EPL

Pochettino says Chelsea in 'most challenging period' ahead of Spurs reunion

By Sports Desk May 01, 2024

Mauricio Pochettino says facing his former club Tottenham will always be "emotional", but his full focus is on guiding Chelsea through a testing period ahead of Thursday's London derby at Stamford Bridge.

Pochettino enjoyed a successful five-year stint with Spurs between 2014 and 2019, leading them to a Champions League final and to three straight top-three Premier League finishes.

He has found the going more difficult since taking over a Chelsea side still going through a transitional period under the Todd Boehly regime, with the big-spending Blues sitting ninth in the Premier League table. 

Chelsea did beat Tottenham 4-1 in a memorable return fixture in November, meaning Pochettino could become the first coach to complete a Premier League double over Spurs having previously managed them in the competition. 

"It will be emotional coming up against people who I worked with for a long period. I can't hide my emotion for the club," Pochettino told reporters on Wednesday.

"But across 90 minutes we want to win and Tottenham are going to come here to try and win."

Chelsea are five points adrift of the top seven with a game in hand, and Pochettino believes the club are taking the first steps on a path similar to that followed by his Spurs team.

"Tottenham was amazing because the challenge was to create a team that could compete with top sides," he added.

"Now at Chelsea, we are in the process of building an exciting project that needs time and this is maybe the most challenging period."

Tottenham are in desperate need of points if they are to reel in Aston Villa and secure a top-four finish, having suffered back-to-back defeats against Newcastle United (0-4) and Arsenal (2-3).

Despite their recent slide, Ange Postecoglou is in no doubt that his team have made big strides this term, saying: "What I see is us playing football, measuring ourselves against the best. 

"My players have got real belief in what we are doing. That's all I need to see."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chelsea – Cole Palmer

Palmer, whose tally of 20 Premier League goals this term has only been bettered by Erling Haaland (21), has scored hat-tricks in each of his last two home games, netting three goals against Manchester United and four versus Everton.

The only player to ever score three or more goals in three straight home Premier League matches is Haaland, who did so against Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and United last season.

Tottenham – Guglielmo Vicario

Vicario failed to command his area from corners as Arsenal scored twice from such situations in last week's North London derby, and it's an area in which the Italian needs to improve.

Only United (15.3) and Burnley (14.9) have allowed their opponents a higher cumulative expected goals (xG) figure from set-piece situations than Tottenham's 14.3 in the Premier League this season, though Chelsea's tally of 83 shots from dead-balls is a league-low number.

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

Chelsea have a great record against their London rivals, recording 34 Premier League wins over Spurs. Only United have beaten them more often in the competition, with 39 victories. 

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have only lost one of the last 33 league meetings between the sides, going down 3-1 in April 2018 when Pochettino was in the Tottenham dugout.

Tottenham are looking to avoid suffering three straight Premier League defeats for the second time this season, having also done so in November – a run which began with their 4-1 defeat in the reverse fixture against Chelsea. 

Postecoglou's men could think themselves unfortunate on that occasion, though, missing several good chances to get back into the game despite being reduced to nine men by red cards for Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie. 

One thing is for certain – goals should be expected. Chelsea have already conceded 59 Premier League goals this term, their most in a single campaign in the competition, while Spurs have shipped 52 and failed to keep a clean sheet in their last six matches. An entertaining draw could be on the cards. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Chelsea – 39.9%

Tottenham – 32.6%

Draw 27.5%

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