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By Ben Grounds
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Opposition file: Ben Grounds casts his eye over Chelsea as Tottenham prepare to visit the league leaders at Stamford Bridge this afternoon.
Jose Mourinho was recently caught off camera complaining that his team “don’t have any scorer” – an unguarded reference to Chelsea’s lack of top-class strikers. With that in mind, the Blues appear to be doing rather well.
Top of the league by four points, last Saturday’s 3-1 victory at neighbouring Fulham saw Andre Schurrle score the Blues’ third hat-trick in seven weeks, after a Samuel Eto’o treble against Manchester United and Eden Hazard’s one-man show against Newcastle.
Mourinho was far from impressed by his side’s insipid first-half performance at Craven Cottage last weekend and, after 45 goalless minutes, the Portuguese opted to give his players the silent treatment during the interval.
His approach had the desired effect and Schurrle struck three times in 16 minutes before Johnny Heitinga grabbed a consolation goal for the hosts.
That stain on the defensive record will no doubt have irked Mourinho, but he will be pleased that his rearguard have only conceded five goals in their past 13 league games.
The 12 clean sheets that Petr Cech has earned in the top flight is only matched by Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris and Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal.
ONES TO WATCH…
Oscar’s form has dipped since Juan Mata departed to United in January, but Mourinho still has a wealth of attacking options including Schurrle and the mesmerising Eden Hazard, who has contributed 12 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League this season.
Willian, who came so close to joining Spurs in the summer, has also found his feet in England, while the Blues swooped to sign FC Basel’s Mohamed Salah in the winter transfer window.
The pacy Egyptian helped to beat Spurs in the Europa League quarter-finals last season, impressing in the first leg at the Lane before scoring in the return game in Switzerland – and he also caught Chelsea’s eye when he faced them in the semi-finals, finding the net at Stamford Bridge.
The ongoing battle between Fernando Torres and Eto’o adds another element of uncertainty as Tim Sherwood and his coaches try to predict Chelsea’s line-up – and the Blues’ defenders also have a habit of chipping in with goals.
John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic have both notched three in the league, and Gary Cahill is also off the mark for the season. The trio will be a threat from set pieces today.
There has been little to separate these sides in recent games, with four of the last five Premier League encounters being tied.
Last May, Ramires gave the Blues the lead at the Bridge before Emmanuel Adebayor equalised with a stunning solo effort. Oscar put the hosts ahead again but Gylfi Sigurdsson levelled in the 80th minute in a 2-2 draw.
Sigurdsson was on target again when the sides met at the Lane in September, but John Terry cancelled out his goal with a second-half header before Torres was sent off as Andre Villas-Boas’ reunion with his former mentor Mourinho ended all square.
Tottenham fans probably don’t need reminding that their side are without a win at the Bridge since February 1990, when Gary Lineker’s late header clinched a 2-1 win.
Sherwood will be desperate for his side to make a solid start to March’s fixtures as they also gear up for clashes with Arsenal and Liverpool. With many of the teams above still to face each other, a draw would maintain much-needed momentum. We’ll say 1-1.