Last season’s Premier League top two meet when Tottenham Hotspur host champions Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday (16:00 BST, live on Sky Sports).
Tottenham came as close as anyone to challenging Chelsea last season but were simply unable to overturn a 10-point deficit at the campaign’s mid point. They finished seven points shy in second – a full eight points clear of Manchester City in third.
It was the second consecutive season in which Spurs had finished in the top three, and it was a mark that they achieved with the best attacking (2.26 goals per match) and defensive (0.68 goals conceded per match) records in the division. Under normal circumstances, their model of play and playing talent would see them well primed to compete again this time around.
There is, though, one major doubt that hangs over the new campaign. More important than their lack of reinforcements to date, something that is likely to be rectified in the final couple of weeks of the transfer window, is how Spurs will cope with the move to Wembley.
Tottenham had the best home record in the Premier League last season, securing 53 points from 17 wins, two draws and zero defeats in their final campaign at White Hart Lane. In contrast, in the four European matches and one FA Cup semi-final that they contested at Wembley, their record read: one win, one draw and three defeats. The average quality of opposition may have been higher, but their ability to adapt remains a concern.
With that in mind, Mauricio Pochettino will hope to improve his side’s away form this season, and they got off to a good start with a steady 2-0 win at Newcastle last weekend. Spurs initially laboured in breaking down their defensively aligned opponents but the sending off of Jonjo Shelvey early in the second half opened up the game for them and saw them emerge victorious thanks to goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies.
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Chelsea did not enjoy such a comfortable start to the campaign, going down 2-3 at home to Burnley in a chaotic and tetchy match that they finished with nine men. Gary Cahill’s early red card for a lunging challenge certainly conditioned the outcome but Antonio Conte will nevertheless have been disappointed by the manner in which his side reacted to that setback by conceding three goals in a 20-minute spell prior to half time.
There were few positives to be taken from the performance but there was at least a promising showing from new signing Alvaro Morata. The former Real Madrid striker was lively as a second-half substitute, grabbing a debut goal and then flicking on for David Luiz to fire home Chelsea’s second. He will surely be in line for a start on Sunday.
Morata represents one of just three paid reinforcements that the club have brought in so far this summer. While they got through last season with a relatively small squad, the addition of European football and further spending from a number of their potential rivals have contributed to the feeling that they are currently short on numbers. Incomings to date have not matched outgoings, and Chelsea look particularly light in midfield.
While Nemanja Matic, Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (on loan) have departed, only Tiemoue Bakayoko has come in. Indeed, with Cesc Fabregas suspended following his sending off for a second bookable offence in the second half of the defeat to Burnley and Bakayoko an injury doubt, Conte may be forced to move Luiz forward into midfield for Sunday’s trip to Wembley.
Given that domination of the midfield zone was one of the keys to Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in January – a victory that brought Chelsea’s 13-match winning streak to a close – that has to hand a slight advantage to Pochettino’s side. With Eden Hazard out injured and Pedro doubtful, Chelsea will also be weakened in attack, giving Spurs an excellent chance to build confidence in their ability to perform at Wembley by taking victory on Sunday.
If they are to do so, Alli’s eye for goal will be key. After 18 league goals last time around, the attacking midfielder got his campaign off to a scoring start at Newcastle last weekend and will be hoping to extend his run of goals against Chelsea to a third consecutive match.