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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:57am

Swansea set for cup stroll in 'biggest mismatch of all time'

Despite Bradford's heroics to reach the final, logic says Premier Leaguers have name on cup

BIO

Nick has been SCMP’s tipster since soccer betting was launched in Hong Kong in 2003, having previously served as racing editor. He takes a statistical approach to soccer betting, focusing mainly on the English Premier League but also on the other major European leagues and the English lower divisions. Now based in England, he brings a wealth of experience as a punter and writer having also worked for the Sunday Times, Racing Post and Betfair during a 25-year career in sports betting journalism.
 

Romantics have their dream final tomorrow when Bradford and Swansea do battle for the League Cup in one of the most unlikely match-ups in the long history of England's competitions.

Hard-nosed logic suggests Swansea will win comfortably and a Swansea win-win on the HaFu looks the best bet. Over 2.5 goals also looks a decent bet, as this competition's final tends to be higher scoring than FA Cup finals.

Swansea are eighth in the Premier League, which makes them of the usual standard to have reached the final in recent years. Although they have never won a major trophy, this is a perfect opportunity as Bradford are 71 places below them on the league ladder.

Bradford have won a trophy but it was beyond living memory - 1911 - when they lifted the FA Cup. At the time they were in the top flight of English football, but now they are in the fourth tier and are only the second team from that level to reach the final of this competition.

The first was Rochdale, who lost 3-0 against Norwich in a two-legged final in 1962. Norwich were in the second tier at the time, which means tomorrow's final is a bigger mismatch and arguably the biggest of all time.

Victory for Bradford would rival the feat of Tottenham Hotspur in winning the FA Cup as a non-league side in 1901. Spurs defeated Sheffield United of the top flight in a replay, but the gulf was not as big as it may appear because there were only two divisions of the Football League and Spurs were one of the best sides outside the league.

Bradford's progress to the final has been remarkable, with victories over Premier League sides Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan. If they can defeat Swansea too, Bradford will become only the second team from outside the top flight to eliminate four top-tier sides in a single cup run in this competition.

The only team to achieve that was Sheffield Wednesday in 1991 and they also happen to have been the last team from outside the top flight to win either of England's two major cup competitions.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Sheffield Wednesday's success came the year before the formation of the Premier League, which concentrated the ability to win trophies in fewer hands.

The League Cup has remained the most open competition, with the list of winners since 2000 alone including Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and Birmingham.

It is highly likely that Swansea will join that list and on current form they won't look out of place. This season they are the next-best side in the Premier League after the big six and Everton, which basically means they have reached the peak of what they might have been expected to achieve.

Lifting a trophy would be the crowning glory of Swansea's progress under a succession of managers, including Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, and continued by Michael Laudrup. Their semi-final victory over Chelsea was particularly impressive and, while Laudrup will be keen to guard against complacency, it seems the hard work was done then.

A slight negative against Swansea is their high draw rate - they have drawn more (10) than they have won (nine) in their 27 Premier League games - and there is a nagging doubt about whether they will make their class tell.

Having won 5-0 at QPR on the opening day of the season, they have scored only seven more goals in 13 games away from the Liberty stadium and they have found the net in just two out of eight games since their 2-0 semi-final win at Chelsea.

The results of past finals also indicate that the match might be closer than expected. Only three of the last 18 finals have been won by two goals or more in 90 minutes, with seven finishing all-square.

It is worth remembering that most pundits expected easy victories for Arsenal and Liverpool in the last two finals - Arsenal lost to Birmingham while Liverpool went to a penalty shoot-out before overcoming Cardiff.

But, of course, few finals have involved a team as lowly as Bradford. A measure of Swansea's form in the context of tomorrow's match is provided by their results against lower-league opposition - 3-1, 3-2 and 1-0 this season.

All of those opponents were higher on the league ladder than Bradford and it would be a major shock if Swansea did not win.

 


SHORTLIST

Reading, Manchester City, Watford, Barnsley, Rayo Vallecano, Leverkusen, Roma

 


BEST BETS

1 Manchester City home win Remain an excellent win bet at home
2 Watford home win Have won six out of nine in the league in 2013
3 Barnsley on handicap Unbeaten in last nine under new boss David Flitcroft
4 Rayo Vallecano home win Have won five out of six at home to bottomhalf teams
5 Leverkusen away win Have won six out of seven against bottom-six teams 

 


FIXTURES

TODAY: (11pm unless stated): Arsenal v Aston Villa, Fulham v Stoke City (8:45pm), Norwich City v Everton, Queens Park Rangers v Manchester United, Reading v Wigan Athletic, West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland

TOMORROW: Manchester City v Chelsea (9:30pm), Newcastle United v Southampton (9:30pm). Capital One Cup: Bradford v Swansea (11.59pm).

MONDAY: West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur (4am, Tues).

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