We have had many season defining games thus far this year, Man City away and Arsenal away to name but a few. The game on Sunday however is our last chance saloon for silverware; we win and we're in the FA Cup final and riding high on the crest of a wave beaming with confidence. This then leads to us winning our last five games and pipping Arsenal for 3rd place in the Premier League (I can dream). Or the other side of the coin, we get beaten and end up losing what confidence we had left and our Premier League form continues to plummet and we end up finishing 6th behind Newcastle and Chelsea. Let's hope late Sunday night when we're all home from the game we feel the former rather than the latter. Anyway enough of the pros and cons of this game, read on for my preview....
FA Cup semi-final, walking out onto the famous Wembley pitch into the bright English summer sun. The players will feel this and realise, especially the younger ones that this is their proudest moment while playing or maybe of their whole lives. It is the dream of every football fan to walk out to up to 90,000 fans screaming your name in the oldest cup competition in the world. They all have to enjoy the day, as you never know when another opportunity may come around, but they also have to remember that there is a football game to win at the end of the day. If you can get past this hurdle, then a truly prestigious final beckons in which very few lucky people have had the pleasure of playing.
Martin Atkinson has been selected to referee the game, and I just hope he is strong enough to make the right decisions at the right times. With all the controversy about bigger clubs getting favoured lately (Chelsea and Utd to name two) I hope for the cup's sake that there are no controversial decisions that would mean either team goes home on Sunday thinking the ref cheated us out of FA Cup glory. That also goes for the game on Saturday between Liverpool and Everton, in which Howard Webb is taking charge and when not refereeing Man Utd usually does a very good job. If you reach the final, then you should do so fairly and whether that means Spurs make it or not then I will be content.
Going into this game we have a manager admitting he chose tactics that he knew were wrong, could see they were not working and wasn't flexible enough to change them whilst the game was in play. The formation described was the 4 - 4 - 2 which every time we use, we look a shadow of our early season team. The preferred formation of most Spurs fans would be the 4 - 2 - 3 - 1, where Parker and Modric play a little deeper allowing Lennon and Bale more freedom to support Rafa who in turn supports Adebayor up front on his own. Rafa often drops into the midfield and this allows Bale and Lennon to attack out wide, and for a positive result to occur width is the key. Lately with Bale wandering around the whole pitch we look like we have no width and our early season form relied on that so much with the FB's overlapping the wingers. If I could tie Bale's ankle to the left hand touch line on Sunday then our chances would increase tenfold, he needs to remember we play as a team and he doesn't have to do everything, leave that to your Ronaldo's and Messi's of this world.
Chelsea play an attacking 4 - 4 - 3 formation, with Meireles playing deeper in the midfield just in front of the defence. This allows Lampard and Ramires to push up and support the other three attacking players. There is two wing forwards in Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge on either side of one up top, either Drogba or Torres. Like our play the key to Chelsea's game is a strong central midfielder and two wingers that stay wide, create width and stretch the pitch. Each Chelsea player has his own dangers to look out for but if we can stop the ball getting to Sturridge and Mata as much as possible then our chances increase once more as those two can create magic from nowhere. We also have to be wary of Drogba as he always seems to give an extra 20-30% against us.
The fixtures between these two in the Premier League this season have not been classics by any means. Both ending in draws, one a 1 - 1, and the other a 0 - 0 in which Spurs felt unlucky to only get one point out of. So there is not too much to choose between them on those results. The recent form tells a different story though, although this is a one off cup game where all form goes out the window it has to be addressed and it's not good reading for the white side of London. Chelsea's last five in all competitions of WWWWD, is very formidable and includes two impressive Champions League wins against Benfica, home and away. Spurs' form on the other hand is very middle of the road; the sort of form you would expect from a mid 90's Spurs team. The last five of DWWDL isn't going to scare anyone but we can take confidence from the fact we beat a very good Swansea team comfortably at home recently and we pushed Chelsea all the way in their back garden a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure that will give us the upper hand, but at least we didn't go there and get hammered and have no confidence going in to the game.
Both teams have very similar semi-final FA Cup records since its inception in 1871, Spurs have won nine of their semi-finals and Chelsea have won ten of theirs. I am not sure how much impact this will have on the game but I think Chelsea will have the slight upper hand as a lot of their wins have been more recent and some of those players still turn out for them. That experience could be key on such a big day, on such a massive occasion for those 22 players on the pitch.
Younes Kaboul, who injured his leg in the defeat to Norwich on Monday may be a doubt, as further news of his condition has not been published. Hopefully because he has been a rock for us the whole season and he deserves a semi-final at Wembley he will be fit to play. Other than that Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson are the only long term injuries at the club. Hopefully everyone should be fit to play, and Ledley will have his usual fitness test on the day prior to the game. I hope we have our strongest starting XI and bench as well because winning this game would mean so much in a season that promised so much but has faltered of late.
With injuries in mind below is the team I hope steps out at Wembley on Sunday -
Chelsea danger men - Juan Mata (MF), Didier Drogba (FW)
Score prediction - 1 - 0