A must-win for Mourinho, a match made for Pochettino
CHELSEA v TOTTENHAM
(Tonight, 11.55pm, Singtel mio TV Ch 111)
The mind games have started.
The pressure is mounting.
But Jose Mourinho is showing no signs of distress.
He is still the consummate cool customer. He still takes on the world.
The Portuguese is seeking his first trophy in his second spell with Chelsea, whom he rejoined a year and a half ago.
Ahead of the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur tonight, he raised the stakes.
Losing, he said, is not an option.
"It is a final we have to play and a final we have to win," said the 52-year-old.
"This is the only moment since I arrived in July 2013."
This is not a naive manager who unwittingly got himself into a cul-de-sac.
This is Mourinho making a statement of intent, a declaration of his conviction.
Never mind the last time the two teams met, Chelsea left the football pitch with their tails tucked between their legs.
The Blues were so abnormally bad in that 5-3 Premiership loss on New Year's Day, that it had to be a one-off.
He is the man with the Midas touch.
Everywhere he has gone, trophies have followed.
His machine is ready to roll again.
He sees this final as crucial, because he wants to "make Wembley something normal" for his players.
Even more important is the fillip that a win here can give to their campaign.
Two victories (extra-time win over Liverpool in the League Cup not included) in their last eight matches in all competitions suggest they need a spark somewhere.
Although five points in the lead in the Premiership race, there are still 12 games to play.
Their Champions League adventure is a finely poised affair, following a 1-1 away draw against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Round of 16 last week.
So, beating Spurs tonight can bring more than just the League Cup.
This is Mourinho we're talking about, where winning is only to be expected.
And he must, because winning is his only yardstick.
Match made for Pochettino
BLOSSOMING RELATIONSHIP: Harry Kane (right) was blooded by former manager Tim Sherwood, but it is under Mauricio Pochettino (above) that he has really thrived. - PHOTO: JOHN SIBLEY/ACTION IMAGES
The wheels haven't exactly fallen off at White Hart Lane, but they are getting dangerously loose.
February started auspiciously enough for Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, who began the month with a thrilling 2-1 win over arch-rivals Arsenal.
But, since then, they have not won in four matches in all competitions.
As a result, they are out of the Europa League, and have slipped to seventh in the Premiership table. Their last chance of silverware lies in the League Cup.
Beat Chelsea in the final tonight, and Spurs' season will suddenly look a lot more palatable.
Not that Pochettino has fared badly.
At the end of November last year, the 42-year-old Argentinian was facing the sack following four Premiership defeats in six home matches.
Then again, no manager's job is ever safe in that part of London.
Luckily for Pochettino, he stopped the rot. The tight race for a top-four place means his side are by no means out of the running.
The North London Derby victory three weeks ago and the emphatic win over Chelsea on New Year's Day provide proof that he can outwit the best in the business.
And he has Harry Kane, England's hottest young property at the moment.
In fact, the 21-year-old striker, with 14 league goals from 22 appearances, has been Spurs' most outstanding performer.
Chelsea should know. His double helped take the Blues down at White Hart Lane.
Pochettino believes that that win alone gives his team all the confidence they need.
Spurs remain the underdogs, Chelsea very much the favourites.
But Pochettino has been fighting against the odds ever since he took on the Spurs job.
This is one big battle he will relish.
- GARY LIM
FUN FACT: (44) Tottenham Hotspur have played 43 competitive games this season; more than any other Premier League side.