The Carling Cup Final: A Foregone Conclusion?
On Sunday, Manchester United stand in the way of Tottenham Hotspur retaining the Carling Cup. It looks a formidable task for a Spurs side flirting with relegation and stretched in the midst of a 6 game spell taking place within 17 days. Of course, Manchester United have their own distractions as they seek to retain their own, rather more glorious trophies. Yet it is difficult to perceive anything other than a United victory.
Manchester United’s form of late has been simply irresistible. Spurs’ form, by contrast, has been stuttering. Victory at Hull will have restored some confidence in the Tottenham ranks but it will be a stern mental test to see if this can be carried through to Sunday’s final. United’s strong display against Inter Milan on Tuesday, though not yielding the goal that their first half performance richly deserved, will have done little to boost the Tottenham players’ collective morale.
While United wind down from a physical encounter at the San Siro and begin their preparations for Sunday, Spurs await the visit of Shakhtar Donetsk. To put it mildly, the tie is considered a nuisance. Redknapp has been vocal in bemoaning the club’s fixture pile up and will almost certainly rest his entire starting eleven for Thursday night’s game. Nevertheless, that preparations for Sunday will have been interrupted is indisputable.
It is often suggested that form goes out the window for one-off cup ties. To some extent, this was proved in last year’s final. However, Spurs’ form was neither so dire nor Chelsea’s so invincible and the gulf between this year’s finalists appears considerably greater.
Form definitely dictated events in the two clubs’ recent FA Cup 4th round tie. Despite taking an unexpected lead, Spurs were easily beaten. Although United only prevailed by the one goal, Spurs never looked like forcing an equalizer and the second half was a non-event. Of course, home advantage may have skewed things on this occasion and Wembley could provide a more level playing field.
Well, in theory at least. The Wembley pitch, larger than average, provides for width and pace – two things that United have in abundance. Spurs, by contrast, are desperately lacking in both, with Aaron Lennon the only notable exception.