Big Match Focus: Chelsea prepares for Tottenham clash

Chelsea and Tottenham are both in urgent need of good news leading into a potentially combustible Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge.

Kepa Arrizabalaga reacts during the Carabao Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester City.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur will be desperate to put tumultuous times behind them when they meet in a Premier League match brimming with subplots on Wednesday.

For all its success in pushing Manchester City to penalties in the EFL Cup final, a Chelsea side plagued by poor form were left with nothing but despair on the pitch and a possible squad fracture off it.

Kepa Arrizabalaga's refusal to be substituted late in extra time of the eventual shoot-out loss enraged Maurizio Sarri, who later deemed the fiasco a regrettable misunderstanding.

READ: Pochettino charged by FA after Mike Dean row

The issue adds another layer of intrigue to an already fascinating Stamford Bridge showdown that comes just four days after Tottenham's shock defeat at Burnley.

Mauricio Pochettino's confrontation of Mike Dean after full-time at Turf Moor earned him an improper conduct charge from the Football Association, his team having taken another hit in their title aspirations.

A combustible 90 minutes awaits at Stamford Bridge.

Kepa conundrum as Sarri Seeks to cling on

Widespread calls for Kepa to be dropped in the wake of his insubordination at Wembley mean Sarri has an uncomfortable decision to make.

Weighing up whether to discipline the world's most expensive goalkeeper is not an enviable position to occupy ahead of another match that looms as pivotal in the head coach's bid to stay in the job.

Maurizio Sarri (L) reacts after Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga remains on the pitch, after an attempt to substitute him with Willy Caballero (R) during the English League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP   -  AFP

 

The Italian entered the weekend under heavy pressure and now has to confront the prospect of becoming the first Chelsea boss to lose each of their first two Premier League matches against close rivals Spurs.

Whether or not the ugly scenes surrounding Kepa were indeed a misunderstanding, all eyes will be glued to the hosts' team sheet in midweek.

Form Guide

Chelsea's improved 120-minute performance against City ultimately came to nothing as they eventually fell to a fourth loss in seven competitive matches.

They were beaten 3-1 when visiting Tottenham at Wembley on November 24, precipitating a loss of the momentum that was so prevalent throughout the successful early months of Sarri's tenure.

The Premier League has been particularly unkind in recent weeks with the 5-0 thrashing of Huddersfield Town the lone highlight in a four-match run featuring 2-0, 4-0 and 6-0 defeats to Arsenal, Bournemouth and champions City respectively.

READ | Kepa wanted to be EFL Cup final hero, says Ben Foster

Tottenham, meanwhile, must rebound from Saturday's slip-up at Burnley, after which the fit-again Harry Kane insisted they were still "in the hunt" for the title.

Mauricio Pochettino confronts Mike Dean after the Burnley-Tottenham game. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Spurs had won four straight in all competitions prior to the 2-1 loss at Turf Moor and, regardless of whether they can reel in the top two, will want to recapture winning form ahead of the north London derby.

Head-to-Head (Gonzalo Higuain v Harry Kane)

Star man Kane marked his long-awaited return from an ankle injury with a well-taken goal against the Clarets.

The strike did not keep Spurs from succumbing to a costly defeat but it did boost the England captain's tally to 15 goals in 23 league appearances this season.

It is a record of which Sarri must be enormously envious. The struggle to find a reliable centre-forward prompted him to call in his old Napoli acquaintance Gonzalo Higuain after jettisoning the under-performing Alvaro Morata in January.

Tottenham's Harry Kane and Chelsea's Gonzalo Higuain. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES   -  AFP/GETTY IMAGES

 

Though a known commodity, 31-year-old Higuain - who bagged a brace against the Terriers - was left on the bench until late in the EFL Cup final and will be itching to prove himself in English football.

There is no better yardstick for success than Kane, who boasts seven more goals and three extra assists from the five additional league games he has played in 2018-19.

The gulf between the 25-year-old and the 75-cap Argentina international can be seen in their respective shot conversion rates: Kane's stands at 18.51 per cent, far in advance of Higuain's 12.12 per cent.

History Says

Tottenham have not completed the league double over Chelsea since the 1970-71 season.

READ | From banker to Stamford Bridge - the surreal journey of Maurizio Sarri

They have, however, won each of the last two Premier League meetings between the pair - scoring three goals in both games - and three of the past four.

Chelsea appear vulnerable and slumped to a 3-1 defeat when Spurs - the team they edged over two legs in the EFL Cup semi-finals - visited Stamford Bridge towards the end of last season.

Sarri might find it comforting to know his club went unbeaten against this weekend's opponents throughout the 27 home league fixtures that preceded last season's loss.