Tomorrow’s Carling Cup final at Wembley represents the first chance at meaningful silverware this year in England. The Community Shield, whose winner does get a trophy, is generally considered to be nothing more than a glorified preseason exhibition match. I think I can safely say that tomorrow’s game will be anything but an exhibition, and it should be a great 90 minutes (perhaps more) of action.
Both Tottenham and Chelsea will be pushing to win this game, there’s no doubt about it. Chelsea are the defending champions of the Carling Cup and will obviously want to repeat. I’m not sure how much I buy into the opinion that they have an obligation to play their best team, but manager Avram Grant likely wants to put his own stamp on the team and win his first trophy in charge of the West London club.
This game appears bigger for Tottenham though, and for good reason. The goal of the other 16 teams in the Premiership is to break the stranglehold of the “Big Four”. The only way to do that is by winning these cup competitions and trying to sneak into the top four in the league like several clubs are seriously bidding to do this season.
Spurs have been a new and improved club with Juande Ramos, who replaced Martin Jol as manager in late October 2007, at the helm. The North London club is 14-8-5 in all competitions under Ramos and have undergone changes in their roster and in tactical preferences. Spurs are playing with more passion and confidence and seem hungrier to win than they had been during Jol’s last few months in charge.
Tomorrow’s game also represents a route into Europe for Spurs, who are unlikely to get back into the UEFA Cup through their league position this year. If they don’t beat Chelsea, they’ll have to win this year’s UEFA Cup to earn their way back into Europe’s second-tier club competition. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that winning one game is more likely than prevailing from 16 teams in a knockout tournanent.
I’ve got Spurs winning this game 3-2 in a victory not only for the club itself, but for every other Premiership team outside the “Big Four” as well. It’s important to the competitive growth and progression of the league that someone besides Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchester United win something. The fans who want to see the same four teams win year after year are in the minority. As a neutral, I obviously don’t count myself in that group and will be rooting for Spurs tomorrow.