Chelsea v Tottenham Thursday 24 January, 19:45 Live on Sky Sports Football
Sarri's wake-up call a gamble, but no surprise
Anyone who thought Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri was a softly-spoken and avuncular figure who shies away from conflict was disabused of that notion after the weekend's limp derby defeat at Arsenal. Sarri has been gently nudging his team in public for a while now (especially about their defending), but he finally let rip on Saturday, delivering his diatribe in Italian so as not to lose its efficacy. Sarri is an educator, and he felt the class was in need of a harsh lesson.
Sarri spent a good chunk of his professional life outside of the football bubble (he worked in banking), and he has clawed his way up through the lower leagues. He is stubborn, and has iron-clad belief in his methods and playing style. Fans and pundits can complain all they like about the lack of "Plan B" or the backing for Jorginho or the placement of square pegs in round holes - Sarri is highly unlikely to change tack. After all, if he sees this move to Chelsea as validation of his methods, why would he then abandon those principles?
Chelsea now have a very important choice to make, bearing in mind that Andre-Villas Boas, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte ultimately lost their battles for control at Stamford Bridge. They must show patience with a man who was always going to take time to bring about such a cultural and stylistic change, and must imbue him with the authority needed to see that revolution through. Given that Chelsea are in three cup competitions and on track for Champions League qualification, Sarri's tenure is hardly a disaster so far.
The former Napoli and Empoli boss is expected to field his strongest available side, including star player Eden Hazard. The Belgian has been involved in six goals in his last seven League Cup outings.
Pochettino two games from ending trophy drought
If Mauricio Pochettino is to end his long search for silverware with Tottenham by winning the League Cup this term, he'll have to do it the hard way. Spurs will have to shake off a series of personnel issues and escape from Stamford Bridge unscathed, and then they'll have to overcome Manchester City in the final.
Pochettino has made incredible progress with Spurs both at home and abroad, but such is the nature of football that until he wins something tangible, that stubborn stain of doubt won't completely wash out. Spurs have fallen at the semi-final hurdle of the FA Cup in each of the last two seasons, and another missed opportunity would be a painful blow.
Spurs have won their last three meetings with Chelsea, including two wins at Wembley this term. Opta tell us Chelsea haven't lost four games in a row against the Lilywhites since the early 1960s, and they haven't lost back-to-back home games against them since 1982.
Tottenham's chances have been reduced by some key absences. Talismanic striker Harry Kane and midfield dynamo Dele Alli are out for several weeks at least, and Heung-Min Sonis still away at the Asian Cup on South Korea duty. That all puts a lot of responsibility on Lucas Moura in attack, who has only just returned from injury, and ingenious playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Fired-up Chelsea can squeeze through
Chelsea are trading at 1.98 in the To Qualify market, and I believe they can get to the final against a Tottenham team that has been weakened by injury, and that has failed this kind of test in the recent past. Sarri's brutal assessment of his charges at the Emirates might actually engender a positive response, and a determined and full-strength Blues side can win the second leg.
A 1-0 reverse against Leicester City remains Chelsea's only defeat at Stamford Bridge since Sarri took charge, and although Spurs have won their last five games on the road in all competitions, they are missing some huge players.
Remember, if you back Chelsea to qualify, then you win whether they progress in 90 minutes, in 120 minutes, or via a penalty shoot-out.
Cagey clash might be on the cards
The first leg at Wembley was tight, and featured just one goal from a hotly-disputed penalty. Seven of Chelsea's last nine games in all competitions have featured fewer than three goals, and with Spurs missing so many key attacking players, they may take a careful approach to this one.
Of course, an early Spurs goal would open the match right up, but I still think Under 2.5 Goals is the way to go at 1.89.
Hazard to make the difference?
Eden Hazard has been playing lights out for most of the season, and this feels like the kind of big occasion that could bring the best out of him. A spell of six games without a goal has seen his odds to score in 90 minutes creep above evens to 11/10 on the Sportsbook, and I believe that's a good price for him to end that drought, especially when you bear in mind that he played well in the first leg.
You could use the Same Game Multi function on the Sportsbook to back Chelsea to qualify and Hazard to score at combined odds of 3.40.
Back Chelsea to qualify at 1.98
Back Eden Hazard to score at 11/10 on the Sportsbook