Venue: Stamford Bridge
Kickoff: 7.45 p.m. GMT, 2.45 p.m. ET, 11.45 a.m. PT
There's no silverware on the line at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening, but as Chelsea come face-to-face with Tottenham Hotspur, it's arguably a bigger encounter than the Blues' Europa League final against Benfica a week later.
In a twist of fate, this fixture should have been played on Apr. 14, but due to Chelsea's FA Cup semifinal with Manchester City, it was postponed. What we have been given as a result is a make-or-break encounter that will shape the season for both of these clubs.
Clashes between Chelsea and Spurs are always eagerly anticipated. It's a fixture that has long thrown up intriguing subplots, whether it be former players returning or historical records on the line. Yet, for all the entertainment and anticipation, none have compared to this.
Win, and Chelsea will all but secure a place in the 2013-14 Champions League. They will be six points above their rivals—who currently sit fifth in the table—with two games remaining. And with a plus-16 better goal difference, it will be difficult to see Spurs overturn that deficit.
Lose, however, and suddenly the race for a top-four spot becomes an even bigger game of roulette, with the nerve of Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal firmly put on the line.
It will mean just one point or goal difference will separate all three teams and with two games remaining, it really would be one of the finest finishes to a season that we have long experienced.
With all these permutations, it's almost been forgotten that Wednesday also marks Andre Villas-Boas' return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since he was fired as manager last March. Without or without Champions League qualification on the line, the Portuguese would want to win this match, so we can expect fireworks in West London.
Who will blink first?
Anything Gareth Bale can do, Juan Mata can more than match, it would appear.
Wednesday's outing will be all about these two exceptional players, and while it may be a cliche, it certainly rings true: Whoever has the better performance will likely be on the winning team.
Bale has cleaned up in the awards season of late, taking the PFA Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards.
Mata was surprisingly overlooked, but he will no doubt take a victory at Stamford Bridge over the personal accolades his opposite number has won this term.
The pair haven't met each other this term, as Bale was absent from the earlier meeting between Chelsea and Spurs at White Hart Lane in October. The Welshman was at the birth of his daughter as Chelsea ran out 4-2 winners, with Mata bagging a brace.
Did You Know?
Spurs have not won at Stamford Bridge since February of 1990, when Gary Lineker scored the winner in a 2-1 victory. It was Chelsea's first season back in the old First Division, having won promotion the season earlier.
Since that time, the Blues have faced their rivals 25 times at home, winning 16 and drawing nine.
It's an incredible record, although Spurs have come close to ending their streak on more than one occasion,
In 1993-94, Chelsea had to come from behind to win 4-3, while more recently in a 2007 FA Cup tie, the game ended 3-3.
The Blues had been trailing 3-1 at half time after Dimitar Berbatov, a Michael Essien own goal and Hossam Ghaly strike put the visitors in control.
Chelsea rallied after the break, though, and Frank Lampard scored his second of the game with 20 minutes remaining to make it 3-2 before super sub Salomon Kalou equalized in the 86th minute, forcing a replay. Chelsea won that game 2-1 and went on to lift the FA Cup—the first club to do so at the new Wembley.
Chelsea 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
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