LONDON: Juan Mata’s decisive strike at Manchester United at the weekend means Chelsea can all but guarantee Champions League qualification by beating fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur at home tonight.
The Stamford Bridge showdown looked destined to be a straight shootout for a top-four place until Mata struck with three minutes remaining at Old Trafford on Sunday to give Chelsea a precious 1-0 victory.
The Spaniard’s goal, via a telling deflection off Phil Jones, lifted Chelsea three points above Spurs and means they will be virtually guaranteed a place in next season’s Champions League if they defeat their London rivals.
The win over United was Chelsea’s 65th game of the season, but with Champions League qualification at stake and a Europa League final against Benfica still to come, Mata says there is simply not enough time for mental fatigue to creep in.
“Three points (at Old Trafford) was amazing, because now we are in third position,” he said following Sunday’s match. “If we win against Tottenham, we will be in the Champions League.”
Had Mata and his team-mates failed to overcome United, Spurs would have travelled to west London knowing that victory would have taken them into the Champions League places at Chelsea’s expense.
In any case, Spurs must win to take up a place in the top four.
Tonight’s game will mark manager Andre Villas-Boas’s first trip to Chelsea since he was sacked by the club in March last year, but he says he has not given much thought to the emotional implications of his return.
“I’m not sure (what it will be like),” said the Portuguese. “I was just another manager that passed by. I wasn’t given enough time.
“It would be excellent if we got the three points. At the moment it means absolutely nothing; it’s just another opponent in our quest to try to get the nine points that we have to play for.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2013.
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