LONDON – Jose Mourinho calls himself a Special One and when it comes to winning finals it is impossible to dispute this.
With FC Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid the Blues manager has won nine of the 11 major finals he has contested.
The two blots on his copybook were the 2004 Taca de Portugal when FC Porto lost 2-1 to Benfica and the King’s Cup final against Atletico Madrid in 2013 when Real was defeated by the same score line.
It is Mourinho’s ability to get it right on the big occasion that makes Chelsea favorites to beat Tottenham in the League Cup final Sunday. In contrast, it is Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino’s first final and their sixth match in 17 hectic days.
Game No. 5 was away to Fiorentina in the Europa League on Thursday and Spurs stayed in Italy to prepare for what promises to be an intriguing and exciting Wembley showdown.
Chelsea’s 5-3 loss at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day was its only defeat in its last 11 games against Spurs. The Blues may have had most of the bragging rights in the last few years but their recent form has been consistent though not the sort of consistency Mourinho wants. They have won just two of their last eight games, with six draws in that period. They have managed two goals in just two of those matches and they were against Aston Villa and Bradford City.
On the other hand, Harry Kane, who started the season as a substitute, is almost unstoppable at the moment. The Spurs striker scored twice against Chelsea in January and his total stands at a remarkable 21 goals.
The speed of his progress has surprised everyone. Kane has a natural gift for being in the right place at the right time, he has worked hard on his deficiencies and plays with a smile on his face. England manager Roy Hodgson is also beaming from ear to ear.
While Chelsea tends to import its talent, Kane is one of several academy products set to line up against Chelsea, with Danny Rose, Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend and Nabil Bentaleb also homegrown talents.
More than anything, it is hoped the spotlight will be on the football Sunday. Investigations are ongoing regarding the Chelsea supporters who racially abused a black man in Paris, while the club has warned it will ban anyone using anti-Semitic language at Wembley.
Mourinho has this week been leading the way in criticizing the standard of refereeing in English football and the man in charge of the final, Anthony Taylor, has had previous rows with Chelsea. He cautioned Cesc Fabregas for diving during the game against Southampton in December, a dreadful decision for which he apologized to Mourinho.
The deciding factor for the first silverware of the season could be a player who will not play, the suspended Nemanja Matic. The Chelsea midfielder is one of their most influential figures, a player who breaks up opposing attacks and does so much unseen yet important work for the team. His presence provides the base for Eden Hazard, Fabregas and others to display their attacking skills. There is no natural replacement for Matic and Mourinho is likely to call on Ramires to add bite to his midfield.
Tottenham to win 2-1.
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A COUPLE OF hours before the League Cup final kicks off, Arsenal plays Everton. To stand any chance of even a draw against Everton, it must be a completely different Arsenal to the one that was humiliated 3-1 at home by Monaco in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Even older Gunners fans struggled to remember a more clueless, lethargic, unprofessional and brainless performance. Arsenal was useless against a patched-up Monaco side without a first-choice defender. It is impossible to imagine how Arsenal could have played worse. Credit to Monaco, but it could not believe its luck.
Everything that Arsenal did poor at was on display at Emirates — missing the easiest of chances, being caught on the counter-attack, defending that leaves you shaking your head, mental weakness and indecisive goalkeeping. Arsene Wenger called it “a horrible night” — it was that and more.
After witnessing 80 minutes of embarrassment — Arsenal had started strongly, but quickly disintegrated — it is staggering that by Sunday the Gunners could be in third place and only four points behind Manchester City, which was the victims of a Barcelona master class on Tuesday. This is not a vintage Premier League.
Wenger could not blame injuries or the referee; the finger must be pointed at him for tactical naivete in having no recognized ball-winner in midfield or width to trouble his former club. While Jose Mourinho usually gets it right on big nights, Wenger has struggled — Arsenal has conceded at least two goals in the home leg of its last-16 ties for three consecutive seasons.
The Frenchman has given so much to Arsenal and English football that it is with reluctance that those who love the game should ask how many more chances he can be given to get it right.
On the other hand, such is the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Arsenal that it is not beyond it to win 3-0 in Monte Carlo. Wenger would then be the right man again — until the next capitulation.
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THIS COLUMN has always tried to tackle the important issues in English football and the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson has left a vacancy for the unofficial title of the Premier League’s chewing gum king.
Step forward Sam Allardyce of West Ham United, the new champion chewer. Those who argue that this is a trivial matter should be aware that the last piece of gum that Ferguson allegedly chewed as manager of Manchester United at West Bromwich two years ago was recovered by a shrewd fan (memo to Sir Alex: gum should be disposed of sensitively) and sold on eBay for £400,000. And no, that is not a misprint.
The money went to the Manchester United Foundation Charity, but goodness knows how many people were prepared to bid for a saliva-infused piece of dry chewing gum without the usual letter of authenticity. Gum, well football gum, is big business.
It was a familiar sight, Ferguson chomping away during games, his mouth in constant action like his team. Now his crown has been handed to Allardyce who boasted: “I reckon I could outchew Fergie.”
For accuracy, this column asked Allardyce how many packets he gets through during a game. “Three on a good day, five on a bad day.” he said. “My wife tells me off because of the way I chew. She said it’s not nice to look at. But in the heat of the moment I don’t care how I look, I’m concentrating so much.”
Ferguson was in charge of United for around 1,500 games, so on the Allardyce scale the Scot would have chewed his way through 7,500 packets of gum. I am surprised the club never made more of this as a commercial deal — MUCG “Chew It Like Fergie” would have been a sure-fire winner.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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