While there were plenty of goals to enjoy during the Premier League’s opening round of fixtures, it felt like a soft launch. On Sunday, however, we have the first heavyweight clash of the new season.
London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea goes toe-to-toe after contrasting starts last weekend.
The Blues’ title defence began with a shock 3-2 home loss to Burnley at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, the home side finishing the game with just nine men as both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas saw red.
Just over 24 hours later, Spurs—who finished second in the table last season—capitalised on the dismissal of Jonjo Shelvey to see off Newcastle United by a 2-0 scoreline at St James’ Park.
The capital showdown has provided plenty of entertainment in the past, including the infamous “Battle of the Bridge” on May 2016, when Tottenham’s players dramatically lost their cool after letting slip a 2-0 lead to hand the league to Leicester City.
Last season, Spurs ended Chelsea’s winning streak at 13 games at White Hart Lane, only for the Blues to avenge that loss by beating them in a thrilling FA Cup semi-final in April.
Ahead of the latest meeting, Bleacher Report has picked a combined XI (lining up in a 3-4-2-1 formation) of available players. Note the use of the word “available” too—those injured or suspended were not considered.
OK? Then let the debate begin…
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Who to pick between the posts provided the toughest selection dilemma of the lot.
Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur are considered two of the best goalkeepers around right now, not just in the Premier League but throughout the world.
While defensive records don’t always tell the full story, Spurs were the stingier of the two teams last season, leaking 26 goals compared to Chelsea’s 33.
When you add in Lloris kept a clean sheet against Newcastle last time out, plus Courtois—whose penalty in the Community Shield shootout against Arsenal may still be airborne—didn’t cover himself in glory with Burnley’s opener at Stamford Bridge, the former gets the nod…but only just.
Centre-Back No. 1: Cesar Azpilicueta
Although he started against Burnley playing at right wing-back, the versatile Cesar Azpilicueta slots into the right side of our three-man defensive line.
The Spaniard played every minute in Chelsea’s march to the title last season, initially lining up at left-back before switching into a central role once manager Antonio Conte opted for a radical change in formation.
Having finished the game against Burnley wearing the skipper’s armband following Cahill’s red card, Azpilicueta will likely lead the Blues into battle at Wembley.
Spurs bagged a bargain when they jumped in front of Southampton to sign Toby Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid for £14.4 million in the summer transfer window of 2015.
The Belgian had already demonstrated his talents in the Premier League during a season on loan with Saints, yet he’s taken his game up a notch since becoming a key part of Mauricio Pochettino’s defence.
“In Toby Alderweireld you’ve got a world-class player who could go to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United,” Jermaine Jenas said on Match of the Day 2 last Sunday (h/t Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star).
Centre-Back No. 3: Jan Vertonghen
“Playing Chelsea is very special. It’s the first game I’d want to see if I was a neutral fan,” Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen told BBC Sport (h/t Charles Perrin of the Express) ahead of the standout fixture of the weekend.
The ball-playing centre-back has suffered against Chelsea in the past; he was in the visiting side that conceded four second-half goals at Stamford Bridge in March 2014, leading to then-manager Tim Sherwood lambasting his players in a post-match interview. Enjoy his rant in full below:
Vertonghen did appear in Tottenham’s sensational 5-3 triumph at White Hart Lane the following January, though, with the result ending a 10-game winless run against their fellow Londoners.
The Belgian’s selection in our back three means there’s no place for David Luiz, who can consider himself unfortunate to miss out on the XI. Cahill, of course, could not be considered due to his ban.
Right Wing-Back: Victor Moses
With Kyle Walker sold to Manchester City in the summer, Kieran Trippier will take over at right-back. However, the latter suffered an ankle injury in a pre-season friendly against Juventus and, per Alex Young of the Evening Standard, isn’t likely to be back until the away fixture at Everton on September 9.
There’s a strong argument for Victor Moses starting at right wing-back regardless of Trippier’s health. As he explained to Nick Wright of Sky Sports, the Nigeria international was convinced to play a new role by Conte:
“The first time he put me there was the day after we lost to Arsenal.
“We all knew the formation he liked to play when he was Italy manager, but I had never actually thought about playing wing-back. After the session, he went through it all with me, how to play the position and everything. I took it in and didn’t look back.”
Having missed the loss to Burnley through suspension following his red card in last season’s FA Cup final, Moses should slot straight back into Chelsea’s starting lineup on Sunday.
Central Midfielder: N’Golo Kante
Of course, N’Golo Kante gets into our team.
He is the reigning PFA and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year, a league winner in successive seasons and a man so energetic on the field he launched many, many memes on social media.
Instrumental in Leicester City’s unlikely championship in 2016, the Frenchman’s non-stop engine powered Chelsea during their remarkable winning run, turning them from top-four challengers to title favourites.
He doesn’t score goals (he managed just one in each of the last two seasons) and isn’t known for creating too many opportunities for others.
What Kante can do, though, is harass, hustle and hurry opponents out of possession, then play the percentages with the ball at his feet. All at a high speed, too. Simple stuff, really, yet ridiculously effective.
Central Midfielder: Mousa Dembele
With Kante a stick-on selection, and naughty boy Fabregas out of the running following his red card against Burnley, there was an all-Tottenham battle to take up the second central-midfield berth.
Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama would offer a strong defensive presence, but we need a little more creativity in there. Step forward Mousa Dembele, a Rolls Royce of a player in the fast-paced Premier League.
The Belgian isn’t fazed by the prospect of playing at Wembley Stadium this season, despite his club’s poor record when playing there in the UEFA Champions League.
“The statistics say we don’t play very well, and of course statistics are a big thing, but we don’t believe in that,” he told TalkSport (h/t Anton Stanley of TalkSport.com). “We know we’re going to do well at Wembley. We’re not concerned about this.”
Left Wing-Back: Marcos Alonso
As with the opposite flank, a leading contender for the position is a non-runner.
Danny Rose has not played since January after damaging knee ligaments in a game against Sunderland. He had an operation to correct the problem in May, pushing back his scheduled return to action.
While Ben Davies is a solid deputy, Marcos Alonso starts on the left. As was the case with team-mate Moses, the Spaniard thrived when Chelsea shifted to playing 3-4-3 following a harrowing away loss at Arsenal.
“I used to play left-back, and I started playing wing-back. I don’t mind, honestly. I like to play and help the team in any role the manager wants; I try to do my best,” Alonso told Chelsea’s official website.
Attacking Midfielder: Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen may not grab the limelight as much as some of his Tottenham colleagues but he is pivotal in making Pochettino’s side tick as an attacking force.
According to Squawka Football on Twitter, no player has managed more Premier League assists since the start of the 2015/16 campaign than Dane’s tally of 30.
He is a dead-ball specialist, a pinpoint passer and a scorer of sensational goals. It’s no wonder La Liga giants Barcelona are reported to be sniffing around him, according to Miguel Delaney of the Independent.
“Eriksen has an appreciation of space and passing angles, which means it’s probably not a surprise that he can dictate games to the extent that he does,” Nick Miller wrote for ESPN FC
Attacking Midfielder: Dele Alli
Next, to Eriksen sits Dele Alli, the England international with an eye for goal and, sadly, a liking for terrible handshake routines to celebrate his scoring feats. I suppose we can forgive him, seeing as he’s still young.
Alli has scored 29 Premier League goals already, despite being just 21 years of age. He’s achieved plenty already in his career, yet we could just be seeing the tip of the iceberg.
An all-action midfielder with a fiery streak, he’s also something of a lucky omen for his side. Chelsea, you’ve been warned:
The decision to choose both Alli and Eriksen was made easier by Eden Hazard’s lack of fitness. The Belgian recently returned to training after overcoming an ankle injury and took part in a “secretive” friendly at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground on Thursday, according to Jack Rathborn of the Mirror.
However, having missed all of the pre seasons while recovering from the problem picked up on international duty in June, it seems unlikely Conte will risk one of his star performers at this stage of his comeback.
Pedro and Willian are good players, but just not quite good enough to edge out either of Spurs’ dynamic duo.
Striker: Harry Kane
Again, a key absence made a potential selection headache into a straightforward choice. With Diego Costa and Chelsea still at loggerheads, Harry Kane is front and centre in our forward line.
Despite finishing as the Premier League’s leading scorer for the last two seasons, the Tottenham striker has still yet to muster a goal in the month of August, per Squawka Football on Twitter.
Still, Spurs fans adore him. His manager is a pretty big fan too: “I think Harry is one of the best strikers in the world. It gets boring because I repeat it,” Pochettino said of his leading man, per Sky Sports.
With Costa AWOL, Chelsea will turn to strikers Michy Batshuayi and Alvaro Morata—who scored on his league debut against Burnley after starting the game on the bench—for goals.
Neither, though, can have a claim to play in this combined XI in front of Kane, who is on a 24-man shortlist for Best FIFA Men’s Player 2017 award.
Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All statistics and transfer fees are from Transfernarkt unless otherwise stated.
reference: the independence