Tottenham Hotspur are playing in a Cup final. Tottenham Hotspur are going to Wembley on Sunday. This is very cool.
Now, coming off a poor performance in a loss to Fiorentina that knocked Spurs out of the Europa League, it is hard to feel terribly confident. But we spoke to Graham MacAree of SB Nation's We Ain't Got No History blog, and reverse jinx or no, he made the case that Chelsea fans are seriously nervous too. Their club is not at full strength. While Spurs are incapable of playing a full-strength midfield because you need two midfielders for that, Chelsea have been thrust into a similar position by injury. Plus there are Torres jokes.
On to the interview, and then we'll see you at Wembley. Not really at Wembley. In my living room in Brooklyn watching a game at Wembley while twittering. But that is a kind of being at Wembley!
Michael: There is, I've heard from various media, a controversy involving Chelsea's treatment by the referees. Imagine that I am both skeptical that referees act with pre-meditated bias and even more skeptical that massively wealthy and successful teams would be on the receiving end of negative bias. Make the case that something is actually happening.
Graham: Obviously it's possible to make the case that Chelsea's trials at the hands of referees are simply the results of random luck. Of course, it's also possible to make the case that pretty much everything is due to random luck. I think it's instructive to look at what happens in the immediate aftermaths of Jose Mourinho's complaints about refereeing. And you'll find (or at least I find) that whenever there's a complaint, even worse decisions flood in. Perhaps that's because the officials are annoyed at the pressure that's being applied and don't want to give in. Chelsea are in a run of very, very bad refereeing luck right now, and it's mostly a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if there's any reaction to Mourinho's appearance on Sky last Sunday, it wouldn't be surprising if the FA executed half the squad during warmups.
Michael: The upshot of the controversy is that Nemanja Matic won't start. What midfield do you expect Jose to use in his absence? How will Chelsea adjust to playing without a traditional midfield stopper?
Graham: John Obi Mikel is injured, so there's little choice but to use a pivot of Ramires and Cesc Fabregas. How will we adjust? By playing badly. The midfield's already easy to penetrate with Matic there, and without him it's little better than a joke. Ramires is a runner rather than a positionally-minded player, and Fabregas, despite working hard on that side of his game, is only a defensive presence if you accidentally run into him. It will be ugly out there.
Michael: Spurs and Chelsea have split our meetings this season. Obviously that means the two clubs are evenly matched, especially if you ignore all other evidence. What do you take away from the earlier matches? What adjustments do you expect Jose ot make following the loss at the Lane?
Graham: At Stamford Bridge, Spurs had a meltdown after looking bright in the early stages. You can invert that for the match at White Hart Lane. There was some interesting movement by Nacer Chadli to exploit the gap between Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic on the Chelsea right, and the use of your midfield to pull Matic to the side and attack the vacated space was neat too, but to be perfectly frank it's a game that defies analysis. If we were at full strength, I'd probably expect Cuadrado to play in order to provide some natural width on the right and take some of the attacking load off Ivanovic, but since we're not I think any adjustments Mourinho makes will be designed to compensate for Matic's absence rather than for Spurs.
Michael: Harry Kane has come out of seemingly nowhere to become one of the most talented young strikers in Europe, dominating the Premier League and the Europa League. With the Cup Final on Sunday, how do you feel about Fernando Torres' resurgence at Atletico Madrid?
Graham: Vague amusement?
Michael: How much do you care about the League Cup final? Is it just another match in a march toward the EPL title and a Champions League run? Or is there still magic in going to Wembley to face your most feared rivals?
Graham: I find myself caring quite a bit, although if the lead at the top of the table were larger I'd probably be less interested in the match. Chelsea haven't won a trophy since the Europa League in 2013, and even that's a giant middle finger reminding everyone that we were the first Champions League holders to fail to make it out of the group stages. I like shiny things, so I'd like a trophy. As for Spurs, I'd honestly rather have faced Sheffield United. Stealing sweets from small children is way less risky than from grownups.
Michael: Likewise, do you expect Chelsea and Jose to be "up" for the final? How big a deal will this be to the players and the manager?
Graham: Jose Mourinho has won the League Cup in 50 percent of his seasons in charge of Chelsea. I think he cares quite a lot. His coaching philosophy puts a lot of emphasis on the psychology of winning, so he'll be very keen to see his team take a title here, even if it's the least of the three competitions we're in the running for.