The Blues and Spurs will battle together on Saturday, but know it will be a fiery London derby with both clubs beating each other this season
FOR both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow’s FA Cup semi-final could have repercussions that extend far beyond what happens at Wembley.
Whoever comes out victorious will not only have secured their place in a prestigious final but will have also struck a psychological blow in the Premier League title race.
A win for Spurs, who are the country’s form side, will pile further pressure on Chelsea. The Blues’ lead in the top flight has been cut to four points and they’re wobbling.
Victory for Antonio Conte’s men, however, would stop Spurs’ momentum and provide a timely confidence boost.
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It’s a game too close to call but our friends at Football Whispers have identified the five key areas in which the tie will be won.
Spurs’ mental block
Perhaps the biggest issue facing Tottenham is their failure to perform at Wembley. The club opted to play their European games at the home of English football this season instead of White Hart Lane.
It was a decision that backfired and ultimately cost Mauricio Pochettino’s side a place in the Champions League knockout stage.
The players never looked comfortable at the stadium despite playing in front of a home crowd that exceeded 80,000.
They were beaten by Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco and while they did manage to overcome CSKA Moscow, it proved too little too late.
Spurs fared no better after dropping into the Europa League. They crashed out of the competition in the round of 32, losing 3-2 on aggregate to Belgian side Gent following an underwhelming 2-2 at Wembley.
Tottenham can’t afford another poor performance at Wembley. Yes, the pitch is bigger than that at White Hart Lane, making it harder to implement the high press Pochettino demands from his side, and there’s truly no place like home.
But Spurs have an elite group of youthful players, a few extra yards on each side of the pitch shouldn’t affect them as dramatically as it appears to.
Pochettino and his players must find a way to break this hoodoo, and they must do it tomorrow – especially as it looks likely Wembley will be the place Spurs call home for the entirety of next season.
Kante vs Dembele
Two of the Premier League’s best all-round midfielders will go head-to-head at Wembley – and whoever comes out on top in their battle will give their respective side a huge chance of winning the contest.
Both will be charged with breaking down and starting attacks but given how irrepressible Spurs have been going forward in recent weeks, it may be N’Golo Kante who has the bigger job on his hands.
The French international will have to try to stop the supply lines into Tottenham’s attacking quartet, who are all interchanging across the pitch. It certainly won’t be an easy job.
Mousa Dembele’s role is likely to be different to Kante’s in that he will be more of an orchestrator than destroyer.
The Belgian completed an astonishing 64 out of 65 passes against Bournemouth last weekend and will be charged with picking the ball off Tottenham’s defenders and feeding the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen.
If Chelsea give Dembele time and space to influence the game, then Spurs will be one step closer to the final.
A motivated Hazard
Chelsea’s star man has had almost a week of hearing how effective Ander Herrera was at shutting down his talents during Manchester United’s win over the Blues last weekend.
So Hazard will feel he has a point to prove at Wembley and it is unlikely Pochettino sacrifices a player to perform a similar man-marking job on the Belgian.
The 26-year-old has, unsurprisingly, been Chelsea’s most creative player this term. He is averaging 4.2 dribbles per game and 2.2 key passes a match, stats no other Blues player comes close to.
And with Kyle Walker, likely to be deployed as Tottenham’s right-back, regularly getting forward, Hazard may be afford more space at Wembley than he has become used to at Stamford Bridge this season. For Chelsea’s sake, he must utilise it wisely.
Restricting Dele Alli
The 21-year-old has been in sparkling form in recent weeks, either scoring or assisting in each of Tottenham’s last nine games in all competitions.
Playing in an attacking midfield role, Alli has licence to roam across the pitch under Pochettino. It’s that freedom which makes it difficult for centre-backs or defensive midfielders to keep track of his runs without being pulled out of position.
Chelsea know first hand how difficult it can be to keep Alli contained. At White Hart Lane at the start of the year the former MK Dons starlet scored two identical goals in a 2-0 win for Spurs.
Both were headers and both came from Alli exploiting space between wing-back Victor Moses and the right sided Blues centre-back, Cesar Azpilicueta.
Conte is a smart man and you expect Chelsea’s players will learn from their past mistakes. But Alli is an intelligent player, capable of finding space elsewhere on the field if one avenue is blocked.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Nemanja Matic starts the game and sits deep for the majority of the contest with his main purpose being to keep Alli quiet.
Reigniting Diego Costa
During the opening half of the Premier League season there were few better strikers in the world than Diego Costa.
He was scoring regularly, leading the Chelsea attack stoically and, most importantly, was no longer getting into arguments and scraps with opposition players throughout matches.
Yet the Spain international’s form has collapsed since the turn of the year. He has scored just four goals for the Blues and they’ve come against Hull City, Swansea City, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
With Conte seemingly not trusting backup striker Michy Batshuayi, Costa has continued to start every game for the Blues but, as demonstrated against Manchester United last weekend, he is doing little to justify his selection.
Costa managed just one shot against Jose Mourinho’s side, which was off target, and completed just 23 passes in 90 minutes. Rather than working hard for his team-mates, the 28-year-old spent much of the game in running battle with Marcos Rojo.
Conte and Chelsea can’t afford that Costa to turn up at Wembley. They need the focused striker from the opening months of the season, especially as he will be coming up against arguably the finest centre-back pairing in England in Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.