Sunday’s Capital One Cup final may turn out to be something of a wasteland for African players. The best chance of a player who represents an African nation internationally starting the game would appear to take the form of French-born Nabil Bentaleb, who plays in Spurs and Algeria’s midfield. Bentaleb appears to have convinced Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino that he warrants a starting place more often than not and he shouldn’t be too fatigued following Algeria’s average performance in the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
As for Chelsea – manager José Mourinho would be certain to name John Obi Mikel to protect his back four, given the ban handed to first choice enforcer Nemanja Matić, but the Nigerian has been out injured and even if he is fit enough to start, may not be in any condition to play 90 minutes – or more, given the potential for 30 minutes extra time. Mourinho may therefore be forced into a radical change of tactics or to rely on youngster Nathan Aké, who has spent most of the season as an unused substitute.
Twenty years old last week, Dutch U21 Aké has certainly done nothing wrong when he has been given a chance and was outstanding in Chelsea’s successful U17 team, but Mourinho has been strangely reluctant to use the dreadlocked defender/holding midfielder and may regard a London derby cup final at Wembley against a team that humiliated his side on New Year’s Day as too intimidating a forum for one so inexperienced. Spurs also beat Chelsea on both occasions the two sides have met previously in Wembley cup finals; 2-1 in the 2008 League Cup and by the same score in the 1967 FA Cup.
The last possibility for African glory is none other than Didier Drogba, whose cup final record is extraordinary and who may not be as far past his best as many believe. The retired Ivory Coast international has scored in every domestic cup final in which he has played – a total of eight goals in seven games. Supplementing his domestic final record with the crucial equaliser in Chelsea’s 2012 UEFA Champions League final triumph in Munich, Drogba is the epitome of a big game player and remains peerless in the English game at holding the ball up with his back to goal. This single attribute may be all the likes of Hazard, Oscar and, on current form, Branislav Ivanovic need to feed off.
As the proven big game player, Drogba, who will be 37 in a fortnight, may be favoured over Loic Remy to back up presumed starter Diego Costa, but if he gets a significant number of minutes on the field, it would not be out of the question for the Ivorian to grab his 10th cup final goal.