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Why the League Cup is still important



There will be many naysayers out there scoffing at Chelsea zealously celebrating their haul of the League Cup as if they have secured the FA Cup, Premier League Championship, Champions League and just for good measure, the Intertoto Cup. After all, this is simply the latest incarnation of the Milk, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca-Cola, Worthington’s, Molson Coors, Capital One Cup and frankly, Mickey Mouse is wondering which darned cutpurse stole his trophy. But Chelsea have bagged one for themselves and to mock them for such a thing is akin to sniggering at the rock star for looking daft as he/she stands on the stage and experiences their lyrics being sung back at them by thousands of adoring fans. Daft they may look but to snigger is to reveal a petty jealousy.

The first trophy is considered quite important by managerial behemoths such as Jose Mourinho and Brian Clough. Chelsea’s dramatic victory against Liverpool in 2005 at the Millennium Stadium (crowd shushing and all those shenanigans) paved the way for the clinching of the Premier League three months later and just for good measure, the year after too, along with an FA Cup and another League Cup, in his first spell in charge of the Londoners. As he said in the build up to Sunday’s triumph: “It is just a game we have to play and after that the cup talk is over.” Indeed, once the trophy is in the cabinet and buffed to within an inch of its life, it is in the record books and no one can throw around accusations of ‘trophy-less seasons’.

Besides, it’s not just a trophy, it’s a winning mentality that holding aloft a big cup establishes. Brian Clough knew it and like Mourinho, saw his team collect this trophy in 1978 before claiming the league title. Indeed, Clough prized any trophy that his teams won, even the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1977: “I got one of my biggest kicks in beating Leyton Orient to win the Anglo-Scottish Cup at a time when we were trying to get out of the Second Division.” Small time this may well have been but if it is accepted that winning a game of football gives players confidence to win another game of football, then surely it follows that winning a final gives players the confidence to go on and win other finals. Given Mourinho’s and Clough’s records in securing trophies, it would be folly to even step into the changing rooms, never mind even think about entering the ring with them to take them on regarding this matter.

Besides, winning a trophy is what it’s all about when it comes down to it. Those fans (remember them?) that turn up every week do so not just in the hope that they’ll one day beat their local rivals with a last minute winner away from home but deep down, dream about seeing their team raise a trophy, preferably at Wembley. Sure, qualifying for the Champions League is a great achievement and deserves praise, recognition and respect but how exactly do you celebrate finishing third or fourth? In Arsenal’s case, all it leads to in recent years is defeat in the knock out round anyway, followed by endless questions about ambition along with much head scratching and soul-searching. Arsenal’s FA Cup haul last season finally ended their run of seasons without a piece of silverware and the sigh of relief could be heard loud and clear, with the epicentre being Hornsea Road.

How Wenger must have dearly wished Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny had given each other a shout back in 2011 against Birmingham City that day in the League Cup final: in the event, the ‘six years without a trophy’ taunts continued with a relentless passion. Of course, the whole Wembley experience is a little clichéd these days, what with the enforced fun and being cajoled and prodded to sing along while at the same time listen to the message of various corporate sponsors, but a final is still a day out at Wembley. Given the choice between singing along to ‘We are the Champions’ or…actually what exactly IS the procedure for celebrating finishing 3rd or 4th? Sit back in a comfy chair and mull over a job well done whilst emitting a contented sigh? Well, whatever it is, surely winning at Wembley lasts longer in the memory.

Mourinho knows how important it is to bag a trophy – witness his big love in with Rui Faria on the final whistle after swatting away Tottenham’s challenge with the nonchalance required in swatting away an irritating yet harmless fly. The pressure is momentarily off and he can now focus on winning more of the damned things; which he probably will.


I write occasional bits and bobs here and there: @InTheTopOne, The Set Pieces.


Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?

The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.



Photo: Getty Images

When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.

He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.

Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.

He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.

There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.

Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.

He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.

He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.

The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.

The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.

He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.

The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.

Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.

His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.

Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.

With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.

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Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City

The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.

The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.

Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.

That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.

The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.

(Photo by Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.

He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.

Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.

The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.

During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.

It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.

As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.

It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.

Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.

A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.

His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.

Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.

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Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad

Jake Jackman



Manchester City
Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.

Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.

Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

David Silva showed his class

The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.

If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.

He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.

It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.

They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions

Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.

They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.


Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.

On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.

The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City

The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.

He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.


Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.

He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.

Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.

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