Chief Football Writer, The Times
What can you tell us about the impact of Antonio Conte at Chelsea?
Henry: “Conte has transformed them. Everyone talks about his tactics and the change 10 minutes into the second half at Arsenal (in September) when he went to 3-5-2, but he’s also worked on their minds. I spoke to Ben Gibson (defender) at Middlesbrough and he said that Diego Costa has matured, he’s more measured, not winding people up or upsetting referees, he’s a far more disciplined and effective striker without losing that competitive, combative edge. That is Conte’s man-management. That’s not purely a tactical thing, although it’s helped having Eden Hazard and Pedro closer to him, so he doesn’t feel as isolated. You can see publicly how Conte gets the fans going, how he is in the technical area, that emotional jack-in-the-box. He’s an intelligent individual, as a lot of Italian coaches are, but also a very warm individual at all levels, from the likes of Costa to the cleaners at the training ground.”
Below: Antonio Conte
Where do you see Spurs at the moment?
Henry: “You have one of the best coaches in world football in Mauricio Pochettino and I say that both as a coach and a manager. A friend of mine watched a coaching session when he was at Espanyol and he said the intensity was phenomenal. The players look fit, look sharp, look hungry and they obviously enjoy training and take his thought process from Enfield onto the pitch. Again, you have a very intelligent individual and a warm individual and you can see that with how he celebrates with the players. I always look at body language when a player comes off and Pochettino always seems to choose the right time to say ‘well done’ or if the player needs to be left alone, he does that. He’s very astute. I’ve always enjoyed watching Tottenham because of the attacking edge and the commitment to attack but he’s built a fantastic defence, probably the best in the country. Vertonghen and Alderweireld is a fantastic combination. Chelsea fans won’t need reminding that Ashley Cole was the best left-back in Europe for about 10 years and the way Danny Rose has been playing in two roles, getting forward and creating as well as defending superbly, I think he’s one of the most underrated players in European football. We’ve been lucky in London football, we’ve seen some great left-backs down the years - Ashley Cole, Kenny Sansom from an older generation and I would put Danny Rose in that company.”
Below: Danny Rose
Where does this game stand at moment?
Henry: “At the start of the season, everyone was looking at Manchester, that was the new home of world football. Manchester is a footballing hotbed and we all understand that with Guardiola and Mourinho, but look at London now. Obviously Liverpool are a huge threat as well but look at Tottenham on the march, the long-term contracts, look at those recent aerial shots of the new stadium, Chelsea have plans as well, so let’s not overlook London Calling, to bring The Clash into this, and this certainly will be a clash! Just look at the coaches, the players, the commitment, the bond between fans and teams at both clubs and this is a fabulous game. Chelsea-Spurs is a huge, huge game now.”
Below: Kyle Walker hurdles past Eden Hazard at the Bridge
Where do you think this match might be won and lost?
Henry: “There are battles all over the pitch. The two goalkeepers - I really like Hugo Lloris, he’s fantastic, a man of character as well as great sporting ability. Look at the wide areas, Chelsea’s wing-backs Alonso and Moses, they are pretty quick and love getting forward but they are up against two of the fastest full-backs around in Walker and Rose. Moses against Rose will be a great battle. In midfield, the problem is Chelsea play with 12 players every week - Kante is like two players! He’s a better player now than he was at Leicester. Matic is back in form as well, so central midfield will be another huge battle. Then of course, Harry Kane. He is effectively up against three centre-halves, but there will be space in there. It might come down to the two strikers. These are two strikers in form, Kane and Costa. How do two of the best centre-halves in Europe in Vertonghen and Alderweireld deal with Costa? If you pushed me and asked how it might be decided, it might be decided by players coming off the bench. It will be close, it will be intense and it will be one of the best games of the season."