How Tottenham should approach the Blues
If we have learned anything about the new Antonio Conte-led Tottenham Hotspur, it is that the club is still not quite ready for a team that park’s the bus. The good news is that Spurs are not City and Chelsea is brave at home, so we should expect an open game.
Under Jose Mourinho, an open match of football was a scary prospect as Spurs would tire and fall late, however, this new and slightly improved version of Tottenham is built for an open contest.
While we should not expect Tottenham to dominate possession and should expect to see Spurs try to mostly hit on the counter-attack; do not expect Chelsea to have all the possession. Tottenham needs to be brave themselves, and work to control some of the game flow because this is a weakened Chelsea team Spurs are facing.
Tottenham must leverage the Chelsea losses
Well before the game, we knew at least one Blue was unlikely to be available. Edouard Mendy was called up to Senegal for the African Cup of Nations, meaning Chelsea will have to roll with Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal.
This change in keeper is the first opportunity Spurs need to leverage, looking to shoot on sight against Kepa and force the Spanish goalkeeper to prove he can make the kind of saves that Mendy has made routine over the last two seasons. Mendy’s outstanding play in the goal has been as responsible for Chelsea’s turn in form over the last two seasons as had the hiring of Tuchel. The coach will still be their Wednesday but the keeper is not, Spurs must press that advantage.
Besides being short a keeper, Chelsea is facing a lot of injury/illness absences heading into the game. As many as six Blues could miss with injury, with several being major contributors to the squad.
Ben Chilwell, Andreas Christensen, and Reece James will all be out on Wednesday, leaving the Blues with a lot less depth on the defensive end. If Trevoh Chalobah – who went off early on the weekend – is also not available, that leaves the Blues really thin on defence if another injury were to occur.
This is especially true of the wing-backs, where Spurs need to work Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta hard.
Offensively, other than the Romelo Lukaku drama, Chelsea is mostly fit, although both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timo Werner could miss the match. However, with Mount, Havertz, Ziyech, Pulisic, and Lukaku all definitely available, we should expect plenty of firepower from the Blues.
Regardless, Tottenham is the more complete and healthier team at the moment and Spurs need to leverage that advantage, as it is not likely to hold.
A clean sheet is Tottenham’s goal Wednesday
Spurs want to win, Conte said so himself, noting that teams in England cannot rely on the second leg at home to advance. That is well and good and Tottenham wants to win today, however, the biggest goal should be a clean sheet.
Since Conte has taken over Tottenham, Spurs have played 10 matches in all competitions and have kept a clean sheet in five of those 10 games. The change in manager has made Tottenham a more difficult team to break down as the organization and balance are much better within the squad.
Just as important, Tottenham has four wins and one draw in those five shutouts. We know if you do not concede you cannot lose but what Spurs are now learning is how to win in this way as well, as evidenced against Watford, which was not your matchday 3 win but something more convincing, despite the scoreline.
If Tottenham can keep a clean sheet on Wednesday, regardless of anything else, Spurs have the advantage heading into the home leg. Ideally, that clean sheet is accompanied by a couple of goals, taking advantage of a short Blue’s defence in the process.
What Tottenham will find is that Chelsea is beatable and Spurs can do it but it will not be easy, even against a depleted team, which makes Wednesday so darn important.