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Chelsea prevail against Tottenham in penalty shootout to book place in League Cup fin

(This post was last modified: 01-27-2019, 10:23 PM by Administrator.)

The profound relief for Maurizio Sarri was that having called his players out last weekend, accusing them of being difficult to motivate, they responded magnificently.
This was an epic cup tie. A raw, committed encounter in which Chelsea emerged victorious on a penalty shoot-out to defeat Tottenham Hotspur and set up a Carabao Cup Final against Manchester City. It will be the first major final Sarri has ever contested and how he desperately needed this result.
For Spurs it felt cruel. Depleted, suffering further injuries, shorn of all their best attacking players and overwhelmed in an Eden Hazard-inspired first half they dug deep as manager Mauricio Pochettino also cleverly summoned a response.
Another trophy may have eluded him but he did everything he could.
That they went out having scored an away goal that would, up until this season, have seen them go through, will have their fans lamenting that it was yet another “Spur-sy” thing to happen to them. In fact, this was the first League Cup semi-final in which away goals did not count extra since 1980 – beyond pegging the overall scoreline back to 2-2. “A little bit unlucky, no?” Pochettino said. Yes, it was, although Chelsea were not lucky to go through.
It also went straight to a penalty shoot-out with even that taking place in front of the Chelsea fans packed behind the goal in the Matthew Harding stand. Chelsea scored all four of their kicks, with David Luiz tearing away after bounding up to strike the final penalty, while Eric Dier and Lucas Moura, whose effort was saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga, missed for Spurs.
Dier, a hero of England’s World Cup penalty shoot-out against Colombia last summer, badly skied his effort and how Spurs missed the injured Harry Kane who had scored from the penalty spot to claim the only goal in the first leg of this tie.
Sarri later said his players had stopped enjoying their football but they enjoyed this and it helped that he liberated Hazard by allowing him to play in his favoured position, on the left-wing, as the head coach abandoned the experiment of using him as a “false nine”.
With Gonzalo Higuain, having secured his loan move, presented to the supporters before kick-off and sitting behind the Chelsea dugout throughout, Hazard can expect not to have to go back through the middle. Higuain, meanwhile, will not be daunted by the challenge of having to dislodge Olivier Giroud who was again a blunt point to the attack and missed a headed chance to win the tie in injury time.

If reinforcements are arriving for Chelsea, then what of Spurs? No side could cope without their first-choice attacking trio and certainly not one of the high calibre of Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min and so it proved. Nobody can doubt their spirit or organisation but they are stretched and suffered yet another injury as Ben Davies limped off.

That groin strain, not thought to be serious, was caused in extraordinary circumstances as he tried to block N’Golo Kante’s shot which opened the scoring. Spurs had half-cleared a corner with none of their players on the edge of their own penalty area. It ran to Kante who struck a low shot that went through Davies’ legs, as he dived, then through Moussa Sissoko’s legs – and finally through the legs of goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga to complete a bizarre triple nutmeg.

It also marked Kante’s fourth goal of the season and, although his celebrations were typically sheepish, those of his team-mates were not. They were soon celebrating again as Spurs were undone with a sloppy reaction to a free-kick. Chelsea took it quickly with Hazard running at the Spurs defence before finding Pedro who picked out the overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta. The defender pulled the ball back and Hazard guided it left-footed beyond Gazzaniga.
It was Hazard’s first goal in seven games and Chelsea were rampant; Spurs in disarray while it became increasingly feisty and bad-tempered. It almost felt like a throwback to the Battle of the Bridge, when Spurs’ 2016 Premier League title challenge ended, with tackles flying in and Dier at the centre of it all. Chelsea were agitated that they collected yellow cards – Sarri was among those booked by referee Martin Atkinson – while Toby Alderweireld was possibly fortunate not to be sent off as he brought down Hazard as he dribbled through on goal on half-time.
Perhaps relieved, Pochettino had seen enough. He abandoned his formation and switched to a back three with Serge Aurier and Danny Rose – Davies’ replacement – pushed forward as wing-backs. It worked. Harry Winks swung the ball out to Rose on the left and, with David Luiz disorientated, Fernando Llorente stole in to stoop and head past Arrizabalaga from close-range.

It was a remarkable response, with Spurs having appeared almost punch-drunk and with Sarri and Pochettino becoming increasingly animated and the latter sinking to his knees after a brilliant, flat cross by Christian Eriksen – the best player of the second-half – picked out Llorente inside the Chelsea area only for the forward’s first touch to let him down.

It was Llorente’s last touch also – or last poor touch – as he was replaced and his replacement Lucas Moura slammed a shot narrowly into the side-netting. However it was Chelsea pressing on and racking up chances with Giroud denied by Gazzaniga and then Kante setting Hazard free only for him to slam his shot wide.
Presumably Hazard was also detailed to be Chelsea’s fifth penalty taker in the shoot-out. But it did not go that far with Luiz claiming the glory before he could.


Up Chelsea, we are definitely carrying that cup.
We can make Nigeria great.

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