5 Early Thoughts on Tottenham's 2013-14 Season
Heading into that match, though, the North Londoners will be largely satisfied with how their campaign has gone so far.
Having suffered only one loss—an unpalatable one, admittedly, to Arsenal—they sit second in the Premier League. Andre Villas-Boas' side have also progressed to the group stage and fourth round of the Europa League and Capital One Cup, respectively.
Tottenham's transfer dealings dominated their summer narrative. At this early stage, it seems the business done by chairman Daniel Levy and technical director Franco Baldini—including the world-record sale of Gareth Bale—has left the club in good shape on the pitch.
On these subjects and more, here are five early thoughts on Spurs' 2013-14.
Levy Handled the Bale Negotiations Well
In a saga that felt way longer than the couple of months the negotiations (though not the speculation) actually lasted, Gareth Bale finally got his move to Real Madrid in the waning days of the transfer window.
Bale described joining the La Liga club as a "dream come true" in his farewell statement on TottenhamHotspur.com.
Tottenham worked hard to ensure neither the player nor Real had things all their own way, though.
The world-record transfer fee of £85.3 million Spurs eventually received was a testament to chairman Daniel Levy's patience and fortitude in negotiations.
It would have been easy to settle on a lower, albeit still considerably lucrative, offer. Instead, Levy pushed Florentino Perez and his band of vultures as far as he possibly could.
Real may come to reflect on it as money well spent, but that is of no concern to Spurs.
Levy's negotiating tactics—now aided by new technical director Franco Baldini—have not always helped Tottenham on the pitch.
This time, the majority of their own purchases were made before the season began. Those that followed were completed once it was clear they would have the Bale money to help cover the cost (not to mention that earned from the sales of others like Tom Huddlestone and Clint Dempsey).
The earlier dealings ensured manager Andre Villas-Boas' squad was not lacking as the season got underway. By biding their time in the Bale negotiations, they ensured fees for later signings—like Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela—were not driven too high.
All of this was not clear at the time, but in hindsight, Levy played a bit of a blinder.
Spurs' Purchases Have Improved the Team
Bale was phenomenal for Tottenham last season. Recognised by multiple awards, his year ranks up there with the best individual campaigns by a Lilywhite in any era.
It is hard—and perhaps too soon—to say Spurs are better off without him. What is looking increasingly clear, however, is that Spurs look like a much stronger overall team following the signings made in anticipation of his departure.
Paulinho has taken to Premier League football very well. While it is certainly pleasing to see Tom Huddlestone performing so well at Hull City, the comparatively uptempo Brazilian is more appropriate to what Spurs need in midfield.
Prior to getting injured, Etienne Capoue showed promise as an upgrade from the aging Scott Parker. Christian Eriksen, meanwhile, looks to be a more versatile presence in midfield than Clint Dempsey (though the latter's goals could still be missed).
Roberto Soldado could do with a goal right about now, but his class is clearly evident. Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli both appear to be adjusting well to the English game, though a little patience might still be needed before their best is seen. Given he only made his debut earlier this week, it is too early to tell either way about Vlad Chiriches.
Greater depth, better individual talent and more overall creativity—this past summer appears to have been well spent for Spurs.
Villas-Boas' Tactical Adjustments Seem to Be Working
On the pitch, Villas-Boas has gone about slightly altering the way his team is set up.
More akin to a 4-3-3, though still with shades of a 4-2-3-1, the formation has really taken shape over the last few games.
Between Mousa Dembele, Paulinho and Sandro, there has been a healthy balance in central midfield. Operating in front of two-man combinations of that trio, Eriksen and Lewis Holtby have been finding those killer passes in the final third that were too often in short supply last season.
Work still needs to be done in figuring out the most effective attacking trio in front of them, but that should come with time. Villas-Boas certainly isn't short of flair, speed, creativity and finishing ability within his squad to fill these roles.
Besides these adjustments, the work the manager did with his team last season seems to have paid off.
Especially defensively, they are more comfortable playing a higher line. In recent weeks, the back four have combined well with the midfield in pressing and restricting the space their opponents have to work in.
Chelsea will be a test of all of this, but Spurs have looked better as a collective unit.
Spurs' Use of the Loan System Is Paying off
The energetic Rose has replaced Benoit Assou-Ekotto as first choice left-back. Townsend has greater competition for a starting spot on the wings, but he has done himself no harm with a clutch of enthusiastic and occasionally thrilling displays.
The form of both is testament to Spurs' faith in the loan system. Townsend especially has come to know the challenges, benefits and pitfalls of life shared with other clubs (he spent time at nine of them).
There are merits to time spent playing in the Premier League's Under-21 development division. Unfortunately, it is not quite able to replicate what a young player can learn playing seasoned professionals in games in front of passionate, vocal crowds.
Spurs have trusted in that experience for several of their young players. In Townsend and Rose, there is evidence it is working for them right now.
Big Games Will Define How Good Tottenham Can Be
As obvious as it might be to say, Tottenham's fortunes this season will likely be defined by how they fare against the top clubs.
Nonetheless, Spurs should win more of those matches than they will lose. Unclear at this stage, though, is where they stand among their rivals for Champions League places.
Arsenal deserved to beat Spurs earlier this month, but they did not outclass them. Villas-Boas' side had 57 percent of the possession and on another day might have snatched a point.
Chelsea on Saturday will give us an idea of Tottenham's level right now. A loss is not catastrophic by any means, but a positive result will be a timely confidence boost as they look to build on their fine start.