The right-back could feature at Wembley as the Lilywhites seek an end to a 13-year wait for silverware
Undoubtedly, Manchester City are favourites going into Sunday’s League Cup final with Tottenham Hotspur, and for good reason.
The Lilywhites are facing a side that could move level with Liverpool’s record of eight titles in the domestic cup competition, having won five of the last eight with the last three coming in succession.
Indeed, Pep Guardiola has made it a habit of claiming the first piece of silverware in the English football calendar since his arrival in 2016 and this year is no different.
While City are resounding favourites to end the day with their eighth EFL Cup success, the managerial upheaval in North London could somehow play to the underdogs’ advantage. Nobody, except the higher-ups at the club perhaps, saw Jose Mourinho’s departure coming.
The expectation was that having taken the club within 90 minutes at least of ending a 13-year trophy drought, the two-time Champions League winner would be allowed to take Spurs over the line in their first final since that CL defeat by Liverpool in 2019.
That disturbance in the capital is hoped to be the tonic for Tottenham to claim a first title since 2008 and push them into one of the Champions League spots, which remain up in the air with the season’s conclusion fast approaching.
It has been a topsy-turvy campaign for the club and Serge Aurier’s campaign has, by and large, resembled the club’s general mood.
Initially playing second fiddle to summer signing Matt Doherty from Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Ivory Coast right-back then became Mourinho’s favourite in the autumn as they looked to be Premier League contenders at the time.
The wide defender’s performances in wins over City and Arsenal saw him become the side’s primary right-back but Doherty slowly came back into the reckoning and looked to have supplanted Aurier before March’s injury layoff.
In truth, battling for the role of starting right-back with the ex-Wolves man was one of the pre-season subplots but neither has truly held down a starting spot. The much-maligned West African has played in 48 percent of Spurs’ PL games in 2020/21, starting just over half of their 33 fixtures.
While interim boss Ryan Mason revealed the Irishman is back in training for Sunday’s clash, opting to throw the 29-year-old back into the XI may be ill-advised and Aurier’s rather encouraging showing vs Southampton in midweek was pleasing to see.
After below-par displays vs Manchester United and Everton, the right-back won more ground and aerial duels than everyone else on the pitch in Mason’s first game in temporary charge vs Southampton, while he made more tackles than the players on both sides.
Even if the green Englishman has reservations on the former Paris-Saint Germain defender, a dearth of alternatives may be to African’s advantage, and could mean he leans on the sometimes misunderstood Ivorian on Sunday.
Having started in the 2015 final defeat by Chelsea, the interim manager knows what it feels like to lose at this stage and, despite Guardiola’s side coming into the match as the media favourites, the London club ought to find positives in the Cityzens’ recent drop off in performances.
“From a personal point of view, winning means a lot, because I’ve been involved in the club for such a long time,” Mason told the club website before the final.
“I think, more importantly, for the fans, everyone involved in the club, everyone who follows the club… it’s been a long time, and hopefully, that ends at the weekend for everyone involved and associated with the club.
“Sunday will be great for the club. It’s important this club is playing in cup finals, and we’ll go there full of confidence.”
Tottenham’s chances certainly increase if Harry Kane is passed fit to feature at the Home of Football, although that gives no guarantees after 2018/19’s Champions League final loss against Liverpool.
Mason experienced the elation of success as a younger player and fan in 2008 and the agony of defeat as a first-team player seven years later under Mauricio Pochettino.
After losing two finals since that triumph over Chelsea 13 years ago, the Englishman will hope the likes of Aurier and co. step up against a distracted City hoping to be third-time lucky and end their extended trophy drought.