Chelsea’s fringe stars step up as Blues regain ground in top-four race

Chelsea vs Tottenham

The race for a top-four spot in the Premier League heated up on Saturday, as Chelsea played hosted to Tottenham.

Earlier in the season, 4th placed Chelsea had a pretty decent points gap opened up between themselves and the rest of the PL.

However, prior to Saturday, the Blues had failed to win any of their last four league outings.

Tottenham, on the other hand, had won three in a row, climbing up to 5th spot, just one point behind Frank Lampard’s side.

But it’s not just Chelsea and Spurs battling it out for 4th place. Both Manchester United and Sheffield United are hot on the heels of the London outfits.

So, neither side could really afford to drop any points at Stamford Bridge.

The teams

Chelsea were without key man N’Golo Kante for the clash with Spurs, but they were able to welcome back Tammy Abraham to the bench on Saturday.

Spurs, meanwhile, once again looked a bit light up top, as both Harry Kane and Heung-min Son are still sidelined.

Mourinho also made an interesting call for his XI to face Chelsea, leaving Dele Alli on the bench.

Chelsea XI: Caballero, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso, Barkley, Mount, Giroud.

Tottenham XI: Lloris, Tanganga, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Winks, Ndombele, Lo Celso, Bergwijn, Lucas.

Giroud opens the scoring

Rather unsurprisingly, it would be Chelsea who dominated possession in the early stages, with Spurs sitting deep and inviting pressure.

It would be the Lilywhites who carved out the first real opportunity of the game, though, when Lucas Moura forced a decent save out of Willy Caballero.

Mason Mount then went down the other end moments late to force a good save out of Hugo Lloris.

The Blues would eventually take the lead in the 15th minute via Olivier Giroud.

Tottenham’s defence appeared to fall asleep in the build-up to the goal. Lloris saved the original shot from Giroud. It then bounced back out to Ross Barkley who hit the post. The ball then fell back to Giroud who made no mistake that time.

Chelsea continued to dominate proceedings after taking the lead. Marcos Alonso came extremely close to scoring a screamer from the edge of the box 23 minutes in, but the Spaniard’s effort went just over.

Spurs began to grow into the game as the first-half went on, with Lucas and Davinson Sanchez coming close.

But the half-time whistle blew with the score still 1-0 to Chelsea.

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 22: Olivier Giroud of Chelsea celebrates with teammate Jorginho after scoring his team’s first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on February 22, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Chelsea handed breathing space

Chelsea began the second 45 in much the same way that they started the tie, on the front foot.

And it would be another one of Chelsea’s fringe stars who came up clutch for the Blues.

Ross Barkley played the ball to Alonso on the edge of the box. The full-back connected with his strike sweetly, smashing it into the back of the net just three minutes after the break.

Spurs’ miserable afternoon was then nearly compounded by a red card, when Giovani Lo Celso stepped onto Cesar Azpilicueta. However, VAR decided that the challenge wasn’t worthy of a sending off.

Stockley Park then admitted later in the tie that the Argentine should indeed have seen red, creating yet more hostility towards the new technology.

Mourinho responded to going 2-0 down by taking off Tanguy Ndombele for Erik Lamela, who was very impressive when he came on in midweek vs RB Leipzig.

Alli was then brought on with 12 minutes of normal time remaining.

Tottenham would eventually pull one back in the 88th minute, thanks to an own goal from Antonio Rudiger.

But it was too little, too late, and Chelsea are now very much back in the driver’s seat in the race for 4th spot.

Chelsea’s fringe stars step up

And Frank Lampard will no doubt be pleased with some of his fringe stars on Saturday.

The likes of Giroud, Barkley and Alonso haven’t featured an awful lot in the PL recently.

In fact, Giroud had made just six league appearances this season before this weekend, starting just two of those ties. The striker was even linked with a January move to Tottenham.

Saturday’s clash was also Alonso’s first league outing of 2020. But both of those players grasped the rare opportunities afforded to them vs Spurs.

And as we come to the business end of the campaign, that will no doubt have pleased Lampard, as he will need as many players firing as possible with the race for 4th spot still pretty tight.

Giroud’s performance at Stamford Bridge will likely have been particularly pleasing for Chelsea as, apart from Abraham, they have been lacking in the centre-forward department for the majority of 2019/20. But an in-form Giroud could be crucial for Chelsea during the remainder of this term.

See also: Leicester vs Manchester City betting tips: Premier League match preview & predictions

Sheffield United vs Brighton betting tips: Premier League match preview & predictions

Crystal Palace vs Newcastle United betting tips: Premier League match preview and predictions

Burnley vs Bournemouth betting tips: Premier League match preview & predictions