Tottenham v Chelsea preview: Didier's top Drog for lethal Blues

THIS should have been the dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final, and Tottenham s meeting with Chelsea on Saturday will give Spurs fans a painfully quick reminder of what might have been...


Tottenham v Chelsea, Saturday 5.30pm

THIS should have been the dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final, and Tottenham's meeting with Chelsea on Saturday will give Spurs fans a painfully quick reminder of what might have been.

However, to use the irritatingly well-worn football clich�, this weekend's game is every bit as important as a cup final, if not more so - no domestic trophy provides entry into the Champions League.

Spurs may have missed their chance to share the spotlight with Carlo Ancelotti's Blues at Wembley on May 15, but the eyes of the world will still be fixed on the clash between Tottenham and Chelsea this Saturday evening, which kicks off five hours after the equally important Manchester derby at Eastlands.

It is the first of two pivotal weekends in both the title race and the fight for the top four - next Saturday Spurs travel to Old Trafford, while City face Arsenal at the Emirates.

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Spurs will start proceedings in City's wake, but things can change quickly. In fact, if the Lilywhites need further encouragement they should talk to Chelsea, who are on course for their first ever Double but whose season was supposedly over just three and a half weeks ago.

Champions League elimination against Joe Mourinho's Inter Milan on March 16 was followed by a 1-1 draw away at Blackburn. The Blues were too old. Ancelotti had to go.

Since then, Chelsea won have their five games in league and FA Cup - against Portsmouth, Aston Villa (twice), Man United and Bolton - with an aggregate score of 18-2.

On second thoughts, maybe Chelsea's resurgence isn't very encouraging for Spurs at all.

Ancelotti's league leaders have hit top form at the perfect time and, with home games against Wigan and Stoke in their final four fixtures, it looks like Tottenham and Liverpool are the only teams standing between them and a third championship crown in six years.

Talisman Didier Drogba has netted seven goals in his last seven games and, while Wayne Rooney has stolen the headlines this season, the Ivorian's strike rate is virtually identical.

Rooney has scored 34 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions. Drogba has 32 in 39, including one against Spurs in the 3-0 rout at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

That easily eclipses Tottenham's own marksman, Jermain Defoe, who is enjoying his best ever season with, by comparison, a relatively paltry 23.

Chelsea are the leading scorers in the top flight, netting 85 goals in their 34 league fixtures to date.

Frank Lampard has passed the 20-goal mark for the fifth season in a row, and his four-goal haul in the recent 7-1 win over Villa brought up his 150th Chelsea goal, making him the club's third-highest all-time scorer.

Meanwhile, Florent Malouda is enjoying his best season in west London, netting 14 goals, including five in his last five games from the left flank.

Having initially made a less than convincing return from injury, Joe Cole is making a late bid for a World Cup slot. And this is all forgetting about Nicolas Anelka, who scored the winner against Bolton on Tuesday.

Ham&High Sport verdict: Tottenham may have won this fixture last season, but a repeat performance will be exceedingly difficult.

Much will depend on what side Harry Redknapp is able to field, and Spurs' chances would certainly be improved if Aaron Lennon is fit to face Chelsea's stand-in left-back Yuri Zhirkov, who is deputising for the injured Ashley Cole.

However, Chelsea are banging in the goals from all areas and, even if Spurs can keep a handle on Drogba, they then have to shackle Lampard, Malouda and Cole - without Wilson Palacios, who was bought for exactly such a task.

Injury-hit Tottenham have plenty to worry about before they even think about troubling the league's second-best defence, which has kept clean sheets in its last two games.

Prediction: Spurs 0 Chelsea 2