Monday 23 April 2018

Red-letter day for Blues-Spurs rivalry

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Matt Law

There will be little room for manoeuvre in the Stamford Bridge directors' lounge ahead of Chelsea's Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur tonight, thanks in no small part to the number of elephants in the room.

But Spurs chairman Daniel Levy no longer needs to hide behind the rear end of a metaphorical elephant or any other large object he can find inside Chelsea's home ground, with head coach Mauricio Pochettino promising this season's Premier League title challenge is just the beginning of a "brilliant future".

Even before Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas made public the ABT (Anyone But Tottenham) feeling inside Chelsea regarding this season's title race, which will be over if Spurs fail to win at Stamford Bridge, there was plenty of recent water under the bridge between the clubs.

The decision of Roman Abramovich to choose Chelsea over Tottenham in 2003 reset the balance of power between the rivals and sparked more than a decade of the Blues taking great enjoyment in getting one over the White Hart Lane club.

There have, of course, been a few exceptions - the 2008 League Cup final, Tottenham's refusal to allow Luka Modric to move to Stamford Bridge, and last season's 5-3 victory that exposed the first chinks in the armour of Jose Mourinho - but Chelsea have largely had it all their own way during the Abramovich era and have not lost at home to Spurs since 1990.

Levy could not even bring himself to be present when the clubs met at Stamford Bridge for the first time after Willian had been poached from under his nose and became so paranoid that he threatened to report Chelsea to the Premier League each time a Spurs player was linked with them in the national press.

But boardroom sources insist Levy will be present tonight and it would be understandable if the 54-year-old was prepared to hold the gaze of his Chelsea counterparts for longer than in recent years.

Pochettino has agreed an extension to his contract, which will now run until 2021, and has spoken of his determination to end Tottenham's 55-year wait for a title before the club move into their new stadium for the 2018-19 season.

Chelsea still do not know when they will start work on the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge and while Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard all dream of moves to Spain, whether or not they actually materialise, Pochettino is confident Spurs stars such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen share his ambition for Tottenham.

The appointment of Antonio Conte will no doubt reinvigorate Chelsea and their players for next season, but the sense at Tottenham is that, as far as they are concerned, this campaign is no flash in the pan.

Not content with simply aiming to be top dogs in London, Pochettino replied an emphatic "yes" when asked whether, under him, Tottenham can move into their new stadium as champions.

The Argentine added: "If it is not possible to win the title this season, we need to try to win it next season and the next season after. The potential of the club and the squad we have is massive and the important thing is to build the project and philosophy. The basis is now very solid and the future can only be brilliant.

"I explained a lot of times that we are ahead of schedule in our project. But, yes, our aim is to arrive in the new stadium and play in the Champions League and to play at the top.

"I have shown that I believe in the club and we want to keep all the big, important players. They are important to our future. It is a collective objective we have. To have a clear idea and to follow a philosophy is an advantage."

Pochettino also hopes that his commitment will help the club secure their top summer transfer targets and avoid the type of scenarios where Willian and Oscar snubbed Tottenham in favour of Chelsea.

"It is important for the players and the potential players that will come, that they don't hear rumours about whether Pochettino will be here or not," said the 44-year-old. "We are ready to compete in the market and try to add the players that can help us in the future."

"A few weeks ago, we had a meeting with the managers and I spoke for a long time with [Pochettino]," said Blues interim manager Guus Hiddink. "He has a very good, down to earth attitude." © The Daily Telegraph

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