Daniel Taylor at Stamford Bridge
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. The players of Tottenham were on their knees and it will be Maurizio Sarri’s team who will be trying to face down Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final.
Over the two legs, they will feel they deserved nothing less. Chelsea certainly responded with great vigour to Sarri’s criticism after their defeat by Arsenalon Saturday. They led 2-0 at half-time only for Fernando Llorente’s goal to take the game to its dramatic finale, when it boiled down to which group of players could hold their nerve from 12 yards.
Christian Eriksen went first for Spurs and put his shot into the bottom right-hand corner of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s net. Érik Lamela, the team’s next penalty-taker, went to the other side and beat Chelsea’s goalkeeper again. Yet Willian, with a feinting run, had scored for Chelsea in between. César Azpilicueta’s effort was a beauty, picking out the top corner after a long run-up, and then it was Eric Dier breaking free from the line of Spurs players to start the long walk from the centre-circle, hoping for some of the joy he encountered during England’s penalty shootout against Colombia in the World Cup.
Dier’s decisive penalty in Moscow was not particularly well taken. It was better, however, than the one he hit over the crossbar here and Chelsea never looked back once they had that advantage. Jorginho rolled in their next penalty, with an unorthodox little skip, and when Luca Moura’s kick was saved that cleared the way for David Luiz to confirm Chelsea’s place at Wembley on 24 February, by which time Gonzalo Higuaín, ineligible to make his debut against Spurs, should be fully integrated into a team who on this evidence, can take criticism from their manager better than many people anticipated.
Against Arsenal, Sarri thought his players had lacked conviction and did not have the strength 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 recent years, was never realistic. David Luiz played through pain for most of the match after taking an early bang from Dier. 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, to make 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 question the competitive courage of his players.
Along the way, Eden Hazard might feel he proved his point, too. Sarri is right if he considers Hazard is not the classic leader, in terms of rolling up his sleeves, the old-fashioned way, and rousing his teammates, John Terry-style. There are different forms of leadership, however, and Hazard’s performance was a reminder why he is still the player who carries Chelsea’s greatest hopes.
Playing on the left, with a licence to roam, he was in his strongest position, eluding opponents, cutting infield and making it his business to get into the penalty area. For Chelsea’s second goal, the ball went left to right, from Hazard to Pedro and then the overlapping Azpilicueta. The cross came in low and Hazard made an awkward shot look easy to give Chelsea an aggregate lead for the first time.
For Spurs, that opening 45 minutes was an ordeal and a stark reminder about their reduction in performance when Harry Kane is missing from Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Dele Alli and Son Heung-min were other absentees and there can be no doubt Chelsea, trying to claw back a 1-0 first-leg deficit, must have been encouraged by the fact their opponents were deprived of key performers, especially when Pochettino had also left out Hugo Lloris, his first-choice goalkeeper. Spurs could have done with Kane, in particular, during the penalties.
Spurs still had the incentive of trying 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 match, two of the Premier League’s leading sides slugging it out, under the floodlights, with the volume turned high and the underlying sense, in the stands and on the pitch, that these teams and their supporters are really not too fond of one another.
Spurs were reeling until, five minutes into the second half, Llorente’s goal changed the complexion. Danny Rose, who had replaced the injured Ben Davies, supplied the cross from the left. Llorente had David Luiz in 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.
After that, both sides went hunting for a winner and, for the first time, Spurs threatened to get on top. Giroud could have restored Chelsea’s lead within a minute and put a header wide in stoppage time. Hazard, of all people, squandered another decent opportunity but, with Spurs becoming increasingly dangerous, Llorente wasted a good chance from Eriksen’s brilliant right-sided delivery. Llorente apologised to Pochettino when he was substituted and, once again, Tottenham were left to reflect on what could have been.