Chelsea enter the game without Nemanja Matic, who will be serving the first game of a three-match suspension for pushing over Burnley’s Ashley Barnes at the weekend.
While Matic has proved his worth to the Blues this season, and is arguably the most important player on their team, his loss in the final could actually work to Chelsea’s favour, especially as the opponent is an impressively attacking side in Tottenham.
With a full strength team available, head coach Jose Mourinho would have likely selected Matic in midfield next to Cesc Fabregas, who would act as the prime playmaker. This is the same midfield partnership that has seen the Blues storm to the top of the Premier League table, as it allows Fabregas to control the game, safe in the knowledge that Matic will be behind him to pick up any defensive lapses.
This has proved to be an excellent partnership against weaker opposition in the division, when Spain international Fabregas is afforded time on the ball due to a lack of pressing. He has wowed audiences with his creative abilities, and his assist tally - 15 in 23 Premier League games - clearly displays his worth.
However, the main weakness in this partnership is Matic’s desire to also charge forward with the ball, rather than sitting deep to play simple passes. He is a physical force of his own free will, and his drive is perfect against teams who sit deep - the weaker ones. When the fear of a counter attack is not on the table, Matic can charge forward whenever he wants, knowing that the vacant space behind him will not be exploited.
Yet, against top teams, with the attacking will of both Fabregas and Matic, it is evident that the duo cannot perform to the best of their abilities. Fabregas does not have the positional sense to cover for Matic from a defensive standpoint, resulting in the Serbia international playing a purely defensive role - limiting his effectiveness - or else creating a void of space directly in front of the Chelsea defensive line.
Such a weakness became evident in the league meeting with Spurs on New Year's Day, when Harry Kane exploited the space to great effect, scoring twice and winning a penalty for a third strike. Admittedly, Gary Cahill showed his defensive weaknesses in that game, and it is likely that Kurt Zouma will start ahead of him, but it was the Matic-Fabregas combination that resulted in the chances being created - and Kane bursting through into the box to win the penalty.
There is only one player in the Chelsea ranks who will fulfil the exact role that Mourinho will need to utilise in the final, and it would be wise for Mourinho to name Nathan Ake alongside Fabregas in the starting XI on Sunday.
For all the youngster's weaknesses - mostly centered around inexperience - he has shown an adeptness at keeping possession and winning the ball that should hold him in good stead, and already makes him a better option than Brazilian international Ramires. He may not be as energetic or physical as Matic, but his defensive positioning is top class - he plays in the back-line as well as in the midfield - and he will follow strict instructions to never cross the halfway line to allow Fabregas free reign as main creator and provider.
The only real opponent that Ake would have in the search for a place in the starting XI for the final would be John Obi Mikel, himself the most defensive-bound midfielder in the entire Chelsea squad. However, the Nigerian international is injured, and Mourinho has confirmed that he will miss the final, as per the Standard.
It would be an intriguing choice if Ake's name is announced in the starting XI on Sunday, but if he is selected, it will prove that Mourinho has learnt the lessons from the New Year’s Day defeat to Spurs, and the selection could play heavily into Chelsea’s favour. The case of Matic’s dismissal will still be a cause for debate and frustration among fans of all clubs, but maybe the Serbian star’s loss will actually help the Blues secure their first piece of silverware in the second Mourinho era.