It may come as a surprise to some that Chelsea have not beaten Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in the league since August 2005. That’s August 2005, three and a half years ago! We did taste success in an FA Cup replay in March 2007, but apart from that, Three Point Lane is in danger of turning into One/Nil Point Lane after a draw and a defeat in our last two games. Prior to that, Chelsea had not lost at White Hart Lane in the Premier League era, a remarkable stranglehold over our dear North London neighbours.
Both teams head into this fixture in excellent form. Spurs have not lost in the league since the last weekend in January with only defeats to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Uefa Cup (where they fielded a weakened team) and Manchester United in the Carling Cup Final sandwiched in between. The return of Robbie Keane has marked an upturn in fortunes that now sees Spurs lie in 11th position, six points off safety and five off a Uefa Cup spot. (Which they would probably turn down anyway seeing how it gets in the way of their league campaign, poor sods.) Chelsea, meanwhile, have won their last four league games and remain unbeaten in the Gus Hiddink era, totaling seven games.
Tottenham’s season had been customarily chaotic. Having picked upon 2 points from their opening 8 games they duly sacked Juande Ramos, and brought in everyone’s favorite bung supremo, Harry Redknapp. He has dragged the team up the league to a position of mild comfort, with a famous 4-4 draw at the Emirates and an impressive victory over Liverpool contrasted with humiliating away defeats to Newcastle, West Brom and Wigan. They are yet to lose to a ‘big’ four team at White Hart Lane this season, but have suffered home defeats to Sunderland, Aston Villa, Hull and Everton. They continue to revel in their position as the hallmark of inconsistency, with a squad clearly capable of challenging the top six but continuing to blunder in the face of false dawns.
The January transfer window was an exciting time for Spurs fans, as Harry Redknapp set about re-signing as many of their 2007/08 squad as possible. Jermain Defoe was brought back from Pompey for around double what they sold him for. Pascal Chimbonda returned from Sunderland for no apparent reason, while on the final day of the window the Robbie Keane saga ended with the Irishman re-joining Spurs for less than what Liverpool paid for him. Reports of an audacious bid for Dimitar Berbatov and the loan signings of Teemu Tainio and Paul Robinson proved unfounded. Redknapp went down this reminiscent route in a bitter protest at Ramos’s summer signings of Bentley, Pavlyuchenko and co. He also splashed the cash on powerful midfielder Wilson Palacios, acquired from Wigan for £12 million. Carlo Cudicini, Chelsea’s legendary number two, made the move across London on a free transfer as a reward for his service to the Blues. However the Italian may well have to settle for a place on the bench again, having been dropped after a mistake against Hull in February. Since the end of last season Spurs have bought 11 players and sold 12, the sort of turnover some Chelsea fans are hoping for this summer. However, Spurs have clearly suffered from the lack of continuity in their squad so will surely adopt a quieter transfer policy this summer. Today’s news that tricky winger Aaron Lennon has signed a new contract seems to be an excellent start.
It seems that both teams will head into this fixture with a perfect bill of health, with only Paulo Ferreira and Deco long-term absentees for the away team. Mikel, rested last time out, will come in for the injured Deco in what will probably be the only change from the team that beat City last weekend. This team would surely represent Chelsea’s best starting eleven, possibly for the first time this season. And what a time for the injuries to be healing, with climaxes to the league season as well as the Champions League and the FA Cup approaching. The chances of all our players returning from their countries’ respective international games in the next ten days with a clean bill of health are slim though. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Incidentally, this is Hiddink’s last game in charge of Chelsea before he pops off to manage Russia for a couple of easy games against Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein. Here’s hoping for a couple of surprise defeats and the immediate sacking of the Dutchman by the Russian FA!
Last season’s corresponding fixture was a dramatic and heartbreaking 4-4 draw that saw the Blues throw away leads of 3-1 and 4-3 before succumbing to a last minute Keane wonder goal. That day saw Chelsea concede three times from set pieces, and only a sensational injury time save from Cudicini, then in Chelsea blue, prevented a completely humiliating turnaround. Tomorrow’s game is sure to be a tighter affair – Chelsea have not won by more than one goal in the Premiership since January. Happy memories of Jose Mourinho’s era have been evoked by the recent run of winning by a single goal, and a similar scoreline at Tottenham tomorrow would be a more than satisfactory way to return to winning ways at the Lane.