Tottenham versus Chelsea just got bigger.
Saturday’s early kick-off will see André Villas-Boas take on his former club live on television, adding another dimension to this already explosive rivalry.
This is the fixture that has produced classic contests such as the 2008 Carling Cup final, from which the White Hart Lane outfit emerged victorious, not to mention the eight goal thriller a few days later.
From the moment Roberto di Matteo’s charges sent shockwaves around the globe by somehow contriving to win the Champions League in May, this game was always going to be loaded. Lest we forget, it was the Blues’ improbable defeat of Bayern Munich that deprived fourth-placed Tottenham of a place in this season’s competition.
Who could have known that Harry Redknapp’s subsequent dismissal would lead to the appointment of the very man who di Matteo had replaced, would sprinkle the teams’ next meeting with a liberal helping of personal resentment? Villas-Boas has since spoken of Roman Abramovich’s “betrayal” and now finds himself with the ideal opportunity for revenge. Not that he would ever admit it, of course.
Before the Portuguese gets carried away though, he would do well to remember that the new ‘new’ Chelsea are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League with a near perfect record.
Having hankered after the Champions League trophy for so many years and sacrificed so many proven managers in pursuit of the dream, Abramovich has thrown himself (or more precisely his money) into the gargantuan challenge of keeping hold of it. Indeed, the oligarch’s millions are the reason Spurs can no longer consider themselves favourites ahead of a game that, last season, they might have been expected to win.
That said, few could deny that if anybody is going to halt the Chelsea charge, it is Tottenham. Eden Hazard or no Eden Hazard, the pace setting visitors will be mindful of their hosts’ recent run of four straight wins, which included their remarkable 3-2 triumph at Old Trafford. They will also be wary of Gareth Bale, Spurs’ very own whirling Dervish, who rescued victory from the jaws of defeat for Wales against Scotland last Friday. To put things into perspective, this is arguably the greatest test yet of Chelsea’s new found championship pretensions.
This weekend, Chelsea’s immovable object (conceding a miserly four goals in seven matches) meets Spurs’ unstoppable force (conquering Manchester United in their own back yard). Such encounters are won and lost in the heads of those involved. And for a resurgent Chelsea, facing André Villas-Boas will be an untimely reminder of a dark chapter in their history.