Carling Cup Final: The Warm Up

Faisal Nasim 21 February 2008

This Sunday, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur will play out the first Carling Cup Final to be held at the new Wembley. Chelsea, who won the competition last year with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal, are the bookmaker’s favourites, having knocked out Hull, Leicester, Liverpool and Everton on their way to the final. Tottenham’s appearance comes as more of a surprise, especially since they spent much of the first half of the season languishing just above the relegation zone. Nevertheless, they managed to record victories over Middlesborough, Blackpoool. Manchester City and of course Arsenal in the semi-finals.

The manner of their second leg destruction of their North London rivals, who they had not beaten since 1999, highlights not only their resurgence under Juande Ramos but also the fact that they are real contenders in Sunday’s final. Although, Spurs’ attacking credentials have never been in doubt with Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane both enjoying prolific seasons, they have looked a much better side since the Spaniard took over, crucially managing to plug the leaks in their defence. One could argue that he was aided greatly by the return of the influential Ledley King, yet Ramos has also invested wisely in the transfer window, bringing in Alan Hutton from Rangers and Jonathan Woodgate from Middlesborough.

Recent results have also gone their way, with a convincing win over Derby and a draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford. They face a big game tonight in the last 32 of he UEFA cup against Slavia Prague, but their focus after that match will turn squarely to Sunday’s encounter. Fitness and fatigue may play a part, but Ramos has already claimed that his team is in a much better state, having been collectively 100kg overweight at the beginning of his tenure.

Chelsea can still potentially win the quadruple and for Avram Grant this an opportunity to win his first piece of silverware for the club. He is undoubtedly aware that the Carling Cup eluded even Jose Mourinho in his first season.

That they are taking the match seriously can clearly be seen from their match on Tuesday with Olympiakos, where Grant rested both Frank Lampard and John Terry in anticipation of Sunday’s game. Along with these two influential players, Chelsea’s best chance of success lies at the feet of Didier Drogba who has been on unstoppable form this season for the Blues as well as the Ivory Coast. His potential partnership with Nicholas Anelka up front could well spell the end of Spurs’ cup hopes. However, though efficient, Chelsea have often been insipid this season, lacking creativity and flair. An early Spurs goal could well unsettle them and open up the game significantly.

The Carling Cup has grown in status and importance over the past few seasons and this year is no exception for the two newly-installed managers. Ramos has a wealth of experience and pedigree in cup competitions from his time with Seville.

Grant, however, has also shown he has the tactical ability to lead Chelsea to success. Whatever the result (and I predict Chelsea to win 2-1, though don’t bet on it) the game promises to be exciting and eventful. Don’t miss it.

Faisal Nasim