Sure it’s not really the Premier League, but the Capital One Cup game between Chelsea and Arsenal will feature the two teams at the top of the EPL table. Managers Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger have a turbulent history, but in Mourinho’s second coming to Stamford Bridge, all previous arguments are water under the bridge, perhaps because they are now the two most experienced managers, the elder statesmen of English game in absence of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Nevertheless, Mourinho has created his usual pre-match fireworks, though this time his ire is leveled against the schedulers rather than the opposing manager.
The Portuguese tactician, however, has plenty of reason to be furious with the timing. Coming only two days after a tough game against title-challengers Manchester City, the game against Arsenal will be difficult to win without unduly exhausting the players. Though Mourinho has thankfully backed off an earlier threat to play a youth team, it remains to be seen just how many first team regulars will take the field at the Emirates Stadium.
This game may give an opportunity to currently sidelined players who find themselves unable to break into starting XI. Clearly the one person with most to gain is Juan Mata. It is now perhaps the most widely told story in the Premier League: best player for two consecutive years finds himself benched but his team keeps winning. Every game that goes by makes more unlikely that Mata can regain his number ten role; Oscar has simply been two good. While Mata may still be the more creative player and is far more capable of unlocking an opposing defense with perfectly weighted pass, it cannot be denied that Oscar is the more complete player. The Brazilian maestro stepped up brilliantly when Mourinho asked him to be Chelsea’s playmaker. Unlike Mata, Oscar tracks back to help the defense, is more willing to interchange roles with wide players and, perhaps above all, helps bring out the best in surrounding players by playing incredibly unselfishly, a trait first noticed in his role for Brazil where he helps Neymar shine. Mata will need all his virtuoso skill to challenge for the spot he believes is rightfully his.
Mesut Ozil (@Arsenal)
Because of the unpredictability of Mourinho’s final line-up, it is almost impossible to predict a winner. Arsenal has been excellent and rightfully sits atop the table, but Chelsea will be full of confidence after a critical win against Manchester City. This could be quite the game to watch, not least because Mourinho will have to come up with a plan to neutralize his old favorite, the one and only Mesut Özil.