ the Spurs match day programme proclaimed, ‘have more than usual incentive to go all out for victory in this afternoon’s game.’
It was Tommy Docherty’s side who seized the moment, with Bobby Tambling netting after just 15 seconds. Former Chelsea Junior Jimmy Greaves equalised but his young successor completed a brace, both laid on by onetime Spur Tommy Harmer on his 36th birthday.
The north Londoners finished fifth that season and will have endured 60 years without the title come May unless they do, for most Chelsea fans, the unthinkable this season.
Frank and Didi’s productive partnership
There are echoes of 2009/10 Nicolas Anelka/Didier Drogba in the burgeoning relationship between Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham, but Chelsea’s all-time best goal-buddies were Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. The pair created 36 Premier Leaguer goals for each other in the remarkable time they shared at the Bridge of which 24 were scored by Ivorian legend and 12 by our current head coach.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have crept up to take joint second place on that list with 29, alongside Manchester City’s David Silva and Sergio Aguero, and the Arsenal duo of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.
Another derby day
This is the second capital clash of the season for Chelsea and Tottenham, who fared well in them in 2019/20. The Blues earned 16 points from eight games in the last campaign, and the Cockerels were next best with 14.
The west Londoners have been victorious in eight of the past 10 league derbies the Bridge.
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Will Europa crock Cockerels?
The Tottenham team of 2014/15 saw a 25 per cent drop-off in Premier League wins following a Europa League Thursday. Chelsea also recorded 15 per cent fewer top-flight victories after fixtures in the competition in 2018/19. Those results could be anomalies, though, as the majority of English clubs show no pattern of knock-on effects in the group stages.
As Wolverhampton discovered in 2019/20, however, the sting may be in the tail for the Lilywhites, whose campaign started with qualifying rounds in September. They already have 18 matches in their legs going into this weekend, three more than the Blues, and face a Carabao Cup quarter-final next month, plus more busy midweeks should they win. Then there is the Europa League’s extra Round of 32, unless they collapse unexpectedly.
Wolves reached the quarter-finals in Europe last season with a squad of 24, but seemed to pay the price in weariness, losing three of their final six league games. Perhaps that is why Mourinho has used 26 players so far this season. As Chelsea coach he always preferred a small, strong squad: ‘21 players plus the goalkeepers and no more.’
The Maradona influence
The legacy of great footballers is not just the clips and reminiscence of their own deeds but in the influence that had on their successors. Without the inspiration of Diego Maradona, who died this week, Gianfranco Zola might never have become a Premier League icon at Stamford Bridge. In 1996 Zola’s coach at Chelsea, Ruud Gullit, was asked to comment on the fact the Italian had netted two direct free-kicks in his opening four matches for the Blues.
‘Sometimes when he is doing his exercises,’ he said, ‘it is amazing how the ball is curving. I don’t know how he does it; I only know I could never do it. He had the best teacher you could ever have in Maradona at Napoli.’
There will be a minute's applause in tribute to Maradona before all Premier League games this weekend.
The latest matchday programme
We may not be attending games yet, but the official matchday programme can still be ordered, still for £3.50. You can also order back issues from our previous home fixtures this season.
Premier League fixtures
Crystal Palace v Newcastle 8pm (Amazon Prime Video)
Brighton v Liverpool 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Man City v Burnley 3pm (BT Sport)
Everton v Leeds 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
West Brom v Sheffield Utd 8pm (Sky Sports)
Southampton v Man Utd 2pm (Sky Sports)
Chelsea v Tottenham 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Arsenal v Wolves 7.15pm (Sky Sports)
Leicester v Fulham 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Aston Villa 8pm (Sky Sports)