Already favorites to win the Premier League and advance to the last eight of the Champions League, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea could lift one of the three remaining trophies available to them this season in this Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley. Standing in their way will be a determined Tottenham Hotspur side that arguably threw away its chance to advance in the Europa League in order to save its best for this final.
And while earlier in the season Chelsea’s Diego Costa was the in-form striker in the Premier League, of late it’s been Tottenham’s homegrown goal-getter Harry Kane who’s been banging them in. Kane was on target twice the last time the two sides met, on New Year’s Day, when Spurs handed Chelsea a surprise 5-3 defeat at White Hart Lane. Mourinho may also be haunted by the last time the two sides met in the League Cup final, back in 2008, when Tottenham again came out the winners. In fact Chelsea have never gotten the better of Tottenham in a domestic cup final, having also lost the 1967 FA Cup final to the North Londoners.
Despite their poor track record against Tottenham on the big occasions, Mourinho’s Blues head into Sunday’s clash as favorites. This is after all, the all-conquering side of the Premier League this season; a Chelsea team many regard as the best ever. Although not unlike Real Madrid in Spain, Chelsea’s stellar form has dropped off somewhat since the turn of the year. They were knocked out of the FA Cup by League One side Bradford and since losing to Spurs on January 1st they’ve drawn four matches, dropping valuable points to allow Manchester City back into the title race.
Further complicating matters is the two-match ban facing Chelsea’s key defensive midfielder, Nemanja Matic. The most obvious replacement for the Serb is Jon Obi Mikel. But while Chelsea have lost only once this season with Matic in the side, their record with Mikel has been less spectacular. Thankfully for Chelsea, Mourinho will have his key attacking pieces in place for the match. Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas are all fit, available and expected to start Sunday.
Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino rested Kane and a few other key players in Thursday’s Europa League loss to Fiorentina. But having only two days between matches, compared to Chelsea’s eight, could prove the decisive factor that tips things Chelsea’s way. However it plays out, there are likely to be goals when these two sides meet Sunday. Pochettino’s Tottenham side were made to pay for their adventurous approach against Fiorentina. But the Argentine coach, like all the neutrals out there, will nonetheless be likely hoping for an open game.
Whether his counterpart at Chelsea will feel the same way is the big question. If Mourinho decides to employ his stifling “park the bus” tactics, he could make life even more difficult for a Tottenham side that’s already partially exhausted from its European exertions this week. Worse than that, he could suck the life out of what looks a mouthwatering cup final clash between two of the Premier League’s most high-powered teams. Let’s hope both sides turn up looking to play.