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Manchester United lifted their 2nd piece of major silverware of the season at Wembley in the 49th League Cup final, finally subduing a spirited Tottenham side in a brief, but clinical, penalty shoot-out.
It was an open, end-to-end game with both sides going for the win but while it frequently sparked into life it somehow never quite caught fire. In the end both defences had the upper hand and the final ball, from both sides, all too often lacked quality.
As expected, Sir Alex Ferguson kept faith with a number of the players who got United to the final with Ben Foster, Jonny Evans, Darren Gibson, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Tevez all in the starting line-up. Rooney and Berbatov didn’t even make the bench for United, the former picking-up a virus on Friday.
For Spurs, Harry Redknapp had to plan without the cup-tied Robbie Keane, Carlo Cudicini, Pascal Chimbonda and Wilson Palacios while Jonathan Woodgate failed a late fitness test. Up-front Darren Bent and Roman Pavlyuchenko were his only available options.
Finals have a way of finding a hero and for United it was Foster who stepped forward to save superbly from Jamie O’Hara in the shoot-out. With Giggs, Tevez and Ronaldo comfortably converting their spot-kicks, a blast wide by David Bentley left Anderson to complete the formalities and keep the dream of the ‘quintuple’ alive.
But if it was not for Foster a penalty shoot-out may not have been required in the first place. The chance and save of the match came in the 70th minute when Assou-Ekotto picked-out Lennon unmarked in the box and his well placed strike was brilliantly saved by Foster. It was one of the defining moments of the game as arguably the two best players on the day faced each other down at close quarters.
United started the better and dominated the opening exchanges. Ronaldo went close with a free-kick, Welbeck was put through by Scholes but fluffed his lines and an excellent Darren Gibson strike from 25 yards just missed the post. Nani, who looked in the mood early on, then forced Gomes to concede a corner from his low drive.
As the half progressed, however, Spurs started to gain more of a foothold with the excellent Zokora putting himself about to good effect. In one of the key battles of the day, Lennon was proving more than a handful for Evra on the Spurs right. The normally resolute defender was skinned on a number of occasions as Lennon stared to provide some decent ball for Pavlyuchenko and Bent.
An interesting cameo then saw Rio Ferdinand control the ball on his thigh and unleash a volley that just cleared the crossbar. The game continued to flow and Modric almost freed Lennon but he was denied by the offside flag.
Spurs were slowly becoming more creative and seeing a lot more of the ball. Evra was by now having a nightmare against Lennon and was blasted by Ferdinand after once again exposing his captain. Pavlyuchenko then headed high and wide when he should have done better.
The second half started with Ronaldo again going close from a free-kick. Both defences were now looking in control while neither strikeforce appeared to have the inspiration to unlock the door. Ferguson and Redknapp did not hold their patience for long with Anderson replacing Welbeck on 56 minutes and nine minutes later the misfiring Pavlyuchenko making way for O’Hara.
O’Shea was booked for United and was lucky not to see red for a 2nd foul on Modric that many referees would not have let go. Tevez was then a whisker away from deflecting Evans’ shot past Gomes on the hour mark. It was then the case of the boy who cried wolf! Ronaldo went down under a challenge from King in the box and was promptly booked by Foy. Replays showed that there was contact albeit slight. Whether it was a penalty is debatable but the booking was harsh and, for once, the forlorn looking Portuguese deserved some sympathy.
Foster denied Lennon the best opportunity of the match with a flying save and extra time started to look a real possibility with both sides now cancelling each other out. Gomes dealt with an Anderson effort at the 2nd attempt while O’Shea departed with 15 minutes to go to be replaced by Vidic, Evans moving to full-back.
Just like at the San Siro on Wednesday, Ronaldo nearly won it for United with the final kick, this time rattling the post from 12 yards out with Nani unable to control the rebound.
Ryan Giggs came on in place of Gibson as extra-time kicked-off, while Spurs replaced Jenas with Gareth Bale. 10 minutes in and the excellent Lennon succumbed to cramp with Bentley taking his place. With both teams visibly tiring it now needed a moment of inspiration or a mistake to decide matters.
Modric broke into the box and found Bent who forced Foster to save with his legs. At the other end Evra almost sealed it for United, shooting just over the bar with Gomes a spectator. Finally, referee Foy’s whistle meant it would all be decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
Normally penalty shoot-outs are dramatic affairs but, just like in the Charity Shield earlier in the season, this one seemed to be over in a flash with United taking the prize and Foster the plaudits.
