It’s master vs apprentice, Sith vs Jedi as the former Chelsea midfielder comes up against the man who moulded him into one Europe’s top players
It’s December so there must be a new Star Wars film out, and though Darth Vader’s death in the fiery remains of the second Death Star appears to have little relevance to the Premier League in 2019, Sunday sees Frank Lampard take his Chelsea side, his very own rebel alliance, to the most technologically advanced stadium in Europe to face Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham.
“Luke, I am your father,” conceded an emotional Vader at Cloud City, and Mourinho vs Lampard has the feel of the first real parental battle in Premier League history.
Yes, the likes of Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes took on Sir Alex Ferguson as managers, but they were fully formed players when the legendary Manchester United boss managed them. Lampard’s story is different. His evolution into one of the most impressive footballers in Europe was almost entirely down to his development under Mourinho.
If it were just Mourinho against Lampard, this game would contain enough narrative to last the length of Christmas. It is, however, Tottenham vs Chelsea, a fixture that the Blues have tended to have the upper hand in during the Premier League era and one that brought about one of the all-time classic Jose quips:
“As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal.”
That’s how Mourinho summarised a 0-0 draw with Spurs back in 2004 as he accused his opponents of ultra-defensive tactics at Stamford Bridge.
He was correct to do so, but you can’t blame Jacques Santini for setting up the likes of Timothee Atouba and Noe Pamarot in the way that he did.
This was Tottenham’s 29th league game in a row without a win against Chelsea. A point and a clean sheet in that context was virtually a victory. Job done.
It feels almost quaint to think of the mid-2000s and the sheer commitment to defending – for all of Mourinho’s bus-related complaints, let’s not forget that Chelsea won the league that season having conceded only 13 goals, plus two more after the title was sealed.
In 2019, defending has become a notion rather than a requirement. We are on course to see the first top-flight season with more than 2.9 goals per game since the 1960s, and Mourinho and Lampard are more than doing their bit.
Spurs have kept only one clean sheet in seven games under their new manager, while Chelsea have conceded 17 goals away from home in just eight Premier League excursions.
A defeat on Sunday would be the Blues’ third in a row, and the last time that happened was as reigning champions in the autumn of 2015, as Mourinho grumbled his way to the sack.
|Chelsea in 2019-20|
|Month||xG per game||xG against per game|
The underlying numbers don’t look too bad for Lampard: his team have averaged more xG per game than they have conceded in every month this season.
However, given that they have faced three struggling teams so far in December (Aston Villa, Everton and Bournemouth), it’s clear that the attack is struggling to offset the less-than-reliable defence as well as it did in earlier months.
The glimmer of hope is that the backline have performed well against bigger sides, restricting Liverpool to an xG of 0.57 and Manchester City to 0.98 at the Etihad Stadium.
They’ll need something similar in north London on Sunday afternoon to restrict a revitalised Spurs that have been finding the net with regularity.
Ultimately, Darth Vader’s reputation was rescued and rehabilitated, and Mourinho is enjoying a similar renaissance at Tottenham.
For those of us who watched buses being parked with metronomic regularity in the 2000s, this is a Spurs-Chelsea game we can all get behind.
Goals. Drama. A New Hope.
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