On Saturday lunchtime, Tottenham take on Chelsea at White Hart Lane in what promises to be one of the matches of the season so far.
The match is a big one for a number of reasons. The main reason, at least in the eyes of the press will be because the match will be the first time Andre-Villas Boas will be the manager in the opposing dugout against Chelsea after his sacking last season.
Whether it’s dismal Hollywood blockbusters, low quality TV detective dramas or the voiceovers on the Football League Show who always pipe up about some journeyman forward scoring at his former club (complete with the scorer basically showing off by refusing to celebrate) nothing seems to get people’s gander up more than the prospect of revenge.
It’s debateable whether the match is a revenge mission for AVB. He was sacked admittedly by Chelsea but he received a massive pay-off which meant he’d never have to work again, added lustre to his reputation by being manager of the club that went on to be European champions.
If he wasn’t sacked, Chelsea would never have won the Champions League and he would currently be publicly supporting John Terry and Ashley Cole, a football management booby prize if there ever was one.
At Tottenham, he has a group of players and a set of fans far more supportive of him than their Chelsea counterparts ever were. He also has already said the match is ‘revenge for Tottenham’ and not for him.
This is referring to the FA Cup semifinal last season, where Chelsea, aided by a ‘goal’ that didn’t cross the line demolished a broken Spurs team 5-1 in a game remembered for Chelsea ‘fans’ booing a minute’s silence held for the Hillsborough Disaster. That defeat stung Spurs badly while helping Chelsea on their heroic run to Champions League glory, which should provide a feisty backdrop to what’s already an always highly charged game.
The match itself promises plenty. Chelsea, top of the league after a superb start are away at Spurs who are on a run of four successive wins, including their excellent win at Old Trafford where the North London side, in an odd display of supreme counter attacking and desperate, panicky defensive play managed to beat a team they hadn’t beaten since Hear’Say were still in the UK Top 20 in the charts.
Chelsea despite leading the Premiership and having their attacking midfield trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard wreak havoc amongst defences are still flying under the radar. They aren’t really being talked about as title contenders despite having a four point lead over the two Manchester clubs who have had misfiring starts to the season, along with playing some exhilarating football at times.
A Chelsea side playing genuinely exciting football is a rare thing indeed, just as rare as Tottenham being a tactically astute, well organised side. But under Villas-Boas that’s what Spurs have become. The first half display against Manchester United showed how they are capable of blistering counter attacks and tactically outmanoeuvring superior opposition.
Spurs may not be as pleasing on the eye as they were last season, with Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart combining with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon playing as old fashioned wingers to be at times a beautiful side to watch. Sandro and Mousa Dembele may not be as pleasing to the purists but they are dynamic, strong and incredibly powerful together.
There are echoes of the Vieira-Petit/Keane-Ince midfield combos in Sandro and Dembele and the way they wrest games away from opponents.
Both sides are attack minded and both are defensively fallible. Spurs have been vulnerable in all their games this season and had to rely on stunning saves from their goalkeepers and poor marksmanship from opposing strikers to not concede more than the eight goals they’ve given away this campaign.
Chelsea are without the suspended John Terry for this game and against Reading in the league and Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup were dangerously weak at the back. Though since then they’ve stiffened defensively they’re yet to be really tested in the league with the exception of their win at the Emirates against a surprisingly slack Arsenal.
Dodgy defences may make Alan Hansen on Match of the Day spout more clichés than Alan Partridge on an acid trip watching Un Chien Andalou but they do make for great football matches. You don’t get high scoring matches without bad defensive play.
Newcastle-Liverpool wouldn’t be remembered as the wonderful game it was without terrible defending. Even the Arsenal-Chelsea game this season would have been a dreary 0-0 but for terrible marking at set-pieces making it a fairly exciting 2-1 Chelsea win.
Tactically the game will be fascinating (if the words ‘tactics’ and ‘fascinating’ aren’t oxymoronic). Both sides have scored three goals on the counter attack already this season, more than anyone else in the Premier League along with both scoring seven goals in open play. The threat on the counter is testament to the pace both teams, especially Spurs, possess. How both managers plan for the opponent’s quick counters may well decide the match.
With both sides perhaps fortunate not to concede more this season and both teams preferring attack to defence, not to mention Spurs-Chelsea always being a fiery match up and the ingredients are there for a terrific game. If the Saturday lunchtime kick off time anaesthetises the on pitch action as it’s done with many other matches.