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.

Unlikely scenes: Spurs will be hard pushed to emulate last year’s result


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.


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Speed demon: Lennon’s pace will likely play a starring role if Spurs are to push United

In truth, Spurs best hope of causing an upset may well depend on the side fielded by Alex Ferguson.  For while Tottenham will undoubtedly be at full strength, Ferguson has suggested that some of his younger players will get an opportunity – the likes of Gibson, Wellback and Evans, all of whom have featured this season.

There are two important caveats to this possible outcome.

First, though young and relatively inexperienced, these are extremely good footballers, demonstrated by their growing prominence within United’s first team squad.  Evans, in particular, has looked at home in the starting eleven.

Second, Ferguson will name a strong squad and any players rested will likely be waiting in the wings should the game not be going United’s way.  Rooney, starting from the bench on Tuesday, is almost certain to feature, perhaps from the start.


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Likely starter: Rooney may take his place having been rested mid-week


A glance at recent finalists suggests that the Carling Cup has regained a degree of eminence.  Still the poor relation, domestically (the Community Shield aside), the bigger clubs have at least shown an increased desire to progress in the competition, if for no other reason than to extend competitive match experience to fledgling squad members.

For Spurs, this season as much as last, the competition is everything.  With only survival (he says, nonchalantly) to play for in the league and a mountain to climb in the Uefa Cup, Sunday marks Spurs only real opportunity of providing some gloss to an otherwise dreadful season and, more important – particularly in terms of personnel – to secure continued involvement in European football.

At Old Trafford, the stakes are less high though fans and players alike will surely have one eye on the ultimate achievement – the ‘Quadruple.’

The Spurs dressing room will doubtless be looking to last year’s excellent victory in the coming days, as they seek the belief that they can push United all the way.  Football is a funny old game, after all.  I for one hope it is in very good humour come Sunday.