March 24, 2012: a date that could prove pivotal in determining who finishes in the top four in this year’s Premier League.
On this date, Tottenham visit Stamford Bridge to face a resurgent Chelsea team who have only met defeat once since the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas and the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo as interim manager.
While Di Matteo has found a way to right the ship, so to speak, by restoring the confidence in his senior squad members, Harry Redknapp finds himself in the opposite predicament. Since his team were forced to an FA Cup replay against League One opposition Stevenage, Spurs have been on a bit of a slide that has seen them take just one point out of their last four league matches, coupled with decisive and sound defeats at the hands of Manchester United and Arsenal in back to back weeks.
This slide has seen Arsenal nick third position from Tottenham, a feat that back in late January would’ve looked grim.
Part of Spurs problems comes down to not being able to pick a solid center back pairing. Ledley King played midweek and will more than likely miss out on the match due to his chronic knee problem, but around him, both Michael Dawson and William Gallas have not been able to solidify a partnership with Younes Kaboul, who is the only center back to have played more than 20 matches for Spurs this season.
If Spurs had their way, they might have preferred to play the Blues as soon as three weeks ago, but that is a lifetime in football time.
The Chelsea team that trotted out lifeless against West Brom hardly resembles the team that overcame the deficit to Napoli to advance in the Champions League or the side that resolutely defended for 73 minutes against Manchester City, only to be undone by two late goals.
The match against City is also notable for the possible re-emergence of Fernando Torres to the Chelsea starting 11. After netting two goals last weekend and breaking his 24-hour drought, Torres looked lively against City and will once again provide a challenge for Di Matteo’s selection.
However, Spurs present a different challenge from City, and it’s all down to one man: Gareth Bale. Containing Bale is the key to containing Spurs, especially since both Emmanuel Adebayor and Aaron Lennon will be absent due to injuries. Bale’s form as of late has been hit or miss, but it matches the current form of the side around him.
Containing Bale will most likely fall on the shoulders of the much maligned Jose Bosingwa, who will probably get the start with Branislav Ivanovic struggling for fitness after picking up a thigh strain midweek. He is the only injury reported, with John Terry back to fitness.
Most importantly, Spurs have not won at Stamford Bridge in forever. Their last win at Stamford Bridge came back in 1992, though in recent history, the fixtures have been fairly close. In order to solidify a chance for the top four, Spurs will have to erase that recent drought of wins, though their away form (2 points from 15) will have to improve.