Event: English FA Cup semi final
Date: Saturday, 22nd April 2017
Kick Off: 5:15pm (Nigerian time)
Venue: Wembley Stadium, England
Of all the ‘marquee’ games coming up across Europe between today and next week Thursday, I don’t think there is anyone of them that is drawing so much anticipation, suspense, glamour as this one including the much-hyped Spanish el-Classico which is, incidentally coming up just over 24 hours after this one.
Saturday’s clash at Wembley creates a diversion from the duo’s Premier League title race, which has burst to life after Tottenham sliced Chelsea’s lead to four points with six games remaining.
While Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side, who were 10 points clear a few weeks ago, have recently looked vulnerable in defeats by Crystal Palace and Man United, Tottenham have built up a head of steam with seven consecutive league wins.
This is an opportunity to inflict psychological damage with respect to the EPL title race as the curtain gradually comes down on it. While the clash won’t have a direct impact on the Premier League table, the winners could gain momentum going into the final run-in.
With Tottenham seeking to extend an eight-game winning streak and Chelsea hoping to put last weekend’s anaemic display at Man United behind them. Something has to give.
Perhaps, Tottenham’s gaffer Maurichio Pochettino was simply playing mind games and taking the pressure off his thriving squad when he insisted that Chelsea are favourites to win this weekend’s tie despite their recent stutter and his side’s irresistible form.
Meanwhile, Gary Cahill could miss out after being admitted to hospital this week with gastroenteritis. Thibaut Courtois and Marcos Alonso will likely return after missing last week’s loss at Man United, and Conte’s Chelsea men are otherwise fighting fit.
Tottenham have no fresh injury concerns with Harry Kane back in business after last week’s 4-0 victory against Bournemouth, in which he also scored. Danny Rose remains sidelined for Spurs, however, Pochettino hopes to have his left full-back available for the upcoming North London derby.
Michel Vorm joins Harry Winks and Erik Lamela on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
KEY STATISTICS TO BEAR IN MIND AS THE COUNTDOWN TICKS AWAY
-The Blues have only lost one of their last five FA Cup semi-final ties, but it was in their last such appearance in 2013 (vs Manchester City).
-Tottenham have lost each of their last six FA Cup semi-final appearances (1993, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2010 and 2012). Should they lose this, they’ll set a record for consecutive FA Cup semi-final defeats (Chelsea also six between 1920 and 1966).
-The last time these sides met in the competition was in the 2012 semi-final, with Chelsea running out 5-1 winners en route to lifting the trophy.
-In all competitions, Spurs have won just two of their last 16 meetings with Chelsea (D7 L7), though they did win the last game between them 2-0 in January.
-This will be the fourth meeting between these sides at the new Wembley, making it the joint-most played fixture at the ground since it re-opened in 2007 (Chelsea v Man Utd also four).
-Since beating Chelsea in the League Cup final in 2008, Tottenham have won just one of their eight games at Wembley (D2 L5), beating CSKA Moscow in a Champions League group stage game in December.
-Meanwhile, Chelsea have lost two of their last three games at the ground, with the victory coming against Tottenham in the 2015 League Cup final.
-Son Heung-Min has been involved in more goals than any other player in this season’s FA Cup (6 goals, 1 assist).
-Pedro has scored four goals and assisted a further two in his three FA Cup appearances for Chelsea this season.
-Tottenham players have scored a hat-trick in each of the last two rounds (Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min).
-Chelsea lost their last match against Man United – they’ve not lost back-to-back games in all competitions since April 2016 (vs Swansea and Man City).
-Tottenham meanwhile have won their last eight games in all competitions – they’ve only enjoyed a longer such run once in their history (13 games, April-October 1960).
-Tottenham qualified for the semi-finals with a 6-0 win over Millwall in the previous round while Chelsea had to see of Man United with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
-Saturday’s game will be Spurs’ first against Premier League opposition in the compeittion, having previous faced Aston Villa, Wycombe and Fulham.
-Both sides have already met twice in the league this season. Chelsea won the first fixture 2-1 in November, while Spurs claimed the three points with a 2-0 win at White Hart Lane in January.
Antonio Conte (Chelsea): “I think that Tottenham must be considered at the top, because Tottenham now is a really great power in English football. They have been working three years and I think it’s the right moment to to not consider him underdog and have this excuse.
“They are a great team and for the second year are fighting for the title. Last year they missed this, this year they are trying again, and I think in the future they will fight every year for the title because they are full of strong players and they are building something important. There is a moment where you have to finish to be considered yourself. I think this is the right moment.”
Conte did deny this match would have any effect on the title race.
“I think these are two different competitions, the FA Cup, great competition, great tradition, the oldest competition in the world, very important for the country, and then there is the league. Two different competitions. I don’t think if one team wins or loses it can affect the other competition.”
Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham): “I think if there is one favourite it’s Chelsea because they are top of the table, because of the experienced players and the manager that they have,” Pochettino, whose Tottenham side lost the 2015 League Cup final to Chelsea, told reporters on Friday.
“We are talking about one of the best teams in Europe. Players that in the past five years have won European competitions and World Cups, a manager who won the league in Italy. They are more experienced than us.
“But we are in a good moment, too, and we are hungry to challenge this type of team. We are happy to fight with the best team in England for the Premier League and [FA] Cup.”
FORM GUIDE (all competitions, most recent first)
VERDICT: Undoubtedly, on the basis of recent form, Spurs could be considered favourites for this game. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have won eight consecutive matches, including last weekend’s 4-0 win over Bournemouth – their second consecutive 4-0 win. But again, they have been home games against ‘lightweights‘ – no disrespect though. So let’s see how they cope against a fellow top four opposition as formidable as Chelsea.
One clear advantage Chelsea will have over their London rivals is their record at Wembley. Spurs used the stadium for their home matches in Europe this season, but generally under-performed. They have won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions at the stadium. But for Chelsea, it has almost always brought success and joy to them. It seems to be ‘home away from home‘ for them in recent times enjoying the most success – on it – out of all the EPL teams. This is indeed a tough call to make. A high-flying Tottenham side against a seemingly stuttering Chelsea side who had been cruising all season.
This could go down to extra time but one thing is certain: There will be goals between both sides.
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