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Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
Contenders or pretenders?
Both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are in search of three vital points to stay within stalking distance of reigning champions and frontrunners Manchester City when the top-four clubs face off Saturday in a London derby at Wembley Stadium.
Chelsea (8-4-0) are third in the table, four points back of City and one of three unbeatens in the league along with the Citizens and Liverpool. While Maurizio Sarri has made a successful transition to the Premier League from Napoli and the Blues will progress to the knockout rounds of the Europa League, there is a sense there is not much space between where his side are and their ceiling.
The Pensioners are 1-2-0 thus far against the other members of the Big Six, and their showdown at home versus Manchester City looms on Dec. 8. Chelsea beat a similarly transitioning Arsenal squad in Match Day 2 and have been held to draws versus Liverpool and Manchester United, conceding goals in the 89th and 93rd minutes, respectively.
While Chelsea are always among the league leaders with players who toil for their respective countries during the international break, few have drawn as much speculation in the recent recesses than striker Olivier Giroud.
The France international, who has just one goal this season and yet to break his duck in league play, once more tried to put an end to the talk he is unhappy at Chelsea as Sarri has played the hot hand between Giroud and Alvaro Morata - the only two true strikers on the club.
"I feel like I'm going back a few months with these questions, so I asked the same questions before the World Cup," Giroud told Telefoot after converting a penalty in Les Bleus' 1-0 win over Uruguay in a friendly. "I'm at peace, happy with this title of world champion, and that's the best thing I could do in my career, I'm putting a lot of things in perspective.
"I do not need to put a lot of pressure on me to have more play time. I'm not going to let go, I'm going to continue working to make my way in. Today there's no question of moving, of changing anything, I'm going to hang on, do not count on me for give up."
While Morata may be Sarri's first-choice striker, the Italian may be forced into a change in the midfield as Mateo Kovacic was held out of both of Croatia's matches due to a knock. If he is unable to go, Ross Barkley would take his spot in the starting XI to the left of Jorginho in Chelsea's 4-3-3 set-up.
Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) may finally be ready to kick on after an early season of uneven play, especially in the Champions League. In fact, their lack of success in the continental tournament - the Lilywhites still have heavy lifting to reach the knockout round - has brought a sharper focus in grinding out league results.
The Spurs have six wins in their last seven top-flight matches, the lone reverse a 1-0 defeat at home to City. Last season, their inspired Champions League play in which they finished atop a group with eventual three-times champion Real Madrid led to a lull that contributed to City easing to the Premier League title.
"We are up there. Maybe we haven't played the best football we have showed for the last few years. But we have still got the points. Sometimes that is necessary," winger Christian Eriksen told The Mirror. "That is how it goes and at some point if it clicks and we get the points, then we will be different.
"We will go for it and we will see where we end up. We will do our best and then, if we are lucky or not lucky , we will see."
The big issue for Mauricio Pochettino heading into this match is depth on the back line. Left back Danny Rose and centre back Jan Vertonghen remain long-term injury absentees, and right back Kieran Trippier is unlikely to play after suffering an injury in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace prior to the international break.
Centre back Davinson Sanchez is expected to be available having recovered from a hamstring injury, though, to partner with Toby Alderweireld. Serge Aurier would get the call should Trippier not be able to play.
This match kicks off an intense eight-day stretch for Tottenham, who have a must-win Champions League encounter at home versus Inter Milan midweek before a north London derby at Arsenal on Dec. 2.
The road team won both matches last term, with Dele Alli helping Spurs end their 28-year run of misery at Stamford Bridge with a brace four minutes apart in the second half of a 3-1 victory. Chelsea recorded a 2-1 win at Wembley as left back Marcos Alonso completed his brace on 88 minutes, making sure an own goal by Michy Batshuayi would not result in a draw.
Chelsea have an impressive 30-19-6 record versus their London rivals in the Premier League era and have taken points in 16 of the last 19 meetings in all competitions (9-7-3).
Updated November 22, 2018