Overall it was a well matched contest with both sides looking for the win and taking a positive approach. Either team would have been worthy winners. Of United’s younger players Foster was the stand-out. Welbeck never really got going and Gibson acquitted himself well. After a promising start Nani fizzled out and, once again, Tevez toiled but didn’t inspire. For Spurs, Lennon was excellent as was Zokora, while King and Dawson marshaled the defence superbly. Modric and Assou-Ekotto also deserve credit for solid performances.
Man-of-the-Match: Foster seems a popular choice, and not without merit, but I’m going for Lennon who rolled-back the years to 2006 when he first burst onto the England scene and looked like the answer to the aging David Beckham. Somehow he got lost along the way but at Wembley yesterday he terrorized one of the best full-backs around and must have had the watching Fabio Capello salivating in his seat.
Man Utd: Foster, O’Shea (Vidic 76), Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Ronaldo, Scholes, Gibson (Giggs 91), Nani, Tevez, Welbeck (Anderson 56).
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Park, Possebon, Eckersley.
Booked: O’Shea, Ronaldo, Scholes.
Tottenham: Gomes, Corluka, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon (Bentley 102), Jenas (Bale 98), Zokora, Modric, Bent, Pavlyuchenko (O’Hara 65).
Subs Not Used: Alnwick, Huddlestone, Gunter, Taarabt.
Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).
Date: Sunday 1st March
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
Assistant Referees: Peter Kirkup (Northamptonshire), Andy Butler (Lancashire)
4th Official: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
The 49th Carling Cup Final sees Sir Alex Ferguson once again go head to head with his good friend Harry Redknapp in a cup competition. While United have already eliminated Redknapp’s side from this year’s FA Cup, Harry only has to look back to last season at Portsmouth when, having eliminated United from the competition, he held the cup at Wembley and became an instant hero on the south coast. Beat his old foe next week and Harry will be carrying silverware around Wembley for the 2nd successive year.
With both managers struggling with a hugely congested fixture schedule they will nevertheless want to win this one and bag the first major domestic trophy of the season. The game has an added edge for both teams. As the defending champions Spurs will want to retain the trophy which could add some gloss to an otherwise trying season. For United it will be the first shot at bagging the much hyped ‘quadruple’ and Sir Alex will not want to fail at the first hurdle.
While the Carling Cup lost some of its glamour in the earlier part of this decade it now seems to have firmly re-established itself as a trophy worth winning. There was much criticism of the ‘bigger’ teams when they went through a phase of playing their 2nd string in this competition, a sign that they considered it more of a nuisance in the calendar than anything else.
In the last 5 years, however, of the 10 finalists involved (including this year) all but 3 (Spurs twice and Wigan) have been ‘Top 4’ teams. That’s not to say that a good number of reserves and youngsters are not still on show from the ‘big’ teams but the balance has been better and results have shown that.
Starting in 1961, the League Cup has gone through many format changes as well as name changes driven by sponsorship. For a brief but thorough history of the competition click here.
United and Spurs have both been in the final 6 times, Spurs coming-off better with 4 wins to United’s 2.
|1983 Finalists (1-2 v Liverpool)||1971 Winners (2-0 v Villa)|
|1991 Finalists (0-1 v Sheff. Wed)||1973 Winners (1-0 v Norwich)|
|1992 Winners (1-0 v Forest)||1982 Finalists (1-3 v Liverpool)|
|1994 Finalists (1-3 v Villa)||1999 Winners (1-0 v Leicester)|
|2003 Finalists (0-2 v Liverpool)||2002 Finalists (1-2 v Blackburn)|
|2006 Winners (4-0 v Wigan)||2008 Winners (2-1 v Chelsea)|
The Road to Wembley
With United in the Champions League and Spurs in the UEFA Cup, both were excused from the first 2 rounds of the competition proper and so have only had to play 5 games (including the 2 legged semi-final) to get to Wembley. United’s record of 13 goals scored and 7 conceded is remarkably similar to Tottenham’s, 14 scored and 8 conceded. Both teams have been scoring and conceding at a higher rate in this competition than any other. Will this pattern continue in the final? If so we should be in for an entertaining afternoon. Full details of each teams’ path to the final can be found below.
