Pochettino’s resurgent Tottenham Hotspur side aim to banish Lineker curse with rare derby win at Chelsea
When Chelsea host Tottenham Hotspur, thoughts tend to turn to a striker.
Yet the one cited annually is not the prolific Diego Costa, who on Wednesday serves his first suspension since joining the Premier League leaders.
Nor is it another with a fine scoring record in Spain, the usually impotent Spur Roberto Soldado, who ended an eight-month wait for a league goal on Sunday.
Gary Lineker is the man mentioned, and he will continue to be every year until he loses his distinction as the last Tottenham player to score a winner at Stamford Bridge.
We are approaching a quarter of a century since his decider in February 1990, and 27 subsequent trips from north London to west have proved less productive for Tottenham.
Few waits last longer and few derby results are weighted so far towards one side.
A few days ago, the script was set for another predictable Chelsea win.
Then Tottenham produced probably their best performance of the season to beat Everton 2-1 and gave the clearest indication that the players are capable of implementing Mauricio Pochettino’s preferred style of play.
Meanwhile, Chelsea were stopped from scoring for the first time this season by Sunderland, while Costa was cautioned for catching Wes Brown with a flailing arm, ruling him out on Wednesday.
Gus Poyet, who graced the midfields of both capital clubs, produced a strategy for stopping Chelsea as his Sunderland side played out a goalless draw.
“Now every team is going to try to defend like that against us,” Nemanja Matic said afterwards. “We know that and we’re ready for that.”
Yet while it may be pertinent that Jose Mourinho coined the phrase “parking the bus” to describe Spurs’ tactics when Jacques Santini’s team bored their way to a stalemate at Stamford Bridge in September 2004, this is a different Tottenham.
Pochettino’s pressing game involves committing players high up the pitch, not defending deep in the most unadventurous fashion imaginable.
He found the players capable of implementing his high-energy approach within, as central midfielders Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb came through the ranks at White Hart Lane, while home-grown favourite Harry Kane covered the most ground and had the most impact against Everton.
Chelsea can expect to be hassled and harried, yet they should be able to cope. “I’m not scared,” Matic said.
There are few more driven teams than Mourinho’s, and if a competitive derby ought to have suited their missing top scorer, there was a certain inevitability about the combative Costa picking up a ban at some stage.
“They are missing their main man up front,” Kane said, but this season suggests that, if the Chelsea alternatives are less feared, they can compensate.
“We trust [Loic] Remy and [Didier] Drogba the same way we trust Diego,” Mourinho said. “It’s our way of work: forget Diego, we trust the other two.”
Indeed, Chelsea have already won one all-London affair, at Crystal Palace in October, with Remy in attack, when Costa was injured.
They drew at Old Trafford, with Drogba scoring, when both the Frenchman and the Spaniard were sidelined.
It is only eight days since they went away to Schalke in the Uefa Champions League and scored five goals, too, so a frustrating afternoon at the Stadium of Light should be put into context.
To quote Kane, they have a “main man” in other departments, and they also have a record of remarkable consistency.
Mourinho has never lost to Tottenham with Chelsea or Real Madrid and has only ever tasted defeat in one Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.
If it scarcely proves his team will be “invincibles”, it suggests their unbeaten start ought to last for at least 90 minutes longer.
Spurs offer the unpredictable element in the equation because they are the side whose form has fluctuated, whose team selection has changed by the game, and whose manager had appeared unsure of his best 11.
They are the team whose most expensive striker, Soldado, went 593 minutes without a goal before scoring against Everton.
It shows that the unlikely can happen – occasionally.
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Published: December 2, 2014 04:00 AM