Mourinho and Tuchel face off in the dugout for the first time ever as Tottenham hosts Chelsea to North London for a tantalizing capital derby on Thursday.
Jose Mourinho and Thomas Tuchel have been in the title conversation during the 2020/21 season. But, Spurs and Chelsea are now seemingly focused on their top-four prospects rather than an audacious bid for the Premier League glory.
Hardly, nothing can separate the teams in the table ahead of the London derby with the sixth-placed Spurs and Seventh Places Chelsea both boasting 33 points. Although, Tottenham still has a game on hand.
Losing the indispensable Harry Kane to injury would hamper almost any team on the planet right now, but even the most impassioned of Tottenham supporters could hardly have imagined their side being nullified by a Brighton & Hove Albion team fighting to avoid the drop.
However, Mourinho witnessed his team suffer back-to-back Premier League defeats for the second time in the space of two months as Leandro Trossard bagged the all-important winner for the Seagulls in a 1-0 triumph – a result which overjoyed Graham Potter and left Mourinho ruing the absence of Kane.
The England captain had been forced off with injuries to both ankles during Spurs’ 3-1 defeat to Liverpool on January 28, and while there is never any shame in losing to the reigning champions, Tottenham’s best opportunity to overcome Jurgen Klopp’s side – who ended a five-game winless run in the top flight with that victory – may have passed them by.
Dominant FA Cup victories over Marine and Wycombe Wanderers since the turn of the year have done little more than paper over the cracks for Tottenham, and while they also have an EFL Cup final with Manchester City to look forward to in April, Mourinho’s side are at risk of being blown away by their adversaries unless a major turnaround in fortunes takes place.
It is not all doom and gloom for Tottenham, though, as a top-four spot is still very much up for grabs – with Leicester City currently six points clear – and Mourinho’s have a game in hand over most of the teams around them.
With fifth-placed West Ham United facing a taxing trip to another European-chasing side in Aston Villa, a crucial win for Tottenham here would see them rise above their fellow capital outfit if Villa manage to get the better of the Hammers on Wednesday.
On an individual level, Mourinho could set a couple of unwanted records with a less-than-satisfactory result this week. The Portuguese boss has never lost successive home matches in the Premier League, and having failed to come up trumps against Chelsea in his last six attempts, he could match his longest ever winless run against an opponent – seven versus Barcelona between April 2011 and January 2012.
Despite failing to keep a clean sheet in any of their last five matches across all competitions, only Man City (13) and Arsenal (20) have shipped fewer top-flight goals than Tottenham (21) this term, but with only two wins from their previous nine in the Premier League, the hosts must find an effective solution to Kane’s absence, and fast.
Kane is reportedly hopeful that he can return to action in time to face leaders Man City on February 13, but with the talismanic striker still in the infirmary at this moment, Tottenham would do well to become the first team to breach Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea defense.
On a day where his former side Paris Saint-Germain lost for the first time under Mauricio Pochettino, Tuchel claimed his first victory in the Chelsea dugout as a professional performance helped see off a dogged Burnley at Stamford Bridge.
With the Blues’ attacking contingent flattering to deceive this term, the goals came from unlikely sources in Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso, as the former hammered home in the first half before his compatriot – who previously did not appear to have a future at Chelsea – wrapped up the win with a delightful volley in the second 45.
During the Frank Lampard era, Reece James and Ben Chilwell were often two of the first names on the team sheet, but the up-and-coming Englishmen certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to displace old boys Azpilicueta and Alonso, who immediately repaid the faith shown in them by the charismatic Tuchel.
A goalless stalemate with a below-par Wolverhampton Wanderers side was hardly the best way to kick off a career in the unforgiving Stamford Bridge hot seat, but having guided Chelsea to their first victory since taking over, Tuchel will not even take one glance over his shoulder as the race for a top-four finish gathers pace.
However, the true test of character begins now for Tuchel, as he gears up for his first away outing with Chelsea, who lost four of their last five on the road under Lampard before the club legend was controversially sacked.
As is the case with Tottenham, Chelsea has already secured nine wins and played out six draws in the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, but an added defeat, as well as an inferior goal difference, means that they sit behind their London rivals ahead of this game, and the chasing pack are not too far behind either.
Everton are currently level on points with Chelsea and Tottenham, while Villa and Arsenal are only one and two behind both capital sides respectively, so whichever team fails to take maximum points from this encounter could find themselves drifting ever closer towards the bottom half, and a draw would hardly be the best result for both managers either.
While the records that Mourinho could set this season are not ones to boast about, Tuchel could become the first Chelsea boss since 2004 to keep clean sheets in his first three matches in charge – a feat which was last achieved by the ever-controversial Mourinho.
The first meeting between these two sides in the 2020-21 top-flight campaign did not live up to the hype as it finished goalless at Stamford Bridge, but Tottenham have already overcome the Blues on penalties in the EFL Cup this term.
As mentioned, Kane will be sidelined for another couple of weeks with the ankle problems he sustained against Liverpool, and the striker’s compatriot Dele Alli also remains on the sidelines with a tendon injury.
However, whether or not Alli would have been in contention for a start if fully fit is another question entirely, but he will certainly hope to get more of a look-in after links with Paris Saint-Germain in the January window ended up going nowhere.
The rejuvenated Tanguy Ndombele was forced off through injury against Brighton and is therefore doubtful heading into this one, while Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso are definitely out.
Serge Aurier allegedly stormed out of the stadium after being substituted at half time in the defeat to Liverpool, and with his involvement in this game uncertain, Matt Doherty – who has previously thrived as a wing-back with Wolverhampton Wanderers – could return to the fold.
Gareth Bale’s performance against Brighton came under scrutiny as he was hauled off just after the hour mark, and it would not be a surprise to see Mourinho place his faith in Carlos Vinicius for this mouthwatering battle.
In complete contrast, Chelsea – aside from very minor concerns over Hakim Ziyech’s fitness – are well-stocked for the first derby of the Tuchel era.
The German explained that Ziyech’s absence at the weekend was simply down to him needing a rest, so he should be fine for this encounter, while N’Golo Kante has also fully recovered from a hamstring problem and could earn a start in midfield.
Tuchel is spoiled for choice at the moment but is expected to keep faith in the majority of the team that dispatched Burnley at the weekend, meaning back-to-back starts out wide for Alonso and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Christian Pulisic will hope to earn a start after coming off the bench to assist Alonso’s spectacular second last time out, but Kai Havertz will likely have to make do with a place among the substitutes once more.