Twelve months ago, you’d have got long odds on Andre Villas-Boas being at White Hart Lane for this season’s Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea fixture and being sat in the home dug-out, rather than the away one.
It may be hard to imagine now – time and the re-writing of history can often play tricks on the mind – but Villas-Boas enjoyed a fine start to his Chelsea career. Exactly a year ago, the Blues sat in third position, three points behind Manchester City having won six of their eight games, losing just once away to Manchester United.
Progress was being made in the Champions League and the man who won the treble with Porto just months earlier (and who Roman Abramovich paid in excess of £13million to secure, lest we forget) was ticking along nicely.
There was little sign of what was to come, although we all know what happened next: under-performing and undermined, AVB was not winning enough on the pitch, but the battle he lost off the field was even more pivotal – once Chelsea’s notoriously ‘strong’ dressing room (that is a euphemism for self-serving egotists) decided they didn’t want him, the inevitable happened.
It was a huge dent to the reputation of one of European football’s brightest young coaches, a dent that many will not forget, especially the press pack, who won’t forgive him for replacing their favourite illiterate, dodgy-account-keeping, dog-walking chum Harry Redknapp.
On Saturday lunchtime, Villas-Boas comes face to face with the club that unceremoniously sacked him when his new-look Spurs side host Chelsea and even if many will see this as a revenge meeting, what cannot be overlooked is that the AVB situation is a sideshow in what is one of the most vengeful derby matches in the Premier League calendar.
The match pits two in-form teams against each other and the bookies can hardly split them. bwin make Spurs ever-so-slight favourites at 3/2, with Chelsea at 17/10 and the draw at 23/10, and at the biggest price I will be on the draw for this one.
Chelsea come to White Hart Lane as European champions (and FA Cup holders), which justifies the decision to dispense with Villas-Boas, and the Portuguese’s replacement Roberto Di Matteo has the team ticking along nicely so far this season (sound familiar?)
An away win at Arsenal apart, performances haven’t always been scintillating, but Chelsea are top of the league, four points clear of the Manchester clubs, and go to Spurs on a five-match winning run in all competitions.
But Tottenham are proving hard to beat themselves and haven’t lost a match in any tournament since losing to Newcastle United on the opening day of the campaign.
That is a run of nine games and if some of those early outings were underwhelming, AVB has overseen five wins in the last seven to sit just a point off second place and already well in the mix for the Champions League places, which is Villas-Boas’ stated aim for the season.
And with both teams looking in decent shape, I can’t separate them here. Chelsea have enjoyed a great record against Spurs in the Premier League era – the Stamford Bridge outfit have lost just four of the 44 meetings over the last 20 years – but recently the Lilywhites have proved more of a match for their west London rivals.
The last 12 meetings in all competitions have seen four Chelsea wins, three Spurs victories and five draws. Three of the last five have ended in stalemate and the last two meetings at White Hart Lane have finished 1-1. At 23/10, another draw between two good sides looks like the sensible bet.