Leci: White Hot Lane

ESPN Star Sports presenter Andrew Leci is excited for Saturday's early derby clash between Andre Villas Boas' Tottenham and his former side Chelsea in the Premier League.

Andrew Leci

By Andrew Leci

Tottenham Hotspur versus Chelsea this coming Saturday has already been billed as the grudge match of the season to date. It's not difficult to see why.

Andre Villas-Boas' woes at Chelsea were well documented - in almost infinitesimal detail as it so happened - and some would say he was fortunate to even get a second bite at the Barclays Premier League managerial cherry. He is, however, well on the road to redemption, having guided Spurs up to fifth in the table, and getting his team to play a pleasing brand of football en route.

The fact that he patrolled the sidelines during Tottenham's first win at Old Trafford in 23 years gives him temporary legendary status at the club, and if that sounds paradoxical, it's meant to be. Spurs fans are a demanding lot - craving success, but also insisting that it be achieved with style.

One of the club's greatest ever managers, Bill Nicholson, said: "It is better to fail aiming high, than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory."

It's stirring stuff, and perhaps evocative of a bygone age, but some things don't change, and for every Spurs fan, past and present, the future is fraught with expectation.

We may get a decent indication this Saturday of how far this current Tottenham side has come, and even how far it might be able to go. The fact that the current Spurs manager was the Chelsea manager as recently as March of this year, creates a frisson that can only serve to intensify the drama of the seemingly innumerable sub-plots.

Villas-Boas will feel that he was badly treated at Chelsea - not being given even a full season to prove his tactical acumen and man-management skills.

Many Chelsea fans will state that the nine months he was given were too much, and that his arrogance and apparent lack of adaptability were to blame for a disappointing league campaign last time round.

Unfortunately for AVB, his successor, Roberto Di Matteo, subsequently led the club to FA Cup and UEFA Champions League triumphs, during what was supposed to be his temporary tenure as manager. AVB could make a justifiable claim to having laid the groundwork, but I imagine that Chelsea supporters would give that claim short shrift.

Clearly AVB has plenty to prove, and there is nothing he would like better than to put one over his former employers, despite his protestations that he will be approaching Saturday's encounter as just another game.

He was wounded by his sacking, and his stock as the ‘next big managerial thing' took a hammering. A win at White Hart Lane would be sweet - as well as a healthy measure of revenge.

Make no bones about it, Tottenham are vengeful. Not only can they point to a 5-1 humiliation at Chelsea's hands in last year's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, they will need no reminding that Chelsea's unlikely, but ultimately gloriously successful run in the Champions League meant that the north London club were denied a place at Europe's top table this season.

Spurs must have felt that they had done enough when they finished fourth in the BPL last season, and knew that they could only be denied a Champions League spot should Chelsea win the competition.

Cue knockout stage wins over Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona, followed by a dramatic penalty shoot-out triumph over Bayern Munich, and Chelsea's peak became Tottenham's trough. Galling, I would imagine, to put it mildly.

Chelsea this season, I would suggest, are a much better outfit than last, and the way in which Di Matteo has managed to integrate the fecund talents of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar into a consistent starting 11 is nothing short of a wonder.

It's made the team, on many occasions, a joy to watch - something we probably wouldn't have said about Jose Mourinho's Premier League title-winning sides of 2005 and 2006. Successful? Yes. Brutally efficient? More often than not; but easy on the eye? Not always.

While Di Matteo continues to endear himself to the Chelsea faithful, good results will keep Villas-Boas ‘onside' as far as Spurs fans are concerned. Something will have to give this weekend.

With the backdrop in place and some tantalising sub-plots in the background, Saturday's match sees table-toppers Chelsea (who've dropped a mere two points from their opening seven games) against the ‘form side' Spurs (who've won their last four in the league on the bounce).

While early kick-offs at the weekend are occasionally somewhat lacking in atmosphere and intensity, something tells me this won't be the case at White Hart Lane.



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