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Preview: League Cup final

February 22, 2008 21:47 IST

The League Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday could represent one small step for holders Chelsea but one giant leap for Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea, who lived in the shadows of their once far more illustrious London neighbours for much of the last century, now largely inhabit a different world to Spurs in terms of financial backing, recent successes and immediate ambitions.

Chelsea are challenging for four trophies this season with the League Cup the least of their priorities after the Champions League, Premier League and the FA Cup.

Spurs meanwhile are focused on the UEFA Cup, having reached the last 16 with a 3-2 aggregate win over Slavia Prague, and the League Cup in which victory would bring their first honour since they won the competition in 1999.

Since then Chelsea have twice won the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup, including last season's victory over Arsenal.

They have also established a direct superiority over Spurs on the field, losing just twice against them in their last 42 matches since 1990.

IN FORM

Chelsea, who won last season's final in Cardiff, return to play the first League Cup final at the rebuilt Wembley as strong favourites.

They have lost only three of 41 matches in all competitions this season -- and none of their last 16 since a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal on Dec.16.

Key players like Didier Drogba and Michael Essien have returned from the African Cup of Nations, while skipper John Terry and midfielder Frank Lampard have recovered from injuries.

Chelsea have also played at the new Wembley twice before, beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final there last May and drawing with them in the Community Shield in August.

Spurs return to the big stage in far better shape than at the start of the season -- mentally and physically.

Spanish coach Juande Ramos, who took over from popular Dutchman Martin Jol in October, has transformed the players' diet making them leaner and fitter -- and their form has improved dramatically since his arrival.

Spurs proved in their 5-1 demolition of Arsenal in the second leg of the semi-final that they have the potential to compete with the best, but despite losing only five out of 27 matches under Ramos, they still lack the class and consistency Chelsea now possess.

Ramos has yet to decide whether deposed England goalkeeper Paul Robinson returns from the bench to replace Czech Radek Cerny in goal, and has injury concerns over captain and centre-back Ledley King (knee), and his central defensive partner Michael Dawson (hamstring).

SPURS WIN

Despite a rivalry that stretches back over 135 matches and 99 years, Tottenham and Chelsea have only previously met in one other final when Spurs won 2-1 to lift the FA Cup in 1967.

Chelsea could well avenge that old loss on Sunday with Israeli coach Avram Grant securing his first trophy as Chelsea coach after succeeding Jose Mourinho in September.

In a sense, there is more at stake for Tottenham than Chelsea, who are virtually assured of a Champions League place next season and have their eyes on far grander prizes.

If Spurs overcome the odds it might herald a revival in their fortunes and be a springboard to greater success.

Source:
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