A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s first leg of their semi final loss to Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea traveled to the home of English football on Tuesday evening for their first leg of this season’s League Cup against their biggest rivals Tottenham Hotspur. After enduring a torrid hour of football in their Premier League match there back in November, this was a match few Chelsea fans were looking forward to.
And with The Blues going through a spell of relative impotence in front of goal and a long injury list of first team attacking players, their prospects were not looking too strong. However, this is a 2 legged tie and as long as Sarri’s side are still in contention when the teams head back to Stamford Bridge for their second leg, they will believe that another final appearance is in the cards.
So this was supposed to be a damage limitation exercise, and thanks to a peculiar VAR incident, this is how it appeared as we headed towards half time. However, even while the hosts were on top in the first half, there was an under current to the match that The Blues would remain in the tie.
Maurizio Sarri already had a long injury list of forward players and this predicament was only made worse after Alvaro Morata suffered a minor hamstring problem in Tuesday morning’s training session. This only left Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi as fully fit forwards.
So Sarri needed to call upon his returning from injury players and it was Willian who was deemed the fittest and most likely to last from a starting position. Meanwhile Olivier Giroud and Pedro were also drafted back on to the substitute’s bench ahead of time.
There were a couple of other unexpected choices to Sarri’s line up. Ross Barkley was picked ahead of Mateo Kovacic in midfield and Andreas Christensen played in central defence as David Luiz sat on the bench. Both decisions were made on fitness levels as the manager knew he would need most of his substitutions to be in attacking positions.
Mauricio Pochettino was without Lucas Moura, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama but was able to call upon all of his attacking talent. Both Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min are in rich goal scoring form, while Delli Alli has an impressive record against The Blues.
The tie started as an expected close, tight affair. The home side were marginally on top, utilising their pressing style and quick attacking play. The Blues tried to maintain possession and let the ball do most of their movement.
However, straight away this appeared to be another match of similar issues for The Blues. In possession they look very comfortable on the ball in both defence and in midfield. But they struggle in the final third of the pitch.
Even with a recognised striker they regularly lack numbers pushing up to and beyond their opponent’s defensive line. Hazard tried his best to be a target but the home side suffocated any space around him. Hazard’s lack of height didn’t allow for Hudson-Odoi to flick the delightful crosses in that Morata enjoyed on Saturday against Nottingham Forest.
Spurs deserved the lead as they had been better in their attack phases. In truth though, all their chances came from long balls hit over or in between Chelsea’s defenders. It wasn’t a classy watch and felt similar to the madness of the original Wimbledon back in the 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, despite their better build up play, Chelsea were limited to long range efforts that the home defence found easy to manage.
But it was the strange VAR incident that separated the 2 sides. The calls on the pitch from the officials did not seem very clear on either the offside or penalty decisions. However it is surprising that after watching replays and freeze framing that VAR concluded that both the offside and the penalty were called in favour of Spurs. Harry Kane clearly leans his body in to an offside position and his right foot clearly moved towards Kepa ensuring the Chelsea keeper made the thinnest of touches to an already flying through the air striker.
As the second half evolved, it was The Blues who took a strong grip on the match. Yes, Spurs still showed the odd glimmer of increasing their lead but again that was only through their long, direct ball over the top.
Chelsea’s possession was starting to take a toll on the Spurs players. Whereas The Blues had not fully fit players due to a spate of recent injuries, the home side were becoming very pedestrian around the pitch as Chelsea’s possession sapped their energy.
Despite a commanding performance, it was another goal drought for The Blues. This was harsh on Sarri’s team and Spurs should feel that Lady Luck was on their side. Chelsea hit the woodwork twice in the first half and had multiple chances to score in the second period.
The tie now heads to Stamford Bridge for the second leg on Thursday 24 January and Chelsea are not only still in with a great chance of reaching yet another final, but it is their rivals who will be more concerned with their ability to hold on to their slender lead.
Chelsea just need to regain that scoring touch and with another performance similar to their second half outing will ensure Maurizio Sarri will only be 90 minutes from lifting his first major trophy.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue