I bloody love a good trip to Wembley. Since the re-vamped version was opened in 2007, I have gone to see Tottenham Hotspur twice, the first ending in ecstasy as Juande Ramos’ Spurs lifted the Carling Cup in 2008 against Sunday’s rivals Chelsea. However, the same emotion wasn’t to be endured just a year later as Manchester United overcame Harry Redknapp’s side on penalties. Cue me sat in my seat blubbering like a fat child who had just dropped his ice-cream as my two brothers were forced to effectively prise me from my seated position.
Anyway, Sunday. Sunday is massive for Spurs on so many levels. After the recent run of form in the Premier League, which has seen the Lilywhites pick up a monumental return of six points in eight games, the FA Cup is a welcome break from the stuttering, top four chasing Premiership encounters that has seen Spurs slip from 10-points clear in third to fourth on goal difference.
First and foremost, it’s a chance to reach the FA Cup final. Now, name me a team that doesn’t want to get the final of England most prestigious domestic cup final, and I’ve found you a team full of liars. The exhilaration of a trip to Wembley, the fabled home of football, the suspense that each touch of the ball brings and the togetherness of football fans, both young and old, is a joy to behold.
Secondly, it’s a chance to ‘do one’ over the old rivals Chelsea, and any chance to do that is always good in my books. And finally, silverware. Enquire to any football club, bar Arsenal, what it’s like to have a trophy in the cabinet and they are more than likely to sit you down and tell you a tale of the eventful day when said cup was won.
So, what CAN we expect?
Moving swiftly on, like any round in the cup, Sunday’s affair is likely to be long-winded and drawn out. Both teams will be afraid of making mistakes and, as such, Harry Redknapp and Roberto Di Matteo are likely to set their respective teams out to keep it tight early on. Possession is key in the opening encounters and, as such, Spurs will be hoping to keep the ball early on and make Chelsea run for it.
The fact that the Blues are playing some nomads called Barcelona on Wednesday will ultimately affect the player’s mental approach and with a number of the fans calling for Di Matteo to rest his key stars for the Champions League encounter with the Blaugrana, many suspect the Italian will do just that. Less trying, more conserving will be the mantra from the former Chelsea midfielder, even if he doesn’t admit it.
This plays right into Spurs’ hands. After Sunday’s game, the North Londoners aren’t in action again until Saturday evening, where they take on revitalised QPR, who in turn are looking to stave off the threat of relegation. Naturally, it will be nice if the Spurs of 2011 can turn up at Wembley, not the shower of s###e that many have bared to witness over the past two or so months. If the players go for it, they can win but, it’s important not to go all guns blazing in the first 15 minutes.
Redknapp’s likely starting XI
With Younes Kaboul joining Michael Dawson on the sidelines, Redknapp must pick between Ledley King, Ryan Nelsen and William Gallas to start. With a combined aged of 99, the trio are well equipped on the experience side of things, but aren’t exactly the quickest of players. With King’s form iffy, to say the least, in recent outings, I feel it may be best to start Gallas and Nelsen at Wembley. ‘The Prop’ was excellent in the second-half of the Norwich City debacle and Gallas has been reliable as ever when called upon, especially during the 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last month. Either side of them, the full-backs pick themselves.
Behind the back four, Redknapp has persisted with Carlo Cudicini throughout the Cup campaign and as well as Brad Friedel has performed this season, you get the feeling the gaffer will call upon Carlo again, especially against his former club. When fit, the midfield picks itself: Aaron Lennon, Luka Modric, Scott Parker, Gareth Bale. That quartet got Spurs to the top three in the Premier League and Redknapp must persist with these four to overcome Chelsea. Well balanced and able to attack sufficiently (should Bale stay on the bloody left!), they are a match for any side come rain or shine (unless Spurs play Norwich, of course).
Up front, same applies from the midfield. Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael Van der Vaart were both rested for the fiasco against the Canaries on Easter Monday, with, I’m guessing, a view to both starting against Chelsea. Again, like the aforementioned quartet, both players have enough quality about them to trouble the Blues back four and, on their day, have proven time and time again to be a thorn in the side of any defence they come up against.
So, as it stands, the possible starting XI reads: Cudicini; Walker, Gallas, Nelsen, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Modric, Parker, Bale; Van der Vaart, Adebayor.
That side is enough to overcome Chelsea and, in turn, lead Spurs to a nice FA Cup final against either Liverpool or Everton in May.