The race for Champions League qualification is set for a number of twists and turns before third, fourth and fifth places are decided in the Premier League, with the fixture between Chelsea and Tottenham this weekend at Stamford Bridge massively important for both clubs. Despite losing in midweek, the Blues seem rejuvenated under Roberto Di Matteo and are favourites for the fixture with most sportsbooks, whilst Harry Redknapp’s men are low in confidence and need to stop the rot.
Chelsea have turned a corner since the dismissal of Andre Villas Boas, and under the stewardship of former midfielder Di Matteo they look a more dangerous outfit. The Italian coach has re-instilled confidence into the senior players at the club, as the likes of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard look to be revelling in their roles of main men once more.
Despite giving up a 1-0 lead against Manchester City to lose 2-1 on Wednesday night, most Blues fans will feel that their side have improved of late and will expect three points on Saturday. Traditionally Chelsea have something of a hex over Tottenham, but results recently have been more even, with the sides drawing 1-1 at White Hart Lane in the reverse fixture this term. However, with a five-point gap between the clubs currently, a draw is no good to the hosts this weekend, as tricky away fixtures against Arsenal and Liverpool are set to test the west London side also. With Champions League and FA Cup participation still in the offing, the hosts must focus on this game first to keep their aspirations intact.
Tottenham have thrown away a ten-point advantage over their London rivals, and dropped to fourth in midweek after Arsenal’s continued winning streak. Defeats to the Gunners, Manchester United and Everton were almost compounded by a loss to Stoke on Wednesday, but a last-ditch Rafael van der Vaart strike salvaged a point.
Spurs have looked low in confidence since their second-half capitulation in the north London derby, and speculation over Harry Redknapp’s future has not helped a talented but sometimes naive team. The Tottenham of old would have crumbled at Stamford Bridge; it is now a real test to the new-look side to see if they have put their past failings behind them. With top players like Gareth Bale and Luka Modric in high demand, a top four finish is an absolute must for the team’s star players to stay, and the club to progress.
A number of key factors may well decide the outcome of the game. Tottenham have looked sheepish at times in their latest fixtures, especially away from White Hart Lane, and to avoid another defeat the visitors must believe in their abilities and attack from the start of the game. A draw would be a good result for Spurs but they must play for a win. Chelsea have a number of distractions, namely the uncertainty over whether John Terry will be fit to play and an upcoming trip to the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday in the Champions League quarter-finals; the Blues must focus on this game first, otherwise they may well miss out on this season’s top four.