Tottenham Hotspur have made an excellent start to the season and will be confident of continuing it with victory over struggling Chelsea at White Hart Lane on Sunday (12:00 GMT, live on BT Sport).
Spurs moved right up onto the coattails of the top four with a highly impressive 4-1 win at home to West Ham last weekend. They remain undefeated since their opening-day loss to Manchester United and currently enjoy a 10-point and 10-place advantage over their visitors on Sunday.
There is, indeed, an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere at White Hart Lane, where a young and talented squad have taken well to an energetic and well-organised approach that has successfully combined defensive solidity with attacking incision. Mauricio Pochettino’s (pictured) side are playing football that is both attractive and effective.
The improvement can be seen at both ends of the pitch. Not only are Spurs conceding far less goals than they did last season, but they are also scoring at a marginally higher rate now that Harry Kane has rediscovered his finishing touch. After just one goal in his first nine league appearances, the England striker has now scored seven in his last four.
With Chelsea still floundering in the lower reaches of the table, there looks to be an opening available in the top four, and the manner in which Spurs have played so far this season certainly justifies their standing as the current bookies’ favourites to join Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs in qualifying for the Champions League come the end of the season.
Pochettino will be without the suspended Deli Alli for Sunday’s fixture but should be able to cover for the youngster’s absence with some of his other midfielders and forwards now back to full fitness. He will otherwise be able to field what is his strongest XI after his key players came through the 1-0 win away to Qarabag in the Europa League on Thursday unscathed.
Spurs recorded a pulsating 5-3 victory over Chelsea when these sides met at White Hart Lane last season in a result that played a part in pushing Pochettino’s off-field friend Jose Mourinho towards a more cautious approach during the second half of his side’s title-winning campaign. It was, in fact, perhaps the first sighting of the vulnerabilities that have been very evident during their difficult start to the new season.
Chelsea have been neither as dangerous in attack as they were in the first half of last season nor as solid at the back as they were in the second. The balance of the side looks wrong and the series of countermeasures Mourinho put in place to cover for certain weaknesses last season have proved insufficient this time around.
The Blues have already lost four more matches and conceded well over two-thirds as many goals as they did in the entirety of last season. Players like Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are playing well below the level they displayed during the club’s title winning campaign, while age looks to have up caught with Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry.
Even at this early stage of the season, a top-four place now looks very unlikely. The bookies currently have them as sixth favourites to achieve such a finish and while 12 points is by no means an insurmountable gap, there has been little in the club’s performances so far this season to suggest that they are capable of putting together the sort of run necessary to make up that differential in the remaining two-thirds of the campaign.
Chelsea do, of course, have significant funds to throw at their problems. There are rumours that they are looking at a number of strikers given the poor return from Costa, Radamel Falcao Garcia and Loic Remy, who between them have scored half as many goals as Kane has by himself. They may also elect to strengthen in the centre of midfield.
Such reinforcements will, however, have to wait until January and Chelsea therefore come into Sunday’s London derby as the weaker of the two teams. Spurs are high on confidence and can be expected to go for their wounded opponents with the same vigour and determination they displayed in winning last season’s equivalent fixture. Our match preview’s conclusion is that the three points are again likely to be theirs this weekend.