London: Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino believes Saturday’s trip to in-form Premier League leaders Chelsea represents an ideal opportunity for his side to reinvigorate their season.
Tottenham have won just one of their last nine fixtures in all competitions and go into the game on the back of a Champions League exit at Monaco’s hands in mid-week.
Chelsea have stormed to the league summit after six straight wins and have not lost at home to Spurs in 26 years — a run of 29 games — but Pochettino is challenging his players to rise to the occasion.
“It’s a good challenge for us,” the Argentine told reporters during Thursday’s pre-game press conference.
“They (Chelsea) are in very good form. They have a great manager that I know very well and they have great players too.
“It’s an advantage, not being involved in European competition or the cups now. They have time to train and develop their philosophy.
“They are — not only in England, but in Europe — the team most in form today.”
Given Spurs’ record at Stamford Bridge, where they last won in February 1990, they have learnt not to relish trips to west London and their last visit, on May 2, proved even more painful than usual.
Seeking a win that would have kept their Premier League title bid alive, Spurs went 2-0 up, only for Chelsea to hit back and force a 2-2 draw that sent the league crown to Leicester City.
A tempestuous London derby, dubbed ‘The Battle of Stamford Bridge’, saw nine Spurs’ players booked, while Mousa Dembele received a retrospective six-game ban for an eye gouge on Diego Costa.
Some of Spurs’ players wept in the changing room and sympathy was not in short supply for a young team whose dashing football had captured the imagination over the preceding months.
There have been glimpses of last season’s Spurs since the start of the current campaign, most strikingly in their stunning 2-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City last October.
Spurs short in defence
But since then their momentum has deserted them, with last weekend’s gritty 3-2 comeback win over West Ham United, secured by Harry Kane’s late brace, the only subsequent victory they have recorded.
Back in May, Chelsea were drifting towards the end of a season in which their title defence had disintegrated and their manager, Jose Mourinho, had been pitched overboard before Christmas.
Six months on, they are a team transformed, having won six games without conceding a goal since Antonio Conte’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation during Chelsea’s 3-0 loss at Arsenal in late September.
So comfortable has goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois been, in fact, that he felt obliged to do some half-time exercises during last weekend’s 1-0 win at Middlesbrough just to keep the blood pumping.
“Like against Everton (who Chelsea beat 5-0), I had nothing to do, but you have to keep your mind focused until the referee blows his whistle,” Courtois told the Chelsea website.
“At half-time I did some extra warming up with (goalkeeping coach) Gianluca Spinelli because it was a cold day and I wanted to get the feeling of the ball. Obviously that helps if you have to make a save.”
Conte has named the same team for the last five games and is not expected to change tack against Tottenham.
But French centre-back Kurt Zouma is edging closer to a first-team return after 10 months out with a knee injury, having played for Chelsea’s development squad against Southampton on Monday.
Spurs have issues at left-back in the absences of the suspended Danny Rose and the injured Ben Davies (ankle).
Jan Vertonghen is expected to shuffle across from centre-back, which would mean Kevin Wimmer continuing in central defence.
Centre-back Toby Alderweireld (knee) and winger Erik Lamela (hip) remain sidelined.