Chelsea vs. Man City
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Kick off: 5:30PM
The first major trophy of the season is up for grabs this afternoon when Chelsea take on Manchester City in the final of the EFL Cup at Wembley.
Both sides have won the competition five times apiece in the past – a tally only Liverpool can beat – but there was a massive gulf between them when they met in the Premier League just two weeks ago, with Man City running out 6-0 winners on that occasion.
Today could prove to be a make-or-break moment in the managerial career of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, with pressure continuing to grow on the Italian boss.
Fixtures against Man City have provided both the zenith and the nadir of his time at Stamford Bridge so far, inflicting a first defeat of the season on Pep Guardiola’s champions back in December but then suffering utter humiliation at the Etihad Stadium earlier this month.
Anything close to a repeat of that infamous 6-0 drubbing may be enough to see the sword fall on Sarri, whose refusal to tweak his tactical style is a growing source of frustration amongst the supporters.
Sarri need only look across the dugout to Guardiola for an example of a recent Premier League manager who also resisted pressure to alter his football philosophy amid first-season questions, although not too many Chelsea supporters would expect their current boss to lead them to the heights Guardiola has done with City.
A 3-0 win over Malmo on Thursday night confirmed Chelsea’s place in the last 16 of the Europa League but did little to lessen the pressure on Sarri’s shoulders, coming as it did just three days after their FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United.
That loss came at Stamford Bridge, but it is away from home where their main problems have arisen recently, with four successive defeats on the road in domestic football, during which time they have conceded 13 goals without scoring once.
Today’s match is on neutral territory, of course, but their recent record when leaving the Bridge does not bode well and Chelsea have already lost three times at Wembley this season – in the Community Shield against Man City and twice against Tottenham Hotspur.
What was once such a successful ground for them has become something of a bogey destination since their FA Cup triumph last season, then, and should that trend continue then it could be more than just silverware on the line.
Defeat would not come as a surprise to most, but the manner of it could prove telling for Sarri’s future – if they meekly surrender as they did at the Etihad Stadium then Chelsea’s notoriously trigger-happy board might be forced into action.
Victory, however, may just be enough to stave off the looming shadow of proposed successor Zinedine Zidane and bring a positive end to a difficult week for Chelsea which has seen them hit with a two-window transfer ban.
It would also provide the Blues with their first League Cup crown since 2015 and Sarri with the first major trophy of his career, having fallen just short on a few occasions during his time with Napoli.
It is worth noting that Chelsea have had a difficult route to the final too, beating the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Bournemouth already, so despite their recent struggles they have very much earned another Wembley appearance and will be desperate to atone for what happened at the Etihad two weeks ago.
Chelsea possible XI: Caballero, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso, Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, Willian, Higuain, Hazard.
Man City possible XI: Muric, Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Zinchenko, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, D Silva, Bernardo, Aguero.