This coming weekend will see one master take on his former apprentice as Spurs travel to face Chelsea in a top-of-the-table clash.
Spurs are second in the Premier League table but a win on Sunday would take them top again and two points clear of Liverpool. But just two points and place behind them are their next opponents, Chelsea. These are two of the three highest-scoring sides in the division (Chelsea have 22 goals, just more than Spurs’ and Liverpool’s 21 going into gameweek 10).
This showdown between Frank Lampard and José Mourinho is eagerly anticipated by fans and media alike, but what do we think will happen? Here are five predictions.
1. Predicted Chelsea XI: Lampard will line up like…
Kai Havertz made a cameo against Rennes in midweek after recovering from coronavirus, but perhaps more likely is that Lampard keeps things steady and trusts Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic to do a job yet again. Hakim Ziyech and Reece James should both come back into the team to try and help break down what will be a stubborn and solid Spurs defence while N’Golo Kanté returns to guard against the break as best he can.
2. Predicted Spurs XI: Alderweireld replaced by…
With the team playing as well as they are right now it’s unlikely that Mourinho will make any tactical changes to the side which so impressively shut down and saw off Manchester City last week. So all he has to do is figure out who replaces Toby Alderweireld.
Joe Rodon, 23, stepped in last weekend when Alderweireld injured his adductor muscle late on against City.
The alternative candidates, Japhet Tanganga and Davinson Sanchez, both played the full 90 minutes against Ludogorets on Thursday, but Rodon was ineligible to play as the £15m summer signing was not included in Spurs’ Europa League squad.
3. Werner will be blunted
When asked if RB Leipzig missed Timo Werner in last season’s rescheduled Champions League, their coach Julian Nagelsmann said: “Atletico wouldn’t have been the best opponents for Timo Werner because there is not a lot of space behind the defensive line.” This was following Leipzig’s quarter-final win against the Spaniards, and was a nice laugh for everyone.
But there was truth in what he said. Werner plays best when he’s running at the defence, which against a low defensive block players generally find hard to do. Frank Lampard and Jody Morris have already realised this and have thus brought Tammy Abraham into the starting XI as the reference point in attack with Werner playing off the left, starting deeper and thus having room to run.
However even that won’t be enough, because Mourinho is the king of setting up for a rearguard. Of packing his defence deep and blocking off opponents. What has usually undone him is that, with no attacking threat, his sides end up inviting too much pressure and the defence eventually cracks. But with Kane and Son as the release valve, that’s no longer the case.
So Mourinho can sit Spurs deep in two banks of four, and the titan Timo Werner will find no space behind in which to run.
4. Hojbjerg will be the difference
Kane and Son have struggled to hurt Chelsea in the same way they have done other sides lately. In all 13 games against the Blues, Harry Kane has scored six times. But only four of those have been in the league and the most recent of those was two years ago. Son, meanwhile, also hasn’t scored against Chelsea since that 3-1 victory in 2018. In fact, since then Spurs have lost all three league meetings between the sides.
But now they have a weapon to properly fight back against one of Chelsea’s key zones: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The thing with Kane and Son is that as forwards they can be isolated. You simply cut off their supply and hey presto, they’re neutered. And Spurs’ midfield was always a kaleidoscopic mess of skill-sets and ideas.
Not now, though. Mourinho’s blueprint for midfield is crystal clear, and what Hojbjerg does is transmit that order and shape to the Spurs midfield.
“I think one of the major things in the Spurs team, from what I have seen so far, are the people in the middle of the park. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a f*cking bully, a rock in front of the defence,” former Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov wrote in his column this week.
For all the stability he brings playing at the base, Hojbjerg also has a great level of control over the way Spurs attack. This means that cutting off the supply to Kane and Son is no longer so simple, because Kane is dropping deep to play in between the lines next to Tanguy Ndombele, which makes him (or the Frenchman) hard to pick up. The pipeline from the similarly elusive Dane through to Kane and Nombele then on to runners (usually Son) is going to be what does Chelsea in.
Kanté is the best tackling midfielder in the world, but even he can’t be in three places at once. He would have had his hands full trying to cover Ndombele and Kane but could probably just about manage it; throw Hojbjerg into the mix and unless he clones himself, someone is going to be left free and which player that is will have the technique and the talent to unbalance Chelsea’s rickety defence.
5. Mourinho will finally beat Lampard (inside 90 minutes)
Four times José Mourinho has faced his former player Frank Lampard, and three times he has been defeated. Once when Lampard’s Derby beat Mourinho’s Manchester United in the League Cup, which he followed a season later when Chelsea beat Spurs twice in the top flight. And so, according to Opta, Lampard could become the first manager to ever beat Mourinho in three consecutive Premier League games.
The sole victory over his former Chelsea player came earlier this season but it was in the League Cup and decided by a penalty shoot-out, so not technically a win within 90 minutes.
There’s just something about the way in which Chelsea play that has confounded Mourinho. But no longer. Now Mourinho has his Spurs side purring. They all know their roles and with everyone fit, they are primed to take Chelsea down. The Blues are a nice attacking outfit but will require some true creative genius from Hakim Ziyech to break down the white wall Mourinho will erect in front of them.
Now, Ziyech is capable of that genius, so don’t rule out a goal from Chelsea especially from a set-piece (Spurs have kept just one clean sheet in their last 17 games against the Blues, after all), but Mourinho’s other weapon is the counter-attack. Chelsea have a good defensive record but they also give opponents a lot of room to break on them (provided they get by Kanté, anyway).
Most of their opponents thus far haven’t been of sufficient quality to punish them (or in the case of Manchester United and Sevilla, were not willing to open up too much and so settled for 0-0 draws), but that’s not the case with Spurs, the only team to win all of their away games so far in the Premier League this season (4). Mourinho’s men are locked and loaded and ready to fire the Blues back down to earth.