Shares spoiled in first leg semi on knife-edge
Chelsea will face London rivals Tottenham Hotspur over two legs of the EFL Cup semi-finals for an opportunity to participate in a Wembley showdown against a fellow 'big six' side, which will be either Arsenal or Liverpool. Whilst the clash at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night is perhaps a little less vital from a Blues perspective, they will still hope to strike the first blow against former boss Antonio Conte's charges from across the capital. Read our preview here:
Luk who's back!
The big story in the last few days in the blue corner of west London has been the mountain made out of the molehill, following striker Romelu Lukaku's comments made to Italian media about apparently not being completely happy under Thomas Tuchel's management or tactics. This temporarily precipitated his exclusion from first team consideration, though after 'clear the air' talks, he is set to be back in the squad, ready to spearhead the attack. Elsewhere, there are a significant number of unavailable players for the encounter, including the likes of Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James, and now Édouard Mendy (who has joined up with Senegal for their AFCON title tilt). Whilst not quite down to the bare bones, the head coach has been vocal about the number of fixtures played in quick succession under the ever-present Covid crisis.
Nothing tiddly about Winks
Both sides are pretty certain they know how each other are going to line up (3-4-2-1) and approach the game (use the wider centre backs to carry the ball into the middle third first and foremost), and Conte will probably have in the back of his mind a desire to get one over his previous employers. He has fewer personnel concerns, so it remains to be seen just how strong he wants to set his stall out, bearing in mind the weekend's FA Cup clash at home to struggling EFL League One outfit Morecambe. He has been effusive in his praise of deep-lying midfielder Harry Winks, who seems far more central to his plans post-January than Tanguy Ndombele does at present. Bryan Gil or Gio Lo Celso may dovetail with Heung-min Son behind Harry Kane in a narrow trio, with Matt Doherty perhaps providing the width in place of Emerson Royal on the right.
There's no secret at Spurs that the club desperately want a trophy, though a top four spot would of course be more financially rewarding, should a scenario arise where they had to 'choose' which one to pursue more doggedly. Their delayed expulsion from the UEFA Conference League could be a blessing in disguise to their prospects across domestic competitions, and Conte should have the money to bring in several recruits this month to further bolster their efforts. A creditable draw away from home would set them up nicely for a narrow win on their own turf, and bet365 have odds of 3.50 for them to share the spoils on Wednesday.