Chelsea answer back against Spurs to book a spot at Wembley
Llorente’s goal sent the game to penalties but that was where Spurs’ hopes ended
Chelsea’s David Luiz celebrates after scoring the winning penalty against Tottenham Hotspur to send Chelsea through to the Carabao Cup final. Photo: Glyn Kirk/Getty Images
When the final kick was delivered it was the Chelsea players running forward from the halfway line for the victory scrum. David Luiz had scored the decisive penalty of the shootout. Tottenham had lost their nerve from 12 yards and it will be Maurizio Sarri’s team who head to Wembley for the final against Manchester City on February 24th.
On the balance of play, they will also feel they deserved nothing less. Chelsea had certainly responded with great vigour to Maurizio Sarri’s criticisms of the players after their defeat to Arsenal on Saturday. They led 2-0 at half-time only for Fernando Llorente’s goal to take the game to its dramatic finale when Willian, César Azpilicueta, Jorginho all converted their penalties.
Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela had done likewise but Eric Dier, one of England’s penalty heroes in the World Cup shootout against Colombia, put his over the crossbar and Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, saved Lucas Moura’s kick. Chelsea will have Gonzalo Higuain available for the final and, on this evidence, perhaps their manager should question them more often.
Against Arsenal, Sarri thought his players had lacked conviction, that they were outfought and did not have the force of personality to do anything about it. Yet the idea Chelsea could be so passive in this semi-final, given all their conflict with Spurs over the last few years, was never realistic.
Chelsea’s improved attitude could be accurately gauged by David Luiz taking a bang early on from Eric Dier, visibly distressed by the impact to his right knee but getting up to play through the pain. Or just consider, perhaps, the moment when N’Golo Kanté’s low, spinning shot went through the legs of Moussa Sissoko to deceive the Spurs goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, for the goal that made it 1-1 on aggregate.
There was no pumping of fists from the scorer. His teammates were rushing to embrace him but he was looking past them all. Kanté was pointing to the ball, making the point that he wanted someone to retrieve it – and quickly. He wanted the game to restart, with Spurs in retreat, and in those moments it felt almost like a trick of the imagination that Sarri could possibly question the competitive courage of these players.
Along the way, Hazard might feel he proved his point, too. Sarri is right if he considers that Hazard is not the classic leader, in terms of rolling up his sleeves, the old-fashioned way, and rousing his teammates. There are different forms of leadership, however, and Hazard’s goal was a reminder why he is still the player who carries Chelsea’s hopes.
Playing on the left, with a licence to roam, he was in his strongest position, eluding opponents, cutting infield and then making it his business to get into the penalty area. The ball went left to right, from Hazard to Pedro and then the overlapping César Azpilicueta. The cross came in low and Hazard, letting the ball run across his path, made an awkward shot look easy to put Chelsea in command for the first time.
For Spurs, that opening 45 minutes was an ordeal and a reflection, undoubtedly, about their reduction in performance when Harry Kane is missing from Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
Dele Alli was another absentee and there can be no doubt Chelsea must have been encouraged by the fact their opponents were deprived of two key performers.
Spurs still had the incentive of playing to rid themselves of the one thing that is always held against them: that they have never won a trophy in the Pochettino era.
It made for a compelling night, two of the Premier League’s leading teams slugging it out, under the floodlights, with the volume turned high and the underlying sense, in the stands and on the pitch, that these clubs really are not too fond of one another.
Spurs were reeling until, five minutes into the second half, they changed the complexion of the evening again. Danny Rose, who had replaced the injured Ben Davies, supplied the cross from the left. Llorente had David Luiz in close proximity but the Brazilian’s body position was entirely wrong. Llorente kept his eyes on the ball, six yards out, and headed in the goal that levelled the match again.
The goal came almost as a jolt because, until that point, there was no doubt Chelsea were the superior team. Pochettino must have been particularly aggrieved about the defending for the first goal, when a corner was headed out of the penalty area and Kanté had the time to adjust his body position and take aim from an unchallenged position.
Chelsea will also reflect they might have gone into half-time in an even stronger position. Olivier Giroud had a close-range opportunity from Hazard’s run and cross and in the last action of the first half Hazard broke clear only for Toby Alderweireld to dive in with a risky challenge from behind. Alderweireld did connect with the ball, but he had to go through Hazard’s leg to get to it and was fortunate, to some degree, that the referee, Martin Atkinson, gave him the benefit of the doubt.
At 2-2, both sides could have won the match from that point. Giroud could have restored Chelsea’s lead within a minute and put a header wide in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Hazard, of all people, shot wide from a good position and, with Spurs becoming increasingly dangerous, Llorente wasted a good chance from Eriksen’s brilliant right-sided delivery. The final drama was settled by David Luiz in front of the Matthew Harding stand. – Guardian service