Saturday, March 21, 2009

EPL: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea: Tactical Preview

Spurs entertain local rivals Chelsea at White Hart Lane today in a match that will be a defining moment for where the two teams finish in the English Premier League this season.

Tottenham are back in form under Harry Redknapp and are now unbeaten in their last seven games. This form has seen them rise from relegation fodder to potential European contenders in a mere matter of weeks...

The foundation for Tottenham's good form has been Ledley King's continued fixture in the team. With Spurs out of all the cups, they have no midweek matches left and as a result their inspirational skipper has had time to recover between games.

King has long suffered from a chronic knee injury that prevents him from training between matches bar light five-sided games. The injury also means that King cannot play twice in a seven-day period.

Now as we move towards the business end of the season, Redkapp can finally call upon his first-choice partnership.

This week will be their sternest test to date, as Chelsea are likely to field a forward line that will include both Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

Harry knows that a win will be a gigantic step towards European qualification, so he will pick his strongest possible side.

Vedran Corluka will come back in at right full after he impressed last week against Aston Villa where he came on as a first half substitution for Didier Zokora.

Ledley King, Woodgate, and the much improved Benoit Assou-Ekotto should complete the back four.

Midfield pretty much picks itself too. The impressive Palacios will again be partnered by Jermaine Jenas in the engine room, Modric and Lennon will come in in the wide positions, with Keane and Bent up front.

Darren Bent is enjoying a prolonged stay in the team at the expense of Roman Pavlyuchenko. The main reason being his pace. Pavlyuchenko is more an old fashioned centre forward and although quite intelligent, he can be very static.

Bent drifts more and looks for runs into channels where he can exploit his speed against slower defenders, and Redknapp will try to get Bent involved in as many one-on-ones with Terry and Carvalho as possible.

But the two Chelsea centre halves are the best defensive partnership to have played together since the days of Hansen and Lawrenson, and it will take more than Bent's pace to penetrate this unit.

Much has also been made of the impact that Guus Hiddink has made at Stamford Bridge since his arrival in February. One item that has been overlooked has been the return of Roberto Carvalho to the Chelsea fold.

The Portuguese is probably the best defender in the league and Chelsea's and Scolari's fates were largely dictated by his continued absence throughout the season.

Now that he is back, combined with a manager the first team squad obviously respect more, the Pensioners have put together their best run of the season.

Jose Bosingwa has recovered the form that made him such a formidable force before Christmas, and he and Ashley Cole should slot into the full back places beside Terry and Carvalho.

Michael Essien's return in the last few games has also been a huge boon to Hiddink and as the matches start coming thick and fast, he will keen to improve his match fitness so that he retains his influential role.

In recent games he has been the main driving force in the team after being out for so long, but the main reason for this has been adrenaline and it won't be long before he suffers a dip in form as his fitness levels out. This match will be an important one on the road to recovery.

Frank Lampard has been sensational this year, easily one of the league's best performers and Chelsea rely heavily on his leadership and quality.

Ballack is not the player he was even two years ago, but he is still a potent threat and his appearance, combined with the pure quality of Lampard and Essien should mean that Chelsea dominate midfield.

Out wide is where Chelsea are weakest, and Spurs through Lennon will try to expose this throughout the match. Unfortunately for Spurs, the diminutive winger will be their only wide out ball.

Luka Modric can boast many skills but dribbling and penetration are not his fortay, as a result he will come inside to take advantage of his passing ability but will then come face to face with Michael Essien...

For Spurs to win today they will need their whole team to play at their best, but especially Modric and Lennon.

A win for either team will dictate the rest of their season, a loss for Chelsea combined with United winning will mean the Cup competitions are their only hopes left.

A loss for Spurs will mean mid-table mediocrity for another season as the gap to West Ham and 7th could become too far.

A game where neither team can afford to lose...but where Spurs look most likely to.


Spurs 4/1 Draw 5/2 Chelsea 10/11

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