Chelsea vs Tottenham: On Battle of the Bridge's anniversary, Mauricio Pochettino needs new team to show fight

Chelsea vs Tottenham: On Battle of the Bridge's anniversary, Mauricio Pochettino needs new team to show fight

On the eighth anniversary of the Battle of the Bridge, Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino will find himself back at the scene of his most unforgettable match but on the other side of one of English football’s bitterest divides.

The ferocity of Chelsea’s 2-2 draw against Pochettino’s Tottenham in 2016, when the hosts came from two goals down to earn a point which handed the title to Leicester, goes some way to explaining why he is still trying to win over the majority of Blues supporters.

As Dele Alli explained recently, for Pochettino’s Spurs the rivalry with Chelsea “became more personal” than their competition with Arsenal, and the Argentine’s part in stoking the flames has not been forgotten at Stamford Bridge — not that he has ever tried to deny it.

“You cannot compare nearly six years with 10 months,” Pochettino said yesterday, when asked if he feels more connected with his current club than Spurs.

Pochettino relished Tottenham’s passion in the Battle of the Bridge, never once coming close to suggesting they may have crossed a line, even after they received nine yellow cards and Mousa Dembele earned a retrospective six-match ban for eye-gouging Diego Costa.

The Battle of the Bridge went down in Chelsea folklore ((Ian Walton/Getty Images))
The Battle of the Bridge went down in Chelsea folklore ((Ian Walton/Getty Images))

“The way that we [Spurs] competed, it was really good,” Pochettino said yesterday.

Pochettino has always been happy to wear his heart on his sleeve and lean into the emotion of big derbies and he will try to channel the heat of tonight’s occasion into a positive result for his current club, who remain in the hunt for a European place.

His latest successor at Spurs, Ange Postecoglou, has a different view, however, and has appealed for commitment but cool heads.

“I’ve always tried to create a mindset where you shouldn’t feel more passionate about one fixture than another,” Postecoglou said.

“I don’t understand that and I don’t believe in it. I know what it means to the club and the supporters, absolutely, but I tell the players always to play as if it’s their last game of football.”

It was Postecoglou’s side, though, which appeared to be caught up in the emotion of the reverse fixture in November, when Spurs had Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie sent off in a catastrophic 4-1 defeat which derailed their record-breaking start to the season.

Results have been patchy ever since and Postecoglou might find himself under a degree of pressure if Spurs lose a third game on the bounce, and second in a week to a hated London rival — particularly with a visit to Liverpool to follow on Sunday.

A win, though, particularly in his characteristic attacking style, could be galvanising, not least because Spurs fans would love to get one over Pochettino.

“When I walk with my dog in London, I feel... I won’t say ‘love’, but appreciation.”

Mauricio Pochettino

Similarly, Pochettino is never more than one bad result away from a fresh round of pressure from Chelsea supporters, but he believes that most of the discontent about his work belongs to keyboard warriors, rather than real fans.

“If I followed social media, it’s one thing,” Pochettino said. “When I walk every day with my dog in different places of London, I feel... I won’t say ‘love’, but the appreciation from the fans.”

That theory will be put to the test tonight if Chelsea are outplayed by their rivals at Stamford Bridge, and Pochettino’s squad could scarcely be more depleted. The manager is set to be without 14 senior players, leaving him just about able to cobble together an XI.

Alfie Gilchrist, 20, is likely to start at right-back and could find himself directly up against Heung-min Son if Postecoglou opts to move his captain to the wing and bring in Richarlison as centre-forward.

Top-four chasing Spurs, though, have problems of their own, particularly at left-back after Ben Davies joined Udogie on the sidelines.

Emerson Royal is the obvious candidate to fill in and will likely be up against the in-form Noni Madueke — a former Spurs academy player — and Cole Palmer.