Carling Cup holders Chelsea will be looking to advance to a second consecutive final and third in four years when they take on Everton in the Carling Cup semifinals next month.
Chelsea took home the cup in 2005 and 2007 under Jose Mourinho, and they’re looking to get Avram Grant his first trophy as the Blues’ touchline technician.
On the other side, the trophy case is a little lonely. Everton are looking to advance to their first League Cup final since 1984 (1-0 defeat to Liverpool in a replay) and their first final of any kind since the 1995 FA Cup final, in which they defeated Manchester United 1-0.
Chelsea started off their Carling Cup campaign with a 4-0 away thumping of Hull in the third round, but they were in for a fight to the death in their fourth-round tie against Leicester. The Blues appeared to be on their way out of the competition after Carl Cort put Leicester up 3-2 on 74, but Andriy Shevchenko equalized in the 87th, and Frank Lampard finished off his hat-trick with the winner in injury time.
Lampard and Shevchenko also helped Chelsea through to the semifinals, as second-half goals by the duo produced a 2-0 victory over Liverpool.
Everton’s campaign started with a 3-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday, but that was as easy as it gets so far for David Moyes’ side in the competition. Their fourth-round opponents, League One side Luton, put up quite a fight, but Tim Cahill, who came on as a sub in the 77th, scored the only goal of the match in the 101st minute to send Everton through to the quarters.
In their quarterfinal, Everton fell behind in the 12th minute at West Ham, but Leon Osman’s 40th minute strike and Yakubu’s 88th minute winner sent the Hammers out and the Toffees through to the semis.
Chelsea and Everton have met once thus far this term, with the spoils being shared at Stamford Bridge on November 11. Didier Drogba put the home side ahead in the 70th, but Cahill snatched a point for Everton with a last-minute equalizer.
Avram Grant hasn’t been shy about using his stars throughout the competition thus far, with the only real exception from the starting lineup in all three contests (that’s not currently injured) being Joe Cole, who came on as a sub against Hull and Liverpool.
The same can be said for David Moyes, who put most of his regulars in the starting lineup in at least one of the first two ties, with the only person missing from Wednesday’s starting lineup against Bolton that started in the quarterfinal tie against West Ham being Leon Osman, who suffered a broken toe in that match and won’t be back until sometime in January.
Gaining an edge in the first leg may be very vital for both sides, considering that both will be without numerous key players for the second leg.
By the time that second leg rolls around on January 22, Yakubu, Joseph Yobo, and Steven Pienaar will all be in Ghana, participating in the African Cup of Nations.
At the same time, however, Chelsea will be without Solomon Kalou, John Obi Mikel, and Michael Essien, and it appears unlikely that Didier Drogba will be available by then – and if he is, he’ll be in Ghana as well.
A positive result in the first leg might be more beneficial for the Toffees more so than Chelsea, because they’ll still have Sheva and Claudio Pizarro up front – and if they get their way, Valencia’s David Villa, along with Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, and Shaun Wright-Phillips to turn to in midfield, so the drop-off in quality won’t be great, if any, so they’ll be just as worrisome in the second leg as the first.
Yakubu’s absence could mean David Moyes goes with two strikers up front, with Andy Johnson, Victor Anichebe (not selected in Nigeria’s squad), or James Vaughan being the likely possibilities, as Celtic are trying to lure James McFadden back to Scotland. Yobo and Pienaar’s absence will be a big blow as well, especially Yobo’s, but Moyes does have reinforcements to turn to at their positions as well, and Osman may be fit by the second leg.
Even without three of their key players, Everton could definitely hold their own against Chelsea, without a doubt, and nick a draw or a victory, but if they’re battling from a first-leg deficit, it might be a little much to overcome against a top-class Chelsea side, even without the services of Drogba, Terry, and others.
Everton’s sure to throw everything they have at Chelsea, no matter what XI takes the pitch. The two sides have played several close matches in the last few seasons. Chelsea does have the upper hand, but their only runaway wins even in their period of rule over most of the Premiership were a 4-1 win over Everton in an FA Cup fourth-round replay in February ’06 and a 3-0 triumph that April, with both wins coming at Stamford Bridge.
The key for the Toffees will be to get a positive result at Stamford Bridge on the 8th and then pull through at Goodison Park two weeks later.
As for the cup holders, they are the favorites to progress and put themselves in position for another trophy, but can’t afford to see anymore names added to the injury list in the near future, even if they do plan to splash the cash in January.
Will there be a rematch of last season’s Carling Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea? Or will David Moyes side get one step closer to winning their first trophy in more than a decade? What do you think?