Chelsea and Tottenham meet in the second FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday, with the London rivals’ fate this season tied in with that of their opponent. With one or the other set to miss out on a top four finish in the Premier League also, progression in the cup takes additional importance this season.
Chelsea have improved since the axing of Andre Villas Boas, with club man Roberto Di Matteo instilling confidence and a belief in the side. The Blues have made strides in the league to give them a chance of making the Champions League qualification places, and a memorable comeback against Napoli in Europe has set up a mouth-watering clash with Barcelona.
The main difference in Di Matteo’s approach is the respect and responsibility handed back to the club’s senior players. With the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole feeling devalued by the Portuguese coach’s squad rotation system, the Italian has made the old guard feel more valued, and this has paid off for him.
The Stamford Bridge club have the distraction of a Champions League date with the Spanish giants upcoming, and although the clash with Pep Guardiola’s men will be in the back of their minds, Spurs could capitalise on any lack of concentration. Chelsea have traditionally had something of a hex over their London neighbours, but the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in the league a couple of weeks ago, in which Harry Redknapp’s men dominated, will have given the White Hart Lane club confidence.
Tottenham have come unstuck slightly over the last couple of months, with an excellent start being counteracted by a poor second half to the season. Defeat against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton could almost be understood given the difficulty of the opponent, but a loss to Norwich and draw with Stoke at home have the White Hart Lane faithful nervous.
Ahead of the game at Wembley, Spurs are still in fourth place but are level on points with Newcastle, and two ahead of Chelsea. With a five-point gap opening up to Arsenal in third, it is a safe bet to say that one of Sunday’s competitors will miss out on the top four. Spurs fans will look to win their first piece of silverware since their League Cup triumph in 2008, where they beat Chelsea in the final.
A couple of key matchups may well decide the outcome of what should be a close game. With Branislav Ivanovic suspended, the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will look to get at makeshift fullbacks and take advantage of possession down the flanks. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard will hope to be team-mates this summer at Euro 2012, but will go head-to-head in the battle to win possession and shield their back fours. Finally, second strikers Rafael van der Vaart and Juan Mata are the playmakers that can create chances that will ultimately win the match.