Friday, February 22, 2008

Carling Cup Final Preview

The end of the season starts here, with the League Cup Final on Sunday afternoon between Spurs and Chelsea. On paper, this should be a comfortable win for Chelsea, but Spurs don't often lose cup finals (even though they lost their last one, a League Cup Final against Blackburn Rovers in 2002), and the news that Avram Grant still seems to think that John Terry and Frank Lampard still aren't fully fit might count in their favour too. I should add that, although I understand the reasons for doing it, it still feels wrong that there should be a cup final of any sort this early in the season. It would be nice if they could shunt it all back a month or so, but I can't see it happening any time soon.

Spurs' recent history against Chelsea is one of occasional flashes of brilliance punctuating considerably longer periods of being outplayed, throwing leads away and generally doing everything they can to make life as easy as possible for their nouveau riche London rivals. The rivalry between Spurs and Chelsea will never be as intense as that between Spurs and Arsenal (though conversely it has a tendency to be even more poisonous when it does raise its head - this week's revelation of anti-semitic threats made against Avram Grant may or may not have helped the atmosphere at Wembley in this respect, though it should at least help in stopping "Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz" chants, which would be a start), but these two sides meeting at Wembley is a potential headache for the police. There was trouble before both of last season's FA Cup quarter-final matches between the two teams, and I can't imagine that there won't be some group of Stone Island clad hominids somewhere that won't think that this is a great excuse to "kick off".

Spurs and Chelsea have only ever met once in a cup final before, in the FA Cup in 1967. The year after the England's World Cup win had been a peculiar one in the league. Manchester United won the championship, with Nottingham Forest appearing from nowhere to finish in second place behind them. United, fired by Dennis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best, won it at a canter, with three games to spare. The FA Cup had a similarly disjointed feel to it. It could be argued that Spurs' place in the final was due as much to the luck of the draw as anything else. They didn't play another First Division team until the semi-finals, and they needed replays to get past Second Division Millwall and Birmingham City. The final itself was a bit of a let down. There was more or less nothing between the two teams until Jimmy Robertson gave Spurs the lead just before half time, and a second goal from Frank Saul mid-way through the second half more or less killed the game as a contest, although a late Chelsea goal though Bobby Tambling gave Spurs a nervy last five minutes.

In more recent times, the omens for Spurs are more mixed. In 2002, they beat Chelsea 5-1 in the second leg of the semi-final to seal their place in Cardiff, and their win against them at White Hart Lane last season was their first against them in the league for years. However, they threw away a two goal lead at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup last season and Chelsea won the replay at White Hart Lane. Juande Ramos has (with the exception of an ill-deserved defeat at Old Trafford in the FA Cup) turned them into a formidable cup team, and the knowledge that qualifying for next season's UEFA Cup will be dependent on them winning this match or winning this year's UEFA Cup may just prove to be the inspiration that they need to grind out a result on Sunday afternoon. Chelsea have bigger fish to fry - they still have a theoretical chance of winning the Premier League (though Manchester United and Arsenal are probably too far away in the distance for it to be a realistic aim) and have an excellent chance of making the quarter-finals of the European Cup. The key question could be how much damage Chelsea can do to Spurs in a competition that they don't really care that much about.

Anyway, in anticipation of the Chelsea steamroller proving yet again that most Premier League related football is more or less a foregone conclusion, here's a look back to an altogether more innocent time - the 1967 FA Cup Final, courtesy of Pathe News.


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