So we meet again. Seven years after a glorious day at Wembley, Tottenham will try to repeat the trick and overcome Chelsea to win the Capital One Cup. Much has changed since 2008; only Younes Kaboul and John Terry remain from the squads that day, while of course neither of the managers were involved.
Back then a Juande Ramos-led Spurs were facing Avram Grant’s team, and while there was talk of unrest in the Chelsea camp following the Mourinho sacking, they were still finding ways to win. Don’t forget that they were a penalty kick away from winning the Champion’s League that same season. This time we’re facing Jose Mourinho after his return last season, but against a team that have slightly levelled off from their performances pre-Christmas.
While there was a drop-off from Chelsea towards the end of 2014, there’s no doubt that a 5-3 loss at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day was quite a knock to the confidence. There was a lack of rotation in the autumn months when surely they could have gotten away with resting a few important players now and again. A strategy of throwing the same players out there game after game always catches up with teams when spring arrives, as we know all too well.
As for Spurs, there’s been a lot generally to feel good about. While it took time to get to grips with the tactical demands of Mauricio Pochettino, enough players, if not all of them, have adapted to make the team a tough proposition for anyone. The big question for Spurs is how the team will react to Thursday’s Europa League-ending loss loss at Fiorentina; while many of what we would call our best eleven were rested or saw time on the field as a substitute, we will just have to hope that there isn’t a squad-wide hangover from what turned out to be a very poor performance.
While league records or recent form are hardly very important in judging a team’s prospects, both meetings between the two teams are instructive. At Stamford Bridge, Spurs made a number of early chances and didn’t convert, while Chelsea had plenty of space in which to play and punished us with three goals. At White Hart Lane, we saw perhaps the performance of the season as Spurs ripped into their London rivals, while not even a one goal deficit presented a problem. They were clinical in their finishing and swarmed all over the league leaders, in a style that Pochettino will expect to see regularly against everyone by next season.
The 2008 team focused a lot of play against the weak link of the Chelsea team in Juliano Belletti; with Branislav Ivanovic in situ I wouldn’t expect to see that again, but there are weak spaces that Spurs may exploit. The loss of Nemanja Matic is hugely important, even if it doesn’t swing the tie as much as Mourinho wants the media to believe. Harry Kane was a devastating force when he found room in front of the defence in January; what can he do with the best defensive shield in the Premier League missing from the game? You can expect that the strong but immobile pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill aren’t looking forward to finding out, although the promising Kurt Zouma is an option too.
Defensively, Spurs will face a huge test from Diego Costa and Eden Hazard in particular, while old nemesis Didier Drogba will be aching to spring from the bench. Expect Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to be selective in their runs forward, while the central positions are up for debate for Spurs. Is Federico Fazio the best option against Costa due to his strength and knowledge of the striker from their La Liga days? Or was his selection on Thursday a sign that Eric Dier is getting the nod instead?
Whatever happens over the 90 or 120 minutes, it does seem like the team is on the right track under the Argentinean, but a cup in his first season would be a major achievement, and hopefully a pre-cursor to further success in the years to come. Come On You Spurs.