On the day it mattered, Tottenham’s finest failed to find the back of Chelsea’s goal, and went down 2-0 in the League Cup Final. At the turn of the year, the same Spurs line-up, barring a like-for-like swap in the defense, had effectively put a tired Chelsea side 5-3 to the sword. Harry Kane had been magical on that night, while Eriksen and Chadli were imperious up front.
There was going to be none of that this time around. It was expected that Matic’s absence would necessitate a departure from the traditional Chelsea line-up. Ramires and Fabregas as potential central midfielders may have been the go-to pair, but that was clearly a pairing that lacked muscle. Instead, Mourinho brought back Gary Cahill in from the cold, and posted him right alongside John Terry. The decision not to feature the more fleet-footed Zouma here may have come as a surprise, but Mourinho clearly wanted the young man to see off dangers even before they materialized.
With Cech in goal, Jose Mourinho opted for experience and it paid off, as the battle-hardened custodian stayed in control throughout the game. The Blues started the relatively brighter side, threatening to carve apart the Spurs before Lloris bats away a threatening ball from Ivanovic. Bolstered by a tentative Chelsea attack, the Spurs began to rediscover their self-belief.
It was young blood that made the first mistake, when Zouma clumsily brought down danger-man Harry Kane 25 yards from goal. In a flash of near-brilliance that Pochettino will rue, Eriksen failed to find the goal after doing all the hard work of beating Chelsea’s wall. Petr Cech never really looked like he was in danger of conceding, even if the ball rattled the post, because he’d covered enough ground to palm off the attempt even if it had dipped. Kane looked increasingly threatening even as the rest of Tottenham’s advanced ranks faded into mediocrity, but some razor sharp defensive instincts at the back kept Chelsea rolling with the punches.
Chelsea’s counter-attacking prowess meant they always did have an advantage even when both teams were locked in a stalemate that took up most of the first-half. With Walker and Hazard being the only highlights in an increasingly drab encounter, it certainly looked like both teams were content to take the game scoreless into the break. That was until Chelsea executed the perfect smash and grab, with Terry hammering a Willian cross off of Dier into the Spurs’ net.
Pochettino’s sole change in the team that had had the measure of Chelsea earlier, was suddenly the Achilles heel of this Spurs’ side, deflecting a ball into his own net and flirting with being sent off after two poorly timed tackles on Costa. Chelsea threatened again with Cahill and Ivanovic combining, as they did in the early minutes of the game, but this time nearly making it count.
Chelsea were the far better team in the second half, starting brightly as the subdued Fabregas impressed with a bicycle kick that nearly did the trick. It was a testament to the confidence coursing through Blue veins that a star whose season looked like it was on the wane, had found the courage to attempt an audacious attempt on goal – in a final, no less. Nobody looked surprised when minutes later Diego Costa found the back of the net, with a goal later credited as a Kyle Walker own goal. If most of Chelsea’s season were anything to go by, then Fabregas and Costa combining for a goal should have been part of the script – and yet the Spurs had no answers to what, in retrospect, seems obvious.
By the hour mark, Chelsea were in cruise control, bossing the Lilywhites all over the pitch. Dier’s day went from bad to worse, after he kneed Azpilicueta in the back of the head. The Spurs threatened briefly when Chelsea went a man down, as a consequence of Azpilicueta’s treatment for a bleeding scalp on the sidelines. As has been their wont this season, the Spurs began to exercise some semblance of presence in the last ten minutes with Chadli and Kane getting a whiff of goal. The gulf in talent was all too apparent when the Spurs – despite their huffing and puffing – couldn’t find a way to break down Chelsea’s defense, with the Blues looking threatening on the counter.
In the end, it was a rather tame surrender from a Tottenham side that at times looked bereft of ideas, tired in possession and clueless on