|Round 3||Newcastle||1—2||Tottenham||Pavlyuchenko, O’Hara|
|Round 4||Tottenham||4—2||Liverpool||Pavlyuchenko 2, Campbell 2|
|Quarter-final||Watford||1—2||Tottenham||Pavlyuchenko (pen), Bent|
|Semi-final (1st leg)||Tottenham||4—1||Burnley||Dawson, O’Hara, Pavlyuchenko, Duff o.g.|
|Semi-final (2nd leg)||Burnley||3—2||Tottenham||Pavlyuchenko, Defoe|
|Round 3||Manchester Utd||3—1||Middlesbrough||C.Ronaldo, Giggs, Nani|
|Round 4||Manchester Utd||1—0||QPR||Tevez (pen)|
|Quarter-final||Manchester Utd||5—3||Blackburn||Tevez 4, 1 (pen), Nani|
|Semi-final (1st leg)||Derby County||1—0||Manchester Utd|
|Semi-final (2nd leg)||Manchester Utd||4—2||Derby County||Nani, O’Shea, Tevez, C.Ronaldo (pen)|
No cup final build-up is ever complete without a little bit of pre-match trivia so here goes:
- United and Spurs have never met before in a cup final.
- Spurs have failed to beat United in their last 17 encounters.
- Harry Redknapp has become something of a nemesis for Sir Alex Ferguson in cup competitions, knocking United out of the FA Cup while managing Bournemouth, West Ham and, most recently, Portsmouth in 2008.
- The final falls 1 day before Harry’s 62nd birthday. No prizes for guessing what present he would like!
- A goal for either Roman Pavlyuchenko of Spurs or Carlos Tevez of United would make them the leading scorers in this year’s competition (assuming the other doesn’t also score, of course). Both are currently on 6 goals apiece.
- If Spurs successfully defend the trophy they will become only the 3rd team to do so. Forest (twice) and Liverpool (who won 4 in a row) are the only others to have done so to date.
The timing of the final is less than ideal for both camps. For United it falls between the 2 Champions League games with Inter. Ferguson now has a serious problem in central defence with Vidic suspended for the first leg, Evans picking up an injury against Blackburn and both Brown and Neville still injured. O’Shea, his only other realistic option, is also struggling with a foot injury. If Inter get the upper hand in the first leg don’t expect Fergie to be taking any chances with key players in this match, although he will probably load the bench with big names, in case of emergency.
For Spurs the final comes at the end of a week where they play Hull away on Monday and then face Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2nd leg of a UEFA cup match that sees them with serious work to do to survive, on Thursday. Comments from Redknapp this week suggest that he is throwing his hat at the UEFA cup and will concentrate on Sunday’s game, as he threatens to play the ‘youngsters’ against Shakhtar.
It’s a cliché in football that form goes out the window in cup finals, just as well for Spurs as their opponents have just won 10 in a row in the league. Spurs meanwhile have been struggling to shake-off the shackles of a relegation battle that most feel they should not be in.
Much will depend on the team selections. Ferguson is already on record as saying that he will stick with the players that got United this far and even went as far as naming Darren Gibson as a definite starter. That means United’s line-up is likely to include Evans, O’Shea, Wellbeck, Nani and Tevez as well as Gibson. I expect Gary Neville to play and one of either Scholes or Giggs. With Vidic missing the Inter Milan game this week he is likely to partner Evans at the back and add some much needed steel.
Redknapp will probably go with the best team available. Doubt still hangs over Ledley Ling and whether he will make it but if he does it will be a big boost to Spurs. With Pavlyuchenko and Defoe up-front Spurs will pose serious questions to the United defence.
Much will depend on whether United’s younger players perform on the day or freeze on the big occasion and whether Ferguson unleashes some of the big guns if the going gets tough.
It’s a hard one to call with all the factors involved and uncertainty over team selection. If Spurs put out their best available team and United field the line-up that played most of the rounds so far it could be a very open game with goals at both ends. Gomez will play in goal for Spurs and if Kuszczak dons the gloves for United don’t rule out a goalkeeping clanger deciding the issue.
I’ll stick my neck out and predict a 2-2 draw, extra-time and penalties.
And at that point it will be in the lap of the gods!