Tottenham’s attacking quartet look to secure the advantage over Chelsea | Barney Ronay

As Chelsea and Tottenham contemplate Sunday afternoon at Stamford Bridge and the latest installment of their own two-handed sub-epic, it is tempting to see another example of Trigger’s Broom’s thesis, the search for the essence of things. Change the stadium, change the atmosphere, change the recruitment. Change manager (key detail: get one who likes to carry trophies). Change the target level of expectation. Is this still Spurs?

Or at least, is Spurs still in that defining performance mode? Can this team be expected to beat high-level opponents when winning matters most? or adapt to muscle memory, strutting proudly on those dainty foal-like legs before collapsing into a whirlwind of hooves whenever the prospect of real success looms?

The same sense of flux is of course present at Chelsea and in a much more profound way. It’s still hard to take in the mind-boggling extent of what has happened in the last six months to English football’s most transformative presence of the century. For two decades, the real wonder of Chelsea’s winning machine was its constancy, the way head coaches came and went, a different face, a different coat, a different way of standing; but still a binding thread of cold, hard sporting will (and £1.5 billion in annual loans) kept this superyacht going.

This 20-year project has stripped not only their empty pockets, but every member of the club hierarchy responsible for running the business. Is it still Chelsea? What exactly is Chelsea? Is a self-published billionaire bro in Ringo shades really that different from an inscrutable oligarch in designer double denim? Where will we feel the ripples, the altered angles? Of course, it is too early to tell, although the signing of Raheem Sterling is a clear statement of sustained elite ambition.

Still, a meeting of Spurs and Chelsea at this stage is brilliantly set up, if only because these clubs have tended to define each other’s progress over the past decade, to become a touchstone, not in a mega-derby or a clsobut at least a source of deep mutual irritation.

Chelsea have dominated this relationship, the most important solo player in the idea of ​​Spurs as almost and not quite. The Abramovich years were basically a riot on that front, with a decade-long unbeaten run against their most hated opponents (the north London version), a 6-1 win at White Hart lane, a continuous streak of 11 games with only one Carabao. The Cup shootout defeat and the feeling of existing somewhere else, a different VIP lane.

Raheem Sterling (left) is Chelsea's best source of goals
Raheem Sterling (left) is Chelsea’s best source of goals Photograph: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

And now we have this, a meeting of clubs looking for new forms, new patterns. Spurs lost four times against Chelsea last season and Antonio Conte was visibly distressed by the three he was in charge of. Victory now would truly represent progress. And there is hope for the Spurs here, for an obvious reason. For the first time in a long time, Tottenham have a better attack than Chelsea: more options, more possession, more goals. And this is important for other reasons as well.

In reality, the rift between these two clubs was never based on omens, omens, bad energy, some kind of ancient sorcerer. Spurs have simply had a thinner squad, recruited poorly, spent less than Chelsea (by no means an exclusive club) and played without a true centre-forward for the past eight years.

This has nothing to do with a curse or a lack of backbone. Instead, it’s hard commercial design, the reality of cutting your resources to meet the demands of building a new stadium. It looks like that could be about to change. Forget the culture, the vibes, the lily whites. There is a real depth and variation of jealousy here. The team of Drogba, Hazard, Costa, Anelka. The Spurs have them covered right now.

Even in last season’s occasional stumbles, even with Romelu Lukaku strolling up front like the first man to walk on Pluto, Thomas Tuchel’s side were so tidy that goals were still spread across the team , with Mason Mount leading scorer with 11.

Lukaku and Timo Werner have since left. Sterling and Armando Broja look good replacements on paper; one of them, Sterling, a serious upgrade and the squad’s most reliable goalscorer even before his first Chelsea goal. Otherwise, Kai Havertz, Mount, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic have a combined 61 goals in 284 league games for Chelsea.

While Spurs have Harry Kane, who gets 17 a season, even when playing with a migraine, a grudge and a cheeky ankle; Son Heung-min, who is a Golden Boot winner; Dejan Kulusevski, a good prospect at 22; and Richarlison, who starts with Brazil but is currently watching from the sidelines wondering how he will get into this thing.

It seems the right place to build, if only because it is in his attacking arm, a succession of pressing, powerful men, that the classic fatalism of Spurs, the Spuriness of Spurs, has manifested itself.

From the heady days of Soldado’s confusion, to the cheerful but unflinchingly rustic Grzegorz Rasiak, to a fever dream of Fernando Llorente to the incessant Bergwijn-Ndombele-Gil and the rest, Tottenham’s attack It’s based on hope and what happens. . This has been a very basic version of Moneyball where no money is really made and very little that is memorable happens with the ball.

Richarlison is a major step in that direction, a much better striker than his more ineffective Premier League days suggest and providing an interesting tactical contrast to the players already present. Surprisingly perhaps, the 25-year-old’s goalscoring record over the past 18 months is almost identical to Kane’s. He lacks the creative vision of Kane and his creative vision, his verve of play. He plays wider, makes more defensive runs, makes more tackles and interceptions, offers another point of speed in attack.

Richarlison in training
Richarlison offers penetration, speed and strength down the left for Tottenham Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

For Brazil, Richarlison has played centrally as a false number 9, or a mobile 9.5. Perhaps the essence of the journey from challenger to contender is finding a model where Kane can finally be rotated from time to time for fitness reasons, or simply so the team can attack in a different way.

Conte is nothing but ruthless. He knows that this is what the best teams do; that the difference between winning an advantage and being ‘in the middle’ is not curses or hexes, the vibrating needle on Tottenham’s ouija board, but resources, the ability to constantly sharpen the attacking blade.

Superstition may dictate that there is no surer way to ensure Spurs hit the target on Sunday than by praising their attack. But the fact is, these four-armed attacking players are a match for anything outside of Anfield and the Etihad this season. Now there are no excuses. In a strange break from most of his profession, that’s exactly how Conte likes it.

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