Almost exactly five years ago, on a fine April afternoon in 2012, Chelsea powered past Spurs and into the FA Cup final thanks to Didier Drogba doing his thing at Wembley, Juan Mata’s innocent face getting the benefit of the doubt in the days before goal-line technology, and Petr Cech escaping a red card thanks to a non-cynical Gareth Bale. On the face of it, claiming that a 5-1 result was decided by such small margins might be outrageous.
But that’s football for ya: small margins, lapses of concentration, minor decisions blossoming into match-deciding outcomes. It’s why Antonio Conte preaches concentration and commitment and ambition and motivation above all else these days. It’s why training this week has had an increased emphasis on tactics and strategies and mental preparation. This match will be won with the mind as much as with the feet.
Is that enough cliches for you? I hope so. This is a must-win, after all.
Of those involved in 2012, seven will be at pitch-level today. David Luiz and Kyle Walker should both start once again, but John Terry will only be on the bench. Gary Cahill and Danny Rose will have watching briefs thanks to illness and injury, respectively, while Carlo Cudicini will have traded Spurs goalkeeper equipment for a Chelsea coaching staff shirt. And a certain Martin Atkinson will referee this game, just as he did back then.
Date / Time: Saturday, April 22, 17:15 BST; 12:15pm EDT; 9:45pm IST
Venue: Wembley, London, England
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Forecast: Could turn out to be a pretty decent sunny-ish spring day.
On TV: BBC One (UK); Fox, Fox Deportes (USA); TEN 1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BBC iPlayer (UK); Fox Soccer 2Go, Fox Sports Go (USA)
Chelsea team news: After going through most of the season with hardly any injury and player availability concerns, the squad has been hit with random injuries and illnesses in the past couple weeks. Thibaut Courtois twisted his ankle while playing basketball for a promotional video. Marcos Alonso was struck down by a mystery illness, the effects of which Diego Costa and Victor Moses suffered as well apparently. Gary Cahill then spent two nights in hospital with gastroenteritis.
Courtois and Alonso both missed last weekend’s loss at Old Trafford but should be back today. Moses and Costa soldiered through last Sunday, but only one of them is a lock to start today, and that’s not Costa. Cahill returned to training on Friday, but is not quite well enough to play just yet. Nathan Aké is in line to make his third start this season for Chelsea.
With another game coming up on Tuesday in the increasingly tight race for the Premier League title, Conte’s lineup decisions could trend towards fitness and freshness. There are even rumors of Batshuayi getting the nod over Costa, though if Conte’s to drop our leading goal-scorer, it’s much more likely that he’ll opt for the “small lineup” we’ve seen a couple times before, with Hazard, Pedro, and Willian all getting the start up front.
Tottenham Hotspur team news: Spurs are the nominal away side today, though Wembley has served as their home for European matches this season and will serve as their temporary home next season while construction finishes on their new stadium. That said, Spurs have had very little luck at Wembley this season, losing twice, to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen, drawing once, with Gent, and beating CSKA Moscow in a meaningless Champions League group game. In fact, since beating Chelsea in the 2008 League Cup final, Spurs have just that one win in eight games at the national stadium. (Chelsea, by contrast, have nine wins in 11 visits to the New Wembley in actual competitions.) Of course Spurs are trying to change that Spursy narrative.
Pochettino will be without the services of best left back in England Danny Rose, as well as longer-term absentees Erik Lamela and Harry Winks. On current form, Spurs are the consensus best team in England, and are currently riding a ten-game unbeaten streak, including eight wins on the bounce. They gave Chelsea fits in both previous meetings this season, even if they only managed to win one of those.
Previously: Since we mentioned it at the top, here’s the throwback to 2012, and what was the start of a most amazing five weeks.
What an absolutely mad sequence this was... pic.twitter.com/7kBkZAXQrx— Dávid Pásztor (@D_Peezy) April 22, 2017