It’s a strange cup the Carling Cup. Not to look at or anything. It’s your standard, oversized, football tin pot, complete with a couple of ribbons and handles for heroic lofting. I’m not even sure there’s a lid, one to grab and place on the head for a comedy hat routine during the lap of honour. Not strange in that way. Nor does it magically alter all liquid that pours forth into frothy beer of said sponsor. That would be both strange and also, brilliantly, special. Indiana Jones would kill Nazis for that cup.
It really isn’t that strange then, maybe I should have started with another sentence? The point is that once you get knocked out of the Carling Cup it ceases to be the League Cup. It changes, it alters, there a rapid period of metamorphosis. It becomes the Mickey Mouse Cup and you apparently couldn’t care less if you don’t win it. Of course, as Chelsea fans, we’ve not been used to that situation so have no idea what these moaning Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd fans are going on about. We’ve won this strange tin pot a few times and, having grown very found of one the four trophies on offer, would very much like to win it again. You see, there’s nothing strange about silverware unless you support Newcastle United.
It promises to be a cracking final for a number of reasons. As a derby there should be plenty of spark on the pitch and in the stands. Both teams have some of the best attacking talent in the world on show and have an abundance of players who can turn the game in an instant. Both teams also served up some below par European football in the week and should have enough in the tank to make some lung busting runs. Chelsea can only improve after snowy Greece and Spurs just about got away with resting some names against Prague. Neither team can afford to be as toothless come Sunday.
One of the new managers to the league will also leave Wembley with their first English trophy. The two coaches have not had the luxury of pre-season to stamp their footballing philosophies onto the teams. What they have done is brought about subtle changes, Chelsea with a onus on possession and passing football, Spurs have worked hard to shore up the leaky defence that threatened to derail their season early on. Furthermore they did some astute transfer wheeling and dealing in January. Avram brought in the attacking talent of Anelka, who has already impressed and looks to have settled into the team with ease. Ramos also bought well with Hutton and Woodgate bolstering the defence. Also the fitness coach Marcos Alvarez has been influential, tabloids giving the impression the North London tubsters should stay away from the pies and Big Macs. It also promises to be an intriguing tactical battle between the managers.
Woodgate and King are a strong centre back pairing when fit and Berbatov and Keane are one of the best strike partnerships in the division, offering guile and genuine class. Chelsea should have Carvalho and JT or Alex making things tight at the back whilst Drogba and Anelka can cause havoc upfront.
So far so even. I think where the game might be won or lost is in the centre of the park. Spurs should have Jenas and Zakora in the centre whereas Chelsea are likely to line up with three. Whether it’s Lamps, Ballack, Essien, Mikel or Maka it’s a powerhouse midfield that could be too much to contain. Expect to see Malbranque cut in from the left side to make up the numbers and Lennon to be the outlet for any breakaways.
I think Ashley Cole, with his pace and turn of speed, would be ideal to mark Lennon. It would harsh on Bridge who have been superb all season but Cole could be the man for the job. With Malbranque infield we should try to use that space and get Belletti forward supporting the winger whenever possible. With the odd luxury of a full squad it’s difficult to second guess Grant’s selection but I just hope he keeps things stable and doesn’t do a Rafa on us. I thought Anelka looked good cutting in from the left on Tuesday but then Joe Cole and Wright-Philips might be deserving of a place more. It’ll be interesting to see what the best line up is deemed to be at the moment.
If Chelsea’s three man centre midfield can keep the ball then we’ll have a great chance of winning the first trophy of the season. Like Gordon Strachan sagely said after watching Celtic get beaten by Barca’s second half display, the team that keeps the ball best is normally the one that wins. After the sick death threats to Avram Grant it would be something special if the players could win him his first trophy for Chelsea.
For the fans beating Spurs in a cup final would very sweet indeed.