RECLAIMING THE CARLING CUP STARTS HERE
Another win on the road for the Blues at Blackburn sets the club up nicely for a League Cup fourth round tie at Stamford Bridge against Rovers’ local rivals Burnley on Wednesday night. While the FA Cup rattled through its first round proper over the weekend with much fanfare and the old cliché’s peddled out for Setanta and ITV viewers, the League Cup is seen as an inferior competition. Describing it as a little brother is inaccurate; a distant cousin seems more apt, such is the disparity between the domestic cups. Weaker sides are the flavour of the tournament and with Championship side Burnley a long way from home, it could be a chance for Luis Felipe Scolari to shuffle his pack.
While Peter Kenyon spoke on Monday of prioritising English youth at Chelsea, the proof probably won’t be on the pitch on Wednesday night. With such a competitive set-up at Chelsea, every competition seems winnable and according to the Independent newspaper, Scolari will not risk playing an Arsenal-esque side of what sometimes appears to be a selection of 12 year olds. Regular substitutes including Carlo Cudicini, Branislav Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira could find themselves starting on the field instead of the bench, and with the seven subs rule existing in the competition, perhaps Big Phil could find a few places for some bright, young sparks in his 18-man match-day squad.
Owen Coyle’s Burnley have had a great start to the season, and currently sit in 5th place in the ultra-competitive Championship. Although they are a hefty 11 points away from league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers, fans are still delighted with life at Turf Moor, and as a consequence the loyal Clarets contingent will number around 6000 at the Bridge on Wednesday night. Although Coyle will be no doubt delighted to see a healthy away following, he has this week bemoaned his lack of squad options for the game. He said on the official Burnley website: “We are depleted. Clarke Carlisle is suspended and Steven Thompson is cup tied, Christian Kalvenes is not fit and Steven Caldwell and Stephen Jordan are both doubts because they did not train on Monday.”
Coyle can call upon some Premier League experience however, with former Aston Villa midfielder Joey Gudjonsson, journeyman striker Ade Akinbiyi, ex-Crystal Palace ‘keeper Gabor Kiraly and one-time Manchester United man Chris Eagles among others in the Burnley squad. Top scorer Martin Paterson has already bagged four League Cup goals this season, scoring two against Bury and another two in a 3-0 win over Oldham. The Clarets have reached round four having dumped Fulham out of the competition back in late September, a last-gasp Jay Rodriguez strike the difference between the two sides.
Chelsea and Burnley haven’t locked horns since the 1982/83 season, with a win apiece for both sides in the two league fixtures. Burnley won 3-0 at home, while Chelsea edged a 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. The last time the Clarets came away from SW6 with all three points was April 1971, just a month before the Blues recorded their maiden Cup Winners’ Cup victory against the mighty Real Madrid.
But fast-forward to the present day (well, go back a bit to last year), and our last fourth round League Cup tie was an absolute cracker. Hosting Championship Leicester City (who were to be relegated at the end of the season), Chelsea made hard work of the game, falling behind after just six minutes. A Frank Lampard double put the Blues ahead on the half-hour mark, but the pendulum swung again and Avram Grant’s side found themselves 2-3 down by the 74th minute. With time running out and an embarrassing cup exit looming, Andriy Shevchenko equalised with just minutes remaining, before Lampard denied Leicester an extra 30 minutes to spar with the Blues in extra-time, with an injury-time header sparing the home side’s blushes.
With Burnley flying high in the Championship, who knows, it could happen all over again. Perhaps the League Cup can show it has some magic left in it after all.
Prediction: Hmm, don’t think I can take that though! A comfortable victory for Chelsea, 2-0, hold the scares please.