Chelsea travel to Tottenham on Wednesday looking to equal Arsenal’s record of 14 wins in a row in the Premier League.
Standing in their way are a Spurs side with title aspirations of their own, although Mauricio Pochettino’s men start the match 10 points off the top.
ESPN FC’s club correspondents Liam Twomey (Chelsea) and Dan Kilpatrick (Tottenham) preview the match.
Can anyone stop Chelsea?
LT: No team is unbeatable, and Chelsea can’t win forever. There have already been several anxious moments during this 13-match winning streak: Manchester City might have put them away, had Kevin De Bruyne not hit the crossbar from point-blank range; while West Brom and Sunderland both came close to snatching draws. Tottenham themselves asked serious questions of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Premier League leaders are far from invincible.
DK: Yes. Chelsea remind me a little of Leicester last season. They’re playing in a really effective and, in many respects, new way that teams haven’t worked out yet. Eventually, the top sides will get to grips with their system and the wonderful way they’re attacking, but by then, it may be too late. They’re not unbeatable, of course, and given form, recent history and the animosity that runs from boardroom to terraces at both clubs, there’s no one better placed to do it than Spurs.
Where can Conte’s men be exploited?
LT: Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have been two of Antonio Conte’s greatest success stories since September, but only City have managed to pin them back for long spells. Moses is still learning the defensive side of the game, and Alonso is particularly vulnerable, if he can be isolated against a skilled attacker. If Tottenham can find a way to do that, they should get joy.
DK: There are match winners on both teams — Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Pedro — but I think this will be a game won by tactics, rather than individual brilliance. If Spurs press Chelsea’s back three, particularly Gary Cahill, from the off — as they did in the 2-0 win against Manchester City in October — and get their wide players into attacking positions, Chelsea might start to creak for the first time in a long time.
What lessons can be taken from Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Spurs earlier in the season?
LT: Tottenham’s high pressing seriously disrupted Chelsea for the opening half-hour at Stamford Bridge, denying any opportunity to get their wing-backs and forwards into the game. If the same approach works again, Conte may have to drop Hazard deeper to create another passing option, or even start the match in a 3-5-2 formation rather than 3-4-3.
DK: It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from that match, partly because Spurs were without Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld, who are their two most important defenders. Spurs will take confidence from it, though. They played well and matched Chelsea. And Mauricio Pochettino has said he sees it as a turning point in their season, despite the result.
How important is this one in the context of the season?
LT: Conte genuinely doesn’t care about the Premier League win record, and Liverpool’s slipup against Sunderland has ensured that even leaving White Hart Lane with a point would be a very positive result for Chelsea. That said, extending the gap at the top of the table to eight points would be huge, particularly with key matches against Liverpool and Arsenal — the teams that handed Conte his only two defeats in the Premier League to date — approaching.
DK: It is more important in the context of Spurs’ season. The win over City was good, but Spurs have failed in their two big tests since, losing to Chelsea and Manchester United. For all their strides forward, there is still a case that Spurs have never won a really high-pressure match under Pochettino and, if they want to be genuine title challengers, they need to change that on Wednesday — or at the very least avoid defeat. There is also growing pressure from United and a great opportunity to make the most of Arsenal dropping points.
LT: The outcome could hinge on which team succeeds in making their opponents’ wide players defend more. That means winning possession in the middle of the pitch and getting on the front foot will be crucial. N’Golo Kante and Victor Wanyama are two of the best in the business at this, and whomever does his job better on the day could provide the key to victory.
DK: Pedro said recently that Rose was the toughest and most surprising opponent he has faced, so that seems like a good place to start. United found a way to stifle Spurs by keeping Kyle Walker and Rose — the best full-back pair in the Premier League — occupied in defensive positions, and if Pedro and Hazard do that for Chelsea, Spurs will look narrow and plodding. Conversely, if the Chelsea pair find themselves tracking runs in their own half, it’s advantage Tottenham.
LT: 1-1. Roared on by a fired up White Hart Lane, I’m expecting Tottenham’s pressing to be even more fierce and sustained than at Stamford Bridge in November, ensuring that this is Chelsea’s toughest match since battling City. I suspect Premier League history will be denied them, but a score draw will ensure that Conte’s march toward the title goes on.
DK: 1-0. Chelsea are formidable, but Spurs will win, and I’m backing Mousa Dembele to be the key man. When he is at the top of his game, Spurs usually purr.