League Cup Final preview: Chelsea v. Spurs; beware the crazy people…

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There must have been a full moon sometime over the last few days. Everywhere you look this week, some very odd things have been happening (snow in Athens?) and there seem to have been hordes of delusional people hogging the headlines.

They’ve been prancing merrily around in our calm waters of reason when they should be restricted to occupying the sun loungers on Insanity Beach. And many of them seem to be closely connected to football, which is a worrying barometer as to the collective mental state of the national game.

Nutter-in-chief Richard Scudamore has carried on extolling the virtues of his cash and carry world tour, whilst everyone from Sepp Blatter to Penelope Keith has proclaimed it to be a stinker of an idea. Full marks for determination in the face of adversity; but I’m wondering if he isn’t related to the chap who made the band on the Titanic play on whilst the icy waters of the North Atlantic lapped suggestively around Kate Winslett’s nipples.

Elsewhere, Fulham FC and corner shop owner Mohammed Al Fayed has had his long-awaited day in court, where he pronounced effusively that approximately 34,726 people were involved in a conspiracy to make a drunk bloke crash a Mercedes. Presumably among their number was the mysterious figure that didn’t allow the passengers to fasten their seatbelts.

It’s little wonder that his team have been so goal shy recently; he’s probably made them all wear t-shirts under their kit emblazoned with “Prince Phillip is racist Nazi vampire!” to reveal when they score. Surely it can’t be long before David Icke pitches up at the Cottage as goalkeeping coach?

But if you think that the above-mentioned madmen have been tiresome, just wait until Sunday. You’ll see delusion and lunacy on a scale not seen since, well, the last time Spurs reached a cup final.

Armies of deranged people will wander the streets of Brent and Haringey in white shirts, looking for a football ground with a large pair of towers attached to it. They will be bellowing loudly that they are ‘back in the big time’, singing about someone’s knees being all trembly and generally demonstrating all the social airs and graces of a badly behaved chimps tea party.

If you do come across them, smile politely, don’t engage in any dialogue and move quickly on to your destination. Which of course, is Wembley. Again.

Current form is something of a worry going into the game; our fourth League Cup Final in a decade. The two blanks against Liverpool and Olympiakos, whilst not terrible results (Real Madrid, Lazio and Werder Bremen left Athens with just two points and a solitary goal between them in the group stages), were fairly lacklustre, disjointed performances. A vast improvement is needed, which, it has to be said, we usually manage for games against Tottenham.

Let us not mock Spurs though, tricky though that may be. Whilst the proclamations of competing for fourth place in the league this season proved somewhat hasty, the arrival of Juande Ramos, arguably one of Europe’s brightest coaching prospects, was a major coup for Messrs Levy and Comoli.

There was a time in recent years when the mention of a 39th game up at Three Point Lane would have been a promising cup run, but the times they are a-changin’ up in North London. A leaner, meaner Tottenham seems to be emerging, having been ordered to diet by the new boss (I presume you’ve seen the “Spurs squad ordered to lose 16 stone of useless flab / Why not just sell Paul Robinson?” gags? Well, you have now).

The game itself will be an interesting test for Avram Grant. In arguably the biggest fixture of his career as a manager, he leads out a team of players who have an abundance of cup final experience – far more collectively than he has as a coach. How he deals with the team on the day will be crucial to our success, or otherwise.

The situation at Spurs is almost the polar opposite; many of Ramos’s players have not played in a major final before whilst he has proven himself as something of a master in knockout competitions with his former employers. Turning Jermaine Jenas into something resembling a competent footballer is no mean feat, although much will depend upon the fitness (or otherwise) of Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, two players who would have been humanely destroyed some time ago were they of the equine persuasion.

The usual stats and facts stuff will be on the BBC website sometime before the game, but Chelsea are likely to be injury and enforced absence free for the first time in some months, with even perpetual knacker’s yard resident Andriy Shevchenko approaching his own interpretation of match fitness. The decision to rest both Frank Lampard and John Terry in Athens will remain firmly in the ‘gamble’ category until we see them perform on Sunday.

Make no mistake; whatever the fans’ view of Grant, his reputation at the Bridge could be greatly enhanced or diminished by the result on Sunday. Lose this one, and he’ll be about as welcome as a Cillit Bang enema down in SW6.

Avram, Chelsea expects. Don’t allow the crazy people to stay in the headlines.

Prediction: Police leave in the capital has probably been cancelled.

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