Tottenham and Chelsea are both very good teams. That is not in doubt. But there is an unavoidable feeling that there is more to come from both, that they have only scratched the surface of their potential.
Neither will be disappointed by their respective starts to the season. Chelsea are in third on 28 points and Tottenham in fourth on 27. Both have done well to hang onto the coattails of Manchester City and Liverpool.
But these are ambitious clubs. And they boast two of the most accomplished, inventive coaches in the game: Mauricio Pochettino and Maurizio Sarri. There is no question that, under the guidance of their respective managers, Tottenham and Chelsea could become great teams, trophy-winning teams.
Ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Wembley, our friends at Football Whispers take a look at both sides’ seasons so far, and why they will be hopeful of further improvement.
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Chelsea can have few complaints about their season so far. After a sixth placed finish under Antonio Conte last year, there have been tangible improvements. Sarri has quickly put across his ideas, and his players have responded.
Having started the season so well, though, the Blues might understandably feel a little disappointed by results in recent weeks. They are still unbeaten, of course, but they have drawn four of their last seven Premier League games after winning all of their opening five.
Stalemates against West Ham and Everton, in particular, will have been frustrating for Sarri and his players. But it is perhaps to be expected: this is a team still in the process of adjusting to a very different style of play.
There will be areas which Sarri will no doubt have identified as weak spots. His Napoli team were revered for their high, intense pressing and an ability to move the ball forwards at frightening speed. But they were excellent defensively, too.
Trouble at the back
Chelsea have, on occasion, looked vulnerable when teams have evaded their press. Though they have let in eight goals, their total xG conceded in the Premier League is 12.2. They have a strong foundation to work from, but more defensive cohesion could be required if they are to challenge for the title.
Tottenham, too, have had issues at the back. They have, on average, allowed the opposition 12.5 scoring attempts per game and they often appear dangerously open. In the Champions League and Premier League this season, there have been uncharacteristic slip ups.
Spurs remain well placed to finish in the top four, but by now their ambitions should extend beyond that. Pochettino has had time to forge a team in his image, to develop the talented young players in his squad. But this season there seems to be something missing.
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In attack, Tottenham have been strangely stunted. They have scored 20 goals, some way off Chelsea (28) and Manchester City (36). But more concerning for Pochettino will be the apparent lack of creativity.
Spurs have averaged 12.58 scoring attempts per game, which is worryingly low for a team with aspirations of challenging for the title. Nine teams in the Premier League have created more chances, including Chelsea (18.08 per game).
There are, then, clear improvements to be made for Tottenham. The energy and vigour that fans have come to associate with Pochettino’s team has been absent for large parts of this season. The Argentine coach has the makings of a great team, but there is increasingly a feeling that they have plateaued. Perhaps more investment is needed to take them to the next level.
“The season so far?” Pochettino said last month. “It’s strange because my feeling is the worst feeling I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here. It’s the worst. But it’s the best start ever for the club in the Premier League. It’s strange, no?”
Saturday’s game will tell us more about both Tottenham and Chelsea. Pochettino and Sarri will surely be looking towards this fixture as an opportunity to regain some momentum, to get back on track after some setbacks. For both, there are points to prove.
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