Both Chelsea and Tottenham head into Sunday’s London derby at Wembley with something to prove. Though their results could hardly have been more different, neither side were reassuring on the opening weekend of 2017/18 season. Chelsea put in a shambolic performance against Burnley, conceding three first-half goals and earning two red cards. Spurs won 2-0 against newly promoted Newcastle, but rarely threatened until the Magpies went a man down, and failed to put away a host of chances to better their line.
More questions than answers for Blues
Chelsea have greater room for improvement. Even against a team of Tottenham’s caliber, a repeat of the Burnley performance seems unlikely. However, Antonio Conte finds himself forced to pick a team without several first choice players. Captain Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas begin their suspensions, and Eden Hazard and Victor Moses are still out through injury. The loss of Nemanja Matic and the continued absence of Diego Costa leave Chelsea short of quality and reliable veteran leadership.
The Blues face a problem regarding their system as well. As well as they performed last season, Chelsea struggled when unable to field their first choice eleven. The lengthy list of absentees gives Conte selection difficulties from back-to-front. Unless willing to change from his favored 3-4-3 formation, the Italian will have to field 21-year-old Andreas Christensen in central defense. The identity of N’Golo Kanté’s partner in the midfield, with Tiémoué Bakayoko still on his way back from injury, remains unknown, and the favorite to lead the line, either Michy Batshuayi or Alvaro Morata, is still up in the air.
Spurs face tactical questions of their own after a spotty display at St. James’ Park. Mauricio Pochettino deployed a 3-4-3 against Chelsea twice last campaign, with mixed results. It seems unlikely that he will depart from his preferred 4-2-3-1, but questions remain over personnel. The Argentine opted for Moussa Sissoko on the right of the three behind Harry Kane, with Mousa Dembélé partnering Eric Dier at the base of midfield. Sissoko’s underwhelming performance at Newcastle could see him dropped in favor of Son Heung-min, and Pochettino may forego the creativity of Dembélé in favor of the brawn of Victor Wanyama.
Tottenham have, even at this early juncture, an opportunity to make a real statement. Chelsea may be a depleted side in disarray, but they are still the champions. A commanding performance from Spurs would show their intent to go one better than last year and raise the Premier League trophy. In addition, it would vindicate the prudent leadership of Pochettino and chairman Daniel Levy. Resolutely faithful to their current squad, no new players have joined the team in the summer, though a deal for Ajax defender Davinson Sánchez has been completed yesterday.
The Spurs hierarchy may be onto something, as the turmoil of the transfer window continues to engulf Chelsea. Despite being the team to beat this campaign, the Blues enter the match second best. While supporters will be clamoring for a performance worthy of champions, the pressure is firmly on Tottenham to take the game to their opponents. Chelsea will be looking to show they will not surrender their crown as meekly as last time. Too early to be a must-win for either side, it is a match with the potential to set the tone for the season ahead.