Soccernet Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea
Tottenham's pivotal role in the title race continues as Chelsea travel to White Hart Lane on Saturday evening. Having secured a first Premier League win over arch-rivals Arsenal in a decade on Wednesday night, which included that stunning striker from Danny Rose to seemingly end the Gunners' title chances, they now entertain the leaders, very much in the race for a Champions League place.
With Manchester City playing United in the lunchtime derby, Tottenham may be in a position to replace Roberto Mancini's men in fourth. And, as City and Spurs have an almost identical goal difference, every result will be crucial.
Tottenham have the best home defence in the top flight, winning the last four games and going undefeated since Wolverhampton Wanderers pulled off a shock 1-0 win four months ago. But their record against Chelsea is not so favourable, only beating the Blues twice in the Premier League era. Those wins have both come at the Lane in the last three years, sandwiched by a remarkable 4-4 draw two years ago.
For Chelsea, they know that a first league win at Spurs since August 2005 will move them one step closer to the title. The Champions League exit to Inter Milan a month ago has rejuvenated Carlo Ancelotti's men, rather than force them into a pit of depression. Now determined to win silverware in the Italian coach's first season at the helm, the Blues have picked up 16 points out of a possible 18 since the Inter loss, scoring 19 goals in the process, as well as reaching the final of the FA Cup.
With home games against Stoke City and Wigan Athletic still to come, their title rivals know that Chelsea's remaining away games at Spurs and then Liverpool on May 2 represent their best hope of being handed a route back into the title race.
Tottenham player in focus: Heurelho Gomes Once a figure of fun at White Hart Lane after a disastrous run of form around Harry Redknapp's appointment in October 2008, Gomes is now firmly the No.1 goalkeeper at Spurs. After having little to do against Arsenal, his performance in the final 10 minutes, when he denied Robin van Persie three times and also Sol Campbell, underlined his importance to the club. He has not played for Brazil for four years, but some are now tipping him for a late run into Dunga's World Cup squad. It's likely he will have to be on top form against free-scoring Chelsea.
Chelsea player in focus: Florent Malouda - The French winger's rise to prominence in the second half of this season has been as unexpected as it has been welcomed. An outspoken rant in early January against the standing of Frank Lampard within the squad could have led to him being jettisoned out of Stamford Bridge. Quite the contrary. Malouda is now arguably playing the best football of his career. Since those quotes hit the papers, Malouda has scored 10 goals and five assists and has been a driving force as Chelsea look to record their first ever Double.
Key Battle: Gareth Bale v Paulo Ferreira With both Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Bosingwa on the sidelines, Carlo Ancelotti is running short of right-sided defenders. Paulo Ferreira, once named the best right-back in the world by FIFA, had fallen out of favour at Chelsea but injury problems mean he is now enjoying his longest run in the first team for four years. Gareth Bale will pose a very different problem. Once looked upon as a jinx in the Tottenham side, he has completely turned his Spurs career around and his marauding runs down the left make him their most dangerous player. Just how well Ferreira is able to cope with this particular threat may well have a big bearing on this match.
Tactics: Harry Redknapp will stick to his favoured 4-4-2 as Chelsea make the trip across London. Luka Modric will provide the creative influence in the centre of the park with Gareth Bale and David Bentley the supply line down the flanks. Although Chelsea played with two up front against Bolton on Tuesday, it seems likely they will return to a sole striker, most likely Didier Drogba, for this match. Malouda and Joe Cole should support Drogba with Lampard, Michael Ballack and John Obi Mikel a triumvate in the centre.
Quotes: Harry Redknapp on Danny Rose's stunning goal against Arsenal: ''It was an amazing goal from Danny. He's a left sided player but I played him on the right because I thought he'd give us a bit of energy. 'That was a wonderful strike and we'll never forget that.''
Carlo Ancelotti on the title race: "Now we have more possibility to win the title than, with respect, Manchester United and Arsenal, but we are not sure yet. We have to play four tough games and we know that we have to fight again. But we're ready to fight."
In the news: Aaron Lennon's hopes of appearing in the World Cup this summer have suffered another setback after he broke down in training with Tottenham Hotspur. Lennon, who looked to be carving out a place as Fabio Capello's first-choice right winger after starting three World Cup qualifiers in succession against Croatia, Ukraine and Belarus in September and October, has not made an appearance in 2010. Meanwhile, Juliano Belletti has confirmed that he is likely to leave Chelsea when his contract expires in June but insists he has no plans to retire. The former Brazil international, 33, attracted interest from Flamengo in January.
Tottenham team news: Derby hero Danny Rose was injured in the first half against Arsenal so will not be involved on Saturday, while Ledley King is unable to play two games in such a short space of time. Spurs will also be without long-term injury victims Jermaine Jenas, Niko Kranjcar, Aaron Lennon, Jonathan Woodgate and Carlo Cudicini. Wilson Palacios is suspended. Vedran Corluka (ankle) looks set to miss out.
Chelsea team news: Ashley Cole has recovered from his broken ankle and is back in the first-team squad for the first time since February. Cole will start on the substitutes' bench. Michael Essien is closing in on a return to first team action but will not be involved against Tottenham. Ricardo Carvalho and Branislav Ivanovic hope to be back in action before the end of the season but Jose Bosingwa will not be back until next season.
Probable Tottenham team (4-4-2): Gomes, Kaboul, Bassong, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Bentley, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Crouch.
Probable Chelsea (4-5-1): Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Alex, Zhirkov, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, Malouda, Cole, Drogba.
Soccernet prediction: Tottenham will be wary of the "bubble effect" against Chelsea, whereby the Herculean effort of overcoming Arsenal means their energy levels are sapped for the next game. But Spurs are a strong proposition on their own turf this season, and they may well sneak a point against the league leaders.