Zouma looks the best man to combat Kane as Chelsea boss plots Tottenham’s downfall at Wembley
Harry Kane will have been giving Jose Mourinho nightmares this week as he ponders ways of neutralising the best young striker in England.
But it’s not just Kane that will be troubling Mourinho’s beauty sleep. All over the pitch, Spurs have players who can cause serious damage. Countering individual threats while asserting their own possession football will be the focus in training down in Cobham while Spurs prepare for a tricky and potentially energy-sapping Europa League match in Italy against Fiorentina.
There is no doubt Mourinho would have preferred his experienced centre-back pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill to be facing Emmanuel Adebayor, but with the Togo striker ousted by Kane, Mourinho has been struggling with the horns of a dilemma – can he trust Cahill to deal with the in-form Kane?
Ever since Cahill clashed heads, ironically against Spurs’ Jan Vertonghen at Stamford Bridge in the Blues’ 3-0 victory in December, which forced England’s vice-captain to leave the field, the centre-back’s form has been fitful.
An apparent lack of confidence appears to have taken hold over Cahill. His performance in Spurs’ emphatic 5-3 revenge victory at the White Hart Lane on January 1 was lamentable – even Mourinho admitted Cahill had struggled. Kane, of course, notched up a brace in that game, which would have put Mourinho on even higher alert to the hitman’s lightning quick goal-grabbing prowess.
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To that end, the Portuguese has opted to give French Under-21 international Kurt Zouma more of a senior role of late – the 6ft 3ins tall defender has played in the last three league matches.
The plan at the beginning of the season was to groom the £12.5million former Saint Etienne hard man slowly with Capital One Cup matches and Champions League group stage outings, while allowing him to learn by watching the master Terry from the dugout.
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But Mourinho has little sympathy for a player suffering a loss of form, and Cahill is set to pay that price – so it’s more than probable that Zouma will face their north London rivals alongside Terry.
Zouma has exceptional pace and it’s that, added to his instinctively impressive positional sense and sheer muscular physicality, that will be needed against Kane in particular.
There is no doubt that Branislav Ivanovic will line up at right-back, but what of the other flank? Cesar Azpilicueta and new boy Felipe Luis – who boasts greater attacking flair – are the contenders.
Andros Townsend and Kyle Walker had excellent games in that New Year’s Day debacle so, even if Mauricio Pochettino opts for Erik Lamela over Townsend, it’s likely Mourinho will rely on Azpilicueta’s greater defensive discipline to counter the right wing threats on Wembley’s wide open flanks.
In the defensive midfield area, Mourinho’s options are severely limited; John Obi Mikel is injured and Nemanja Matic suspended – although his ban was reduced on appeal – so Ramires and Cesc Fabregas will take turns to patrol just in front of their back four while supplying the wide men Eden Hazard and most likely Willian, with Oscar designated as the link man between them and Diego Costa.
Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb will have their work cut out to nullify their Chelsea opposites. But with Kane dropping into those central areas when possession is lost, they should be more than able to match Chelsea in numbers.
Counter-attacks will be key for both sides, and it’s how quickly Kane can transition through into the Chelsea penalty area and how quickly he will be picked up by Zouma that fans should keep an eye out for.
Mourinho won’t be losing any sleep over his goalkeepers – Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech have shown remarkable professionalism. The Belgian is unquestionably the long-term future and current No1, but Cech is matching the youngster in training and ready to step in if needed.
There is no love lost between Costa and Spurs defender Federico Fazio, who clashed off the ball in Spain last season, so keep an eye out for those two if Fazio gets the nod over Eric Dier – even when the ball is at the other end of the pitch. With tensions running high, a moment of red mist could be decisive.
Mourinho also took the opportunity to take a dig at Vertonghen when he invited himself onto Sky’s Goals on Sunday programme last weekend.
The Chelsea boss branded Vertonghen “a disgrace” for supposedly play-acting when Fernando Torres was shown a second yellow card after two bookings on the Belgian during the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane in September 2013.
Mourinho has clearly not forgotten the incident and, having used his TV appearance to bemoan decisions against his side – including Matic’s controversial dismissal against Burnley – he took a quick swipe at the Tottenham defender.
The Blues manager said: “They [Spurs] have such a good squad, almost replicas with two players for every position.
“What’s the difference between Lamela and Townsend, Chadli and Eriksen, Paulinho and Mason, Vertonghen and Fazio? The difference is that Vertonghen likes to get cards for his opponents.”
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