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head to head Mourinho and Lampard are no longer master and apprentice in changing season


Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA

Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA

Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA

It may well be that when Chelsea face Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow the leadership of the Premier League will have already changed hands for an eighth time this season.

Liverpool's lunchtime kick-off at Brighton today affords them the opportunity to go back to the top. Six different teams have led the table and that has not happened so early in a season since 2008.

While more games taking place at staggered times is clearly a factor, the congested fixture list has undoubtedly produced a congested table: just nine points separate 15 clubs.

Last weekend ended with Tottenham top for the first time since August 2014 - when they lasted only five days. It is the first time they have been in front after at least nine games since January 1985, under Peter Shreeves, with their impressive teatime win at home to Manchester City taking them ahead of Chelsea, who had briefly been at the summit for the first time in two years with their victory away to Newcastle United.

The confusion affords unexpected opportunity and none more so than at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea will host Spurs in a fixture that, in this most indefinable of campaigns, may provide some definition. A positive result either way would lead to the belief that, 10 games in, a surprise title challenge can seriously be mounted.

Beyond the enduring early-season hope that Leicester City or Everton or someone else outside the "Big Six" can force themselves into the contest, there was always the expectation that Liverpool remain the team to beat, especially given City's curious lack of intensity despite Pep Guardiola signing a new contract.

Jose Mourinho, above all managers, perhaps, has built a reputation on being able to sense blood in the water; to capitalise on confusion and vulnerability. He will be delighting in Guardiola's apparent struggles, Jurgen Klopp complaining about the fixture schedule, Mikel Arteta's difficulties at Arsenal and - maybe above all, given his history - Manchester United's angst. Mourinho will be delighting in not feeling any of that pressure.


Frank Lampard faces his old boss Jose today

Frank Lampard faces his old boss Jose today

Frank Lampard faces his old boss Jose today

What is so intriguing about Spurs and Chelsea is this - did any other club reshape their squad as successfully as these two during the last transfer window? Even those within Chelsea, while expecting significant spending, were surprised by the scale of the recruitment sanctioned by Roman Abramovich.

With £225 million (€250m) spent and six first-team players brought in, including the shrewd free transfer of Thiago Silva, that is some overhaul to instigate in one window when there was uncertainty over what was happening in the market.

For Spurs, it was opportunistic in a different way, and that is in keeping with the approach to transfers undertaken for years by Daniel Levy, the chairman.

What is interesting is that Mourinho, usually so meticulous in wanting early signings, went along with it, even if he managed to acquire key pieces to his "puzzle" in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Matt Doherty before changing the dimensions of his squad with Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon.

What both Chelsea and Spurs suddenly have is great strength in depth and that feels like it could be a key factor in an attritional, survival-of-the-fittest campaign.

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For Tottenham, it is a far cry from when Mourinho said he turned to his injury-hit bench during the Champions League defeat by RB Leipzig last March and concluded "all the players on the Leipzig bench would play at this moment in my team". It is also very different from the dismal opening-day home loss against Everton.

For Chelsea, that strength is even greater, especially in the forward positions where there is a phenomenal array of talent, although much of it is young and Frank Lampard, the head coach, is still working towards the right combinations.

For now, Spurs appear to have got there more quickly - with the caveat that they are hugely dependent on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min - and the most dangerous thing about them this season for their rivals is the fact that Mourinho has a squad who believe in what he is doing, who believe in this approach, which has been summed up most dramatically by the contribution of Kane. The sight of him tracking back into his own penalty area to make tackles against City, while still affecting the game with his attacking play, was testimony to that.

What counts against Spurs is history - they have not won a title since 1961 - but what counts for them is Mourinho, who delivered Chelsea's first title in 50 years. What counts against Chelsea is probably inexperience, in the dugout as well, but Lampard has shown he can mould a team and has already moved away from the early-season alarm over whether he can organise defensively.

When it came up last season, the meeting of these teams focused solely on the managers and the apparent "master versus apprentice" in what was, in truth, a sideshow as neither were challenging. This weekend is a chance to confirm that has changed.

  • Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur, Live, Sky Sports, tomorrow 4.30

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