A place in the Carabao Cup final will be on the line when Chelsea welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Stamford Bridge in the semi-final second leg.
Manchester City are already back in the final, less than twelve months after winning the Carabao Cup. The other spot in next month’s Wembley final will be decided by the second semi-final, which is set up ever so tantalisingly, as Chelsea prepare to play hosts to Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge in the second leg on Thursday.
Chelsea seem to be unable to get themselves out of their rut, taking one step forward and one back in recent weeks. The latest setback came in the form of a 2-0 win to Arsenal in the Premier League, which has seen them go perilously close to dropping out of the top four. And, in the Carabao Cup, they’re on the verge of elimination as well, following the first leg two weeks ago.
Tottenham, on the other hand, have their fair share of problems as well. While the results have mostly been positive, the two home losses to Wolves and Manchester United notwithstanding, injuries are taking their heavy toll on Mauricio Pochettino’s squad, with several key players unavailable.
The first leg, as iterated earlier, ended in defeat for Chelsea, with Tottenham narrowly winning the tie 1-0 at Wembley. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Carabao Cup encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Maurizio Sarri does not have any major injury concerns ahead of the visit of Tottenham Hotspur. On Thursday, the Chelsea boss will be without just two first-team players, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back) likely to be available in a few weeks, while Marco van Ginkel (ACL) is out for the season.
The big concern for Sarri would have been the possibility of including Gonzalo Higuain in his squad for Thursday. But, the Argentine striker’s signing could not be completed on time, meaning he will only be able to make his Chelsea debut this weekend in the FA Cup, if selected.
Higuain’s unavailability means Olivier Giroud is likely to lead the line for the hosts, with the False Nine experiment failing yet again. Eden Hazard should thus, line up on the left side of the Chelsea attack, as he prefers, with Pedro manning the opposite flank, meaning Callum Hudson-Odoi misses out yet again.
In midfield, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho remain automatic selections, despite the latter’s drop in form of late. The third spot in midfield has lately been a selection merry go round, which should continue for the visit of Tottenham, with Ross Barkley replacing Mateo Kovacic. The Englishman though, needs to step up, with his early season for disappearing.
In defence, Marcos Alonso is a major worry. But, the Spaniard is expected to keep his place despite a lull that has seen him become a liability on both ends of the pitch. The rest of the back four should see the regulars lining up as well, with Kepa Arrizabalaga starting in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard
The start of the week has provided a mix of good and bad news to Mauricio Pochettino, who is without three of his most pivotal players, but has seen two players return to full training as well.
Harry Kane (ankle) and Dele Alli (hamstring) are the long-term absentees for Tottenham, with Son Heung-min unavailable for the duration of South Korea’s campaign at the AFC Asian Cup. Victor Wanyama (knee) is off the treatment table, and might be available by this weekend, when Spurs play Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.
The good news though, is that Lucas Moura (knee) and Moussa Sissoko (groin) have trained this week, and are in contention to feature against Chelsea. While the duo might not start, the fact that they will be options on the bench is a big positive for Pochettino, who can look up to the duo for creating the desired impact in the second half if things aren’t going his way.
As far as team selection for Thursday is concerned, the Tottenham boss might revert to his trusted 3-4-2-1 formation for a couple of reasons. While the scarcity of options in attack is reason enough, the fact that he will also be able to create more stability in midfield and defence with this formation means that the 3-4-2-1 ought to work against a misfiring Chelsea.
The back-three should thus, see Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen reunite as a defensive trio, with Paulo Gazzaniga regaining his place in goal, as has been the case so far in the Carabao Cup. Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier should be the wing-backs, while Harry Winks and Eric Dier are likely to continue their midfield partnership.
Fernando Llorente is set to continue leading the line for Tottenham in Kane’s absence, while Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela ought to be the two attacking midfielders, with the onus largely being on the former to inspire a win over Chelsea.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Gazzaniga; Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Trippier, Winks, Dier, Davies; Lamela, Eriksen; Llorente
- Chelsea have lost in both of their meetings with Tottenham in all competitions this season – the last time they lost three games against the same opponent in a season was vs Manchester City in 2012-13.
- Meanwhile, Tottenham are aiming to win four games in a row against Chelsea in all competitions for the first time since a run of five between March 1961 and September 1963.
- On just one of the five previous occasions that Chelsea lost the first leg of a League Cup semi-final tie have they progressed to the final, beating Arsenal 4-3 on aggregate in 1997-98 en route to winning the trophy.
- Tottenham have progressed on three of the five previous occasions they won a League Cup semi-final first leg, going out to Newcastle United in 1975-76 and Arsenal in 1986-87, coincidentally after 1-0 wins first time out.
- Since the start of last season, Eden Hazard has been directly involved in six goals in his seven League Cup games (3 goals, 3 assists).
Player to Watch
The key attacking players are becoming unavailable with each passing week for Tottenham, leaving Christian Eriksen as the only trusted lieutenant for Mauricio Pochettino. While Erik Lamela and Fernando Llorente will be hoping to prove a point, the onus will undoubtedly be on Eriksen, not just to pull the strings but also come up with the goods in front of goal.
The Dane’s prowess on set-pieces will also hold the key on Thursday, with free-kicks and corners possibly being Tottenham’s biggest source of goals against Chelsea. The day of reckoning for Eriksen in his Tottenham career.
Chelsea 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
This is a game that is hard to call, and for various reasons. Injury to key players puts Tottenham in a bit of a spot, while Chelsea remain as profligate as ever in front of goal. The Blues will certainly be chasing the game from the get-go, however, which might play in Tottenham’s hand, especially with a player like Lucas Moura coming in later on in the game.
Tottenham’s three-man defence is also likely to add to Chelsea’s frustrations, and the hosts do not look like they will scores goals aplenty on Thursday. Tottenham are unlikely to score bagful of goals either, having not looked like doing so against a fragile Fulham defence last weekend.
In the end, there might not be a lot to separate the two sides, which is why The Hard Tackle is going for a 1-1 draw that will see most of the action in midfield. Tottenham thus, go through to the Carabao Cup final for the first time since 2015, when Chelsea coincidentally got the better of them. The hosts though, are likely to bow out in the semi-finals for the second year running.