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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Spurs and Chelsea could go right down to the wire

Little to separate London rivals

Christian Eriksen scores for Spurs at Chelsea
1 of 1

FA Cup semi-final
BBC 1, 5.15pm Saturday

Chelsea's lead over Tottenham in the Premier League title race has shrunk from ten points to four since the start of the month and there could be very little to choose between the sides in their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Just over two years ago Chelsea romped to a 2-0 victory over Spurs in the League Cup final but this is unlikely to be another one-sided affair and the best bet could be that the outcome will be decided in extra-time or on penalties.

Talk of the result influencing the title race may have been overplayed but Chelsea will be keen to draw a line under a shaky run of two defeats in four outings.

They could count themselves unlucky after the 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace in which they dominated the shot count (16 to eight) and possession (73 per cent) but last Sunday's 2-0 loss at Manchester United was far more worrying.

Chelsea's defence struggled to cope with the pace and power of Marcus Rashford and their attack was strangely subdued, allowing United to close out the game comfortably.

Antonio Conte could not hide his disappointment in the post-match interview and will have spent the week urging his players to get back to the standards set for most of the season.

A better Chelsea performance can be expected and the balance of the team should be improved with Marcos Alonso likely to return from the stomach bug which sidelined him at Old Trafford.

When Harry Kane sustained an ankle injury in the 6-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Millwall there were suggestions that Spurs might struggle to finish in the top four.

However, the Lilywhites took nine points out of nine without their talisman, who was back on the scoresheet in last Saturday's 4-0 victory at home to Bournemouth.

Kane's position in the side is assured but Mauricio Pochettino has some big tactical decisions to ponder with regards to personnel and formation.

 He has twice deployed a three-man defence against Chelsea this season and achieved contrasting results – a 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge and a 2-0 victory at White Hart Lane.

Given that the home win over the Blues is the more recent encounter, there will be a strong temptation to match up to Chelsea's system once again.

But switching to a three man defence would mean shelving the 4-2-3-1 system which was used for the comprehensive 4-0 victories at home to Watford and Bournemouth. And it would probably mean benching Heung-Min Son, who has arguably been Spurs best player over the last few weeks with eight goals in the last six matches.

Pochettino also has a dilemma at right-back between Kyle Walker (regular first choice in the league) and Kieran Trippier, who has played in all four FA Cup matches.

Spurs will have a better chance if Walker (the better defender) gets the nod but either way it promises to be a closely fought contest with a lot depending on who scores first.

An opening goal for Chelsea would go a long way to erasing the negativity of the Old Trafford performance while a lead for Spurs would have them feeling more at home at a venue where they have struggled in the Champions League and Europa League.

Both know the importance of not conceding first and that is another reason why an extended evening could be on the cards.

1pt 12-5 bet365

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Team news
Thibaut Courtois (ankle) and Marcos Alonso (illness) are likely to return but Gary Cahill (illness) is a major doubt after spending two days in hospital this week.

Erik Lamela (hip) and Harry Winks (ankle) are out long-term and Danny Rose does not return to full training until next week. Michel Vorm (knee) is out.

Key stat
Tottenham have lost one of their last nine London derbies.

Conte's side need to improve because they are up against a Spurs outfit playing some scintillating football
E.W. Terms
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