With the advent of the new year, the business end of the Carabao Cup beckons as the last four teams left in the competition aim to make the final. Two enticing contests in the semi-finals will be kicked off with a London derby between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, as the first leg of the two-legged tie will feature Thomas Tuchel’s Blues up against Antonio Conte’s Lilywhites.
The Blues will go into this tie off the back of a 2-0 win over Brentford in the fifth round of the competition, but ups and downs on and off the pitch have taken a toll on them. An injury crisis coupled with an outbreak of coronavirus in the camp has meant that Chelsea had fallen off their lofty standards over the past month, having drawn five of their last ten games in all competitions. However, things are not as bad as it might seem – Chelsea are unbeaten in their last eight games.
Romelu Lukaku’s interview with Sky Italy speaking of a potential return back to Inter Milan added fuel to the fire at Stamford Bridge, but amid rumours of a fiery dressing room situation – the Blues responded well by coming back from behind against Liverpool. The 2-2 draw at the weekend showed a performance of grit and determination that Thomas Tuchel would have been proud of, as it kicked off the January schedule that is certain to test their mettle even further.
As for their opponents, a change in managerial capacity has seemed to revitalize Tottenham Hotspur. Antonio Conte has galvanized the club since taking charge in November following the sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo, as the Italian head coach is yet to lose in domestic competitions while at the helm of the North London club. Despite being knocked out of the newly instated Europa Conference League, Spurs are unbeaten in nine games in all domestic competitions.
The former Chelsea head coach is known for revitalizing an attacker or two, and their main man Harry Kane’s return to form after a barren first few months of the season has been encouraging for the Spurs faithful, to say the least. Spurs progressed into the semi-final off the back of a 2-1 win over West Ham in the fifth round of the competition and will meet their rivals from across the city at the same stage of the competition for the second time in a span of three years.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Date: Wednesday, 5th January 2022.
Time: 7:45 pm (UK).
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
Referee: Craig Pawson.
Assistants: Constantine Hatzidakis and Neil Davies.
Fourth Official: Kevin Friend.
VAR: Jarred Gillett and Lee Betts.
For the hosts, defenders Trevoh Chalobah is out for the game while Andreas Christensen is doubtful for the match through respective injuries. Édouard Mendy will miss out after he joined up with the Senegal camp to represent them in the African Cup of Nations, meaning that Kepa Arrizabalaga will continue in goal for Chelsea as he has done in the previous rounds of the Cup. Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner are also back available, for the Blues to call upon if needed.
As for the visitors, Cristian Romero, Ryan Sessegnon, and Steven Bergwijn will continue to remain on the sidelines through their respective injuries. When asked about the possible absentees for Spurs through COVID, Antonio Conte replied that the club is checking a couple of situations – and if there are no enforced absentees, Spurs will have a near-full squad to travel to the Bridge.
WILL CHELSEA PUT THEIR RECENT BLUES BEHIND TO WIN AT HOME?
Chelsea have been troubled by their fair share of issues in December and will look to put their recent blues behind as they would want an advantage ahead of the second leg. The Blues’ issues have stemmed from inefficiency in front of goal which was one of the major reasons behind a fall from their lofty standards over the past month. Chelsea have managed to score only one goal or less in three out of their last six games, and too many draws at home have slowed them down.
Stalemates against Burnley, Manchester United, Everton, and most recently Liverpool at home has made it four home games drawn in a row – Chelsea will aim to avoid a fifth consecutive draw at home. While Kai Havertz is likely to start upfront for the Blues, Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner are back available if needed to inject firepower off the bench – the Belgian striker will be back with a point to prove after having been a talking point all over the past week.
OR; WILL A FAMILIAR FACE COME BACK TO HAUNT THE BRIDGE?
One of the major subplots of the first leg is that the man in the away dugout is a familiar face around Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte who led Chelsea to their last Premier League title in 2017, will be back in the technical area at Stamford Bridge, but on the other side of the tunnel. Even though there will be a few handshakes made on the touchline, the former Chelsea head coach will look to devise a ploy to perform the Italian job (excuse the pun) on his old team.
It was under the Tottenham Hotspur manager that Chelsea employed three defenders at the back to win the league title and the FA Cup in two seasons, and Conte will go up against a successor who has had success with his formation – even though their principles are very different. His catenaccio philosophy offers a very direct threat, and if the Chelsea backline are not at their very best – Tottenham can get in behind with the sheer pace of Heung Min Son and Lucas Moura.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Silva, Rüdiger; Pulisic, Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso; Mount, Havertz, Hudson-Odoi.
Tottenham Hotspur (3-4-3): Lloris (c); Sánchez, Dier, Davies; Royal, Winks, Højbjerg, Reguilón; Lucas, Kane, Son.