Last night’s 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane means that it is Tottenham Hotspur who will be facing Chelsea in the 2015 Capital One Cup Final. The bitter London rivals, who have each won the competition four times in their history, will take to Wembley Stadium on Sunday 1 March, and having beaten each other in the Premier League this season, both will fancy their chances.
That Spurs have made the final of the competition is a rather surprising one, given the previous cup form of their manager. Mauricio Pochettino was roundly criticised while in charge of Southampton last season for his seeming disinterest in the FA Cup, while a second-string Tottenham side was eliminated from the same competition at home by Leicester City on the weekend. In the Capital One Cup, however, it’s been a confident showing for the most part under his stewardship, with home wins over Championship sides Nottingham Forest and Brighton & Hove Albion before a thrashing of Newcastle United took Spurs to the Semi Final against League One club Sheffield United. The Blades gave Tottenham a scare last night but the Premier League quality shone through in the end. Well, Christian Eriksen’s quality.
The Danish playmaker scored twice in the second leg to see Spurs progress on aggregate, thanks to a bamboozling free-kick in the first half and then an 88th minute shot that showed a kind of technique and precision that most strikers would envy. Eriksen has now scored four key goals in the last three minutes of normal time or later this season, and his ability to directly influence games is something Chelsea will have to be very wary of.
Chelsea didn’t get their second leg breakthrough until extra time, but in Liverpool they were dealing with a much stronger Semi Final opponent than Sheffield United. Prior to that, though, The Blues had a relatively easier run than Tottenham, having not faced any topflight opposition until the Liverpool ties. A home win against Bolton Wanderers was followed by away wins at League Two side Shrewsbury Town – who were only beaten by an own goal – and Championship high-flyers Derby County. The Chelsea squad is a match for any club in the country, so making it this far can be argued as a par performance.
The Premier League leaders will be favourites going into the Final, perhaps for their form at the start of the season rather than now, but Spurs will point to their shock 5-3 win over them on New Year’s Day in the Premier League as an indication that they can step up to take the trophy. Besides, Tottenham have won this competition against the odds at the expense of Chelsea before. 2008 saw a mid-table Spurs side beat The Blues, who finished runners-up in the Premier League and Champions League that season, in the new Wembley’s first League Cup Final. Didier Drogba’s free kick was cancelled out by a Dimitar Berbatov penalty, and it took a Jonathan Woodgate header to win the match in extra time. That was Tottenham’s most recent silverware, while Chelsea haven’t won the competition since. Of the four players from either side still around from the 2008 final – Drogba, Petr Cech, John Terry and Aaron Lennon – only Blues skipper Terry is likely to start, although Drogba’s record at Wembley is formidable and his appearance from the bench would provide little comfort to the Spurs support.
Both managers will be keen to get their first trophies of their respective management spells, and a win for Pochettino in particular would earn him a guaranteed European spot which would buy him some time should he stumble in terms of qualification via the Premier League. Mourinho will have loftier ambitions in terms of the Premier League and Champions League titles, and the reward of this competition doesn’t hold weight against those, but that will not affect his team selection or approach on the day, as defeat to such fierce rivals on any occasion is a dampener, let alone a Cup Final.
All things considered, such as the rather one-sided previous two finals, we’re in store for an exciting match. A London derby between two sides who are more than capable of turning each other over is the showpiece this competition deserves., and one very much worth looking forward to.