Spurs aim to regain form in cup clash
Come Wembley Stadium on April 15, everything outside the parameters of this famous arena, the players on parade, and the lashings of local pride cascading down from the stands, will go out of the window. So it should. But deep down, those associated with Tottenham and Chelsea know there’s a bigger battle to be won than the FA Cup semifinal.
These two London rivals are also slugging it out for a finish within the Premier League’s top four. This Sunday’s rendezvous should matter deeply, as an FA Cup final is not to be sniffed at for either team after the intense season they have had. Ask the question if an FA Cup final matters as much as a Champions League spot to each team, the answer isanything but clear-cut.
In many ways, this meeting between Tottenham and Chelsea crystallizes the argument that has rumbled along over the past few years. Rewind to the era before numerous teams from each country allowed in the Champions League, and the FA Cup was as glorious a prize as they come. When these two teams met at Wembley for what was dubbed the “Cockney Cup Final” in 1967, finishing fourth, third or even second in the league was pretty meaningless. Nowadays, players and especially club executives, consider fourth place as a significant accomplishment. It might not come with medals or a sculpted chunk of silver to hoist into the air, but it is regarded as a trophy. Like it or not (much to the chagrin of football purists) that’s the way football has evolved.
Spurs manager Harry Rednapp would plump for the FA Cup in a split second. One can easily point out how Redknapp gets all misty eyed as he recounts stories of watching the English football showpiece in his youth. But Harry also appreciates the significance of earning a Champions League place; in terms of finance, stature, and the ability to keep the club’s best players and attract the highest caliber signings of the future. It will be a tough job to keep the vultures away from the likes of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, without the promise of top European football.
Romance versus business is not an easy battle for a man like Redknapp to reconcile. Of course, the ideal scenario is for one team to land both prizes. The notion that either Spurs or Chelsea can land a psychological blow by winning this weekend — a boost to take into the remainder of the league campaign — is an interesting one.
Chelsea holds the upper hand in terms of their overwhelming dominance in this fixture over the past decade. But Roberto Di Matteo is not without problems in his approach to this match. He has a challenge on his hands to select a team to win, whilst mindful of the enormous match that is just over the horizon. Plus, Barcelona visit Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night in the Champions League semifinal. The coach has not been shy to rotate, but managing his resources to perform to the extreme in two emotionally loaded affairs in quick succession will be a big test.
Fortunately for Di Matteo, his side’s the in-form club heading into the weekend. Chelsea have lost one out of their last 11 games. Conversely, Tottenham’s confidence took a painful dent when they were defeated at home by Norwich, with only three wins in their last 11 games. Both Premier League meetings between the two this season, incidentally, have been drawn.
After the Norwich blow, Tottenham’s players held an inquest at the training ground. Club captain, Ledley King, urged his teammates to remain calm and stick together. "It's up to the senior lads to lift the spirits of the rest of the lads and keep them there,” said King. “It has been a long season and there are some tired legs but we have to keep pushing. We have top players.”
Tottenham fans are depressingly familiar with disappointment when they clap eyes on Chelsea. Their record against the Blues outside of White Hart Lane is notoriously poor. But there could be no better time to turn the tables than now. Tottenham needs a desperate lift, to improve morale and help them to up their game in the league run-in.
There’s no denying that Spurs have been off track. Now they must seize the moment to get things bubbling again.