After a first leg where VAR was once more a topic of controversy, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea locked horns again in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea went with Olivier Giroud up front whilst Mauricio Pochettino kept faith with misfiring Fernando Llorente.
Patched Up Spurs Cause Own First Half Downfall
With a slender lead from the first leg, the thought of Spurs trying to defend that lead was unthinkable. Not only did they sit back but they sat back badly. From the first whistle, Chelsea looked hungrier, more determined and tactically ready for this match. As early as the third minute, Pedro had a shot that was blocked by Toby Alderweireld. Eric Dier let David Luiz know he was around with a fair yet crunching challenge but then gave away two silly free-kicks as Chelsea dominated the opening exchanges.
It was N’Golo Kante who broke the deadlock. The ball came to him 20-yards out with no Spurs player near him. He hit it low and the ball hit three pairs of legs, including goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga’s, on its way into the net. Chelsea were ahead and the tie level. Spurs didn’t respond and gave away corner after corner, pass after pass. Somebody, somewhere, had forgotten to tell them this was a cup semi-final based on the first half. Then, on 38 minutes, Spurs again gave the ball away. They had come forward but Llorente, not in the game at all, couldn’t find his teammates around him and gave the ball back to Chelsea. Eden Hazard made it 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate.
A fabulous tackle on Hazard from Toby Alderweireld meant Spurs went into half-time still in the tie. The players looked leggy as they trudged off, surely knowing they must do better in the second half and not lose yet another cup semi-final.
Spurs Bounce Back Quickly
After an abject first half from the visitors, it was perhaps surprising to see the same 11 emerge for the second half. Chelsea had an early chance but with only five minutes of the second period gone, Spurs were level on aggregate. Danny Rose, who had replaced the injured Ben Davies, crossed from the left and, surprisingly, it was Llorente who stooped to head home a fine Tottenham goal.
Spurs then went to sleep after that, giving the ball away, and Hazard could only fire wide under pressure from Moussa Sissoko. Llorente then had a glorious chance to edge Spurs ahead in the tie. Gazzaniga hit a glorious ball out to Christian Eriksen who, in turn, swept the ball over to Llorente. Instead of controlling the ball, he tried to shoot but missed it and a huge chance went begging. It was then the Spurs keeper who delivered another sumptuous ball over the top. It fell to Lucas Moura, who replaced Llorente, but he fired into the side netting instead of across the keeper and another chance was gone for Spurs.
The second half was becoming a feisty affair. Kante took out Danny Rose when the whistle had already gone for a free-kick and he was rightly shown the yellow card. Dier continued to get stuck in and the temperature inside Stamford Bridge was rising. Nerves were also showing as, with ten minutes to go, the managers had to have one eye on the penalty shoot-out that was starting to look likely. Was there time for yet another twist in this incredible tie? Serge Aurier went for a header and landed heavily but seemed to be unhurt. Spurs don’t need any more injuries right now as they head into the business end of what has already been a tumultuous season for the North London club.
Paying the Penalties
With virtually the last kick of the game, Chelsea broke and Giroud was unmarked in the box. It was the tie in his hands, or rather on his head, but he headed wide of the target to virtually mark the end of a pulsating tie. Spurs defended like Trojans at Wembley, forgot to turn up in the first half of the second leg yet somehow mustered extra reserves of energy to fight for victory. Ultimately, the tie was to be decided on the lottery of a penalty shoot out.
Christian Eriksen: Scored
Erik Lamela: Scored
Cesar Azpilicueta: Scored
Eric Dier: Missed
Lucas Moura: Saved
David Luiz: Scored
Chelsea win on penalties.
Tottenham hearts are broken once again in another cup semi-final as Chelsea were more accurate from the penalty spot. The Blues were the better team over the two legs. Spurs gave everything in the first leg and second half at Stamford Bridge but it has to be said that they paid for a dreadful first-half performance.
It was always going to be difficult with the injuries Spurs had but the first half was strangely poor. They were better when they moved to a back three in the second half and it begs the question as to why they didn’t start with that formation. The midfield were far too removed from Llorente and they gave the ball away time and time again.
The second half was better but the fact remains that Spurs simply cannot turn winning situations into trophies and ultimately tangible success.
There is much to play for before the end of the season and, when Spurs get everyone back and fit, they might just take that next to step to glory.
For now, it’s yet another case of what might have been.