Man City vs. Tottenham
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Kick off: 4:30PM
At the end of a week like no other in football, Manchester City take on Tottenham Hotspur in the EFL Cup final at Wembley today.
As the dust begins to settle on the remarkably rapid rise and fall of the European Super League, two of the complicit clubs go head to head in a fixture which at one stage seemed threatened by their potential involvement in the short-lived breakaway attempt.
As it is, 8,000 fans will grace Wembley for the first major cup final of the 2020-21 English football season, with Man City out to make history and Spurs looking to end a trophy drought which stretches back 13 years.
Usually scheduled for the end of February or early March, this season’s EFL Cup final has been pushed back specifically to allow fans back into the stadium and, in a week where the importance and influence of supporters has been underlined more firmly than ever, the return of 8,000 of them to Wembley will be welcomed by everyone in the game.
There is still bound to be some residual anger in the air from both sets of fans following the attempted Super League coup d’etat, and today will give them the first chance to voice that during an actual match, but for the managers and players on both sides there is the business of winning a trophy to focus on.
For Spurs, that has been a rarity in recent seasons, and in a tumultuous week for football as a whole, they have typically added even more drama to events by sacking Jose Mourinho just six days before today’s final.
Mourinho had become only the third manager to reach the final of this competition with three different clubs when Spurs beat Brentford in the semi-final in January, putting him on course to lift the trophy for a fifth time from just five finals.
However, if the past week has shown us anything it is how quickly things can move in football, and the near four-month gap since those semi-finals seems like a lifetime ago now.
When these two sides booked their place in the final they also sat level on points in the Premier League table; now there are 24 points separating them with Man City marching on to a possible treble and Spurs battling to salvage their season.
It is that league form which ultimately convinced Daniel Levy to pull the trigger on Monday as Mourinho became the 10th managerial casualty of his 20-year reign.
In a week when Levy’s position has come under particularly fierce scrutiny, it is worth pointing out that those 20 years have yielded just one trophy – the 2008 League Cup – with Spurs currently on their longest silverware drought since the 1950s.
Twenty-nine-year-old Ryan Mason was the unlikely man drafted in to try to end that drought, and in just his second game at the helm he is looking to succeed where his predecessors Harry Redknapp, Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood, Mauricio Pochettino and Mourinho all failed in bringing a major trophy back to North London.
Mason was in the Spurs midfield when they were beaten by Mourinho’s Chelsea in their last domestic cup final in 2015 – one of three major finals they have reached since their 2008 triumph, all of which they have lost without scoring a goal.
Tottenham have also lost six of their last seven domestic cup matches at Wembley, although it is a stadium which will feel like home to them, having occupied it while their Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was being completed.
The early signs have looked good under Mason too, with the former midfielder making a winning start to his reign in midweek as his Harry Kane-less side came from behind to beat Southampton courtesy of a late Son Heung-min penalty.
Gareth Bale, who scored their equaliser, appeared to aim a thinly-veiled dig at the departed Mourinho by talking up Tottenham’s attacking intent in that game, with Spurs registering their most touches in an opposition box in a Premier League game this season.
Whether Mason is brave enough to attack a team like Man City in the same way is a different story, but Spurs do have the peculiar omen of winning trophies in the opening year of a new decade which the more superstitious members of their squad might take comfort from.
Eight of the 16 major trophies Spurs have ever won have come in those such years – including 1951, 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991 – although that trend has so far deserted them in the 21st Century.
Indeed, while one of the purposes of the Super League was to eliminate ‘David vs. Goliath’ contests, on recent history this could easily be painted as one.
Since Tottenham’s last piece of silverware, Man City have been the subject of a transformative takeover, evolved into one of Europe’s powerhouses and won 14 trophies, including the Premier League four times and the EFL Cup on five occasions.
Indeed, they have now won the League Cup more often than any other major trophy in their history, and victory today would equal Liverpool’s records for most wins overall (eight) and most consecutive wins (four).
It is a similar story in the dugout now that Mourinho has been denied his latest showdown with his old foe Pep Guardiola.
Mason became the Premier League’s youngest ever manager – and just the second person to manage a top-flight game while in their 20s since the Second World War – during the victory over Southampton on Wednesday, but in only his second game at the helm finds himself up against the master in a cup final.
Guardiola is bidding for the 30th trophy of his illustrious managerial career and his ninth as Man City boss this afternoon, and he looks certain to add to that tally further this season.
While a quadruple is now off the cards following their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea last weekend, it seems like only a matter of time before they wrap up the Premier League crown having returned to winning ways against Aston Villa in midweek.
With the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain looming this week, the prospect of another treble is still on, but they first must complete the job against Spurs today.
Guardiola’s record in this competition is formidable, having lifted the trophy three seasons in a row and lost only two of his 24 League Cup matches overall, one of which was a semi-final second-leg defeat which still saw Man City through to the final last season.
However, Guardiola made no secret of the fact that this competition is now at the very bottom of his priority list, coming as it does this season at the same time as the Premier League title run-in and the latter stages of the Champions League.
That is in sharp contrast to Tottenham, for whom success in this match could come to define their season should they miss out on a Champions League spot in the Premier League.
The prospect of ending that long trophy drought also makes this a much bigger occasion for Spurs than it is for Man City, but whether that is enough for them to overcome the odds facing them remains to be seen.
Both clubs are appearing in their ninth League Cup final in total – only Liverpool have played in more – but the more recent history in major tournaments could barely be more different between the two.
Man City possible XI: Steffen, Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Mendy, Silva, Fernandinho, Gundogan, Mahrez, Torres, Sterling.
Tottenham possible XI: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Dier, Reguilon, Ndombele, Hojbjerg, Bale, Lo Celso, Son, Lucas.