Even Jacob’s couldn’t make a better cracker than the first FA Cup semi final on Saturday as Chelsea beat Spurs 4-2 in a thrilling game from the off as Hazard and Matic won the game for the Blues.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte changed the team line up with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, obviously looking ahead to Tuesday’s crucial Premier League game with Southampton.
In came Willian and a very rare start for Belgian outcast Michy Batshuayi which was a surprise as Tottenham had been in scintillating form and were high on confidence after closing to within just four points of their London rivals in the Premier League title race.
Willian had a superb match but Batshuayi was almost non existent and may have sealed his fate for next season with this lacklustre performance.
The game got off to a rip roaring start as Willian gave Chelsea the lead with a wonderful free kick after only five minutes.
Harry Kane levelled for Spurs with an instinctive stooping header from way low down and was a lovely equaliser as it slipped into Chelsea’s right hand corner of the net.
Son Heung-min went in to harshly in the box and was penalised for a foul on Victor Moses and up came Willian to put Conte’s side back in front from the penalty spot just before the break as he despatched the ball into the Spurs net with relative ease.
A stunning first half full of good football and talking points and the second half wasn’t a let down either. Spurs seemed to have the momentum after Dele Alli converted Christian Eriksen’s brilliant pass seven minutes after half-time. Eriksen split the Chelsea defence and Alli took the shot instinctively to make the game all square at two goals apiece.
On 60 minutes Conte made a fantastic double substitution as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard came on and the excellent Willian made way along with the out of his depth Batshuayi.
Hazard drove powerfully past Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris after 75 minutes and Nemanja Matic set up an appearance alongside Arsenal in the FA Cup final on May 27th with a spectacular drive five minutes later. A great move finished off by a rare Matic pile driver from 25 yards. A goal good enough to win any game and it did in this case.
Spurs didn’t do too much wrong to be frank and Eriksen, Alli and Kane all had belters of a game but Chelsea were too strong in the end as David Luiz had an excellent match and deserved man of the match which went to the equally superb Matic instead. Willian was brilliant and Nathan Ake looked good in a 3 man Chelsea defence.
Conte has every right to accept the plaudits as Chelsea won a magnificent game of football to reach the final. Conte used Hazard and Costa at a crucial point of the game, with Spurs in the ascendancy and looking the more assertive side after Alli had equalised for the second time.
Hazard, a scourge of Spurs having scored the goal that effectively ended their title chances last season, was involved in what turned out to be the defining moment 15 minutes after coming on, hitting a low drive that gave Chelsea a lead they would not surrender.
Like many teams playing against Chelsea this season in their 3-5-2 formation Mauricio Pochettino dealt a change in the cards but did not enjoy such success with his tactical tweaks, especially the decision to play Son as a left wing-back. With the eagerness spilling over Son provided the penalty that gave Chelsea the all important second goal from the spot.
Spurs are not finding Wembley a happy hunting ground since beating Chelsea 2-1 to lift the League Cup in 2008. They have played at Wembley nine times – winning once, losing six times and drawing once before the defeat against Chelsea this weekend.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was jubilant after the game: “I am proud for this achievement. It is great for the players for me. This is my first season in England and it is great to fight for the title and reach the final of the FA Cup, a great competition. During the season there is a moment as a coach you must take a strong decision. You have to take a risk. If you win the plan worked, if you don’t the responsibility is on you. I think today our plan worked very well.”
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino was buoyant in defeat: “I feel proud. We were fantastic in the way we played and in our philosophy. They had five shots and scored four goals and we score only two. The penalty for me was a soft penalty or was not a penalty.”
“Only now we can look forward. We are four points behind them and we will try to win our next game. I am not worried. The team is strong; we are focused. We were competing today with one of the best teams in Europe. Did we deserve more? Sure, but that is football.”
For Chelsea this match will have been a major confidence booster for the rest of the league season as probably of late they have felt Tottenham breathing heavily down their necks in the Premier League. They have seen an 11 point lead dwindle to just four points and looked totally out of sorts in the league defeat to Manchester United last weekend whilst Spurs just can’t stop winning in the league with Kane and Alli magnificent. So a major shot in the arm for the Blues and major disappointment for the Spurs.