Now, usually I try and remain as impartial as possible in these previews. Sometimes I’ll let the bias take over (Liverpool previews mainly, I just can’t resist), and seeing as this is a special occasion, Tottenham fans (all seven of you) look away, because this is going to be nothing but a look forward to Chelsea’s Carling Cup Final win of 2008.Yet again we head to Wembley, which is becoming a second home to us in recent years. They may as well get on with painting the seats blue and renaming the ground ‘Stamford Bridge II’ as we’re there that often!
The road to the final began with a 4-0 thumping away at Hull City, goals coming from Scott Sinclair, Steve Sidwell, and a Salomon Kalou brace. A thrilling home tie against Leicester City followed, and many predicted another routine win over lower-league opposition. By the 74th minute, when Carl Cort put the Foxes 3-2 up, we realised we were wrong. Two late goals from Andriy Shevchenko saved the day, with the winner coming inside injury-time.
Liverpool were duly dispatched next, setting up a two-legged semi-final with Merseyside rivals Everton. A memorable 2-1 home win featuring a John Mikel Obi sending-off (ridiculous) and Shaun Wright-Phillips out jumping Joleon Lescott to force the winner late on (sublime), was followed up with a 1-0 win at Goodison, Joe Cole finding the net with a superb finish. Wembley, here we come. AGAIN!
With Avram Grant’s previously injury-hit squad returning to infallible status once more with no major concerns to speak of, the Israeli manager has some tough choices to make. The press has been reporting ‘news’ of Grant’s plan to leave out captain John Terry and Frank Lampard this week. Kidology? Bravery? Stupidity? We will see on Sunday, but such a decision can make or break a manager and with the Fleet Street vultures circling SW6 constantly, perhaps it wouldn’t be the best idea to drop two ‘untouchables’.
In goal, Petr Cech should start, with Carlo Cudicini-who missed the 2005 final through suspension and wasn’t in the 16 for last season’s triumph over Arsenal-on the bench. Ricardo Carvalho should start alongside either Terry or Alex, while there is competition for the full-back positions, with Juliano Belletti and Wayne Bridge getting the nod-from most fans anyway-over Paulo Ferreira and Ashley Cole.
Midfield is anyone’s guess though! Lampard aside, there are decisions to be made in every position. Where to play Michael Essien, surely a starter? Or Makelele, dependable as ever? Ballack? Joe Cole? Shaun Wright-Phillips? All in good form. John Mikel Obi, back from African Cup of Nations duty and hungry for games but facing stiff competition for a place. Steve Sidwell? Florent Malouda? Question marks all over the place, and no certainties for anyone.
Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Kalou, Shevchenko and Claudio Pizarro are then left to fight for the one or two striking berths available.
The general theme of this selection headache however bursts out from the page immediately. What a squad! On our day we could be the strongest team in the country, if not Europe. Spurs have a pair of error-prone Goalkeepers, an injury-hit, leaky defence, an inconsistent and certainly beatable midfield, and a sulking striker at times carrying the side. We can beat them!
Remember the 1967 final defeat, remember the 5-1 League Cup semi-final second leg defeat back in 2002, remember the Graham Poll-inspired win last season. If you weren’t up for the final, you must be now! This is Spurs, arch-enemies, our whipping boys. And we are Chelsea. Winners.
Let’s prove it on Sunday.
Prediction: Five-time winners on Sunday with another victory to add to our honours list. 2-0 with the second coming late on to calm the nerves and begin the celebrations. If it’s Terry and Lampard’s names on the score-sheet, then we’ll know Avram made the right choice!