Chelsea play Tottenham in Thursday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Spurs hold a 1-0 advantage from the January 8 first leg at Wembley which the Blues must overturn to reach the February 24 final.
Here, Football Paradise looks at five key talking points ahead of the match.
Stubborn Sarri versus malleable Mauricio
Following his extraordinary criticism of his Chelsea players – “This group of players are extremely difficult to motivate,” – Maurizio Sarri will hope for a reaction. The 60-year-old Italian’s vow to stick to his principles and his tactical approach – a 4-3-3 formation with Jorginho at its centre – will likely be tested by a Spurs side who inflicted the first competitive defeat of his reign. Mauricio Pochettino has showed his willingness to adapt tactically and this versatility could favour Spurs. Neither man has won a trophy, so will be keen to put that right at the first opportunity. Since Spurs’ last silverware (the 2008 League Cup), Chelsea have won every major club trophy at least once.
The injury to Harry Kane means Fernando Llorente is likely to start up front. Kane’s absence and that of attacking midfielder Dele Alli, who is also out until March, deprives Spurs of their forward figureheads, but Llorente was coveted by former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and is a class operator, albeit short of match practise. Sarri could again select Eden Hazard as a ‘false nine’, even though it has hardly been a success. Olivier Giroud is another option, with Alvaro Morata out of favour and apparently nearing a departure. Chelsea had until 12noon on Wednesday to register Gonzalo Higuain, who appears to be closing in on a move to Stamford Bridge.
Giving youth a chance
Much as Chelsea fans would be loathe to admit it, there may be a begrudged respect for Spurs’ youth policy. Harry ‘one of our own’ Kane has developed into one of the world’s best strikers, while midfielders Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp have thrived at times this season. Winks is now a regular starter. Callum Hudson-Odoi will hope to feature for Chelsea, who are desperate to persuade him to commit to the club and reject overtures from Bayern Munich. Hudson-Odoi was given just 10 minutes’ playing time off the bench at Arsenal, though, so he may think actions speak louder than words.
Coming in from the cold
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou came off the substitutes’ bench at Fulham last Sunday, setting up Winks’ late winner. It was just his second appearance of the season and it had looked like he would be leaving Spurs this month. Gary Cahill, Danny Drinkwater and Victor Moses have become forgotten men at Chelsea. Cahill has the experience and fighting qualities demanded by Sarri following the meek surrender at Arsenal. Could Sarri recall the club captain? His leadership qualities may be what is missing.
The behaviour of the supporters was under scrutiny before the first leg following prior incidents of discriminatory behaviour. UEFA has since launched an investigation into alleged racist behaviour – anti-Semitic in nature – during Chelsea’s Europa League clash with Vidi in Budapest last month. Chelsea supporters’ groups and fan media outlets have formed ‘Chelsea Together’ in a bid to eliminate discriminatory behaviour among the club’s support. Tottenham fans still used the Y word in the first leg, albeit more muted than before, after a Spurs club statement which insisted “our fans (both Jewish and gentile) have never used the term with any deliberate intent to cause offence”. Jewish leadership groups want the use of the word, no matter the intention, to be eradicated.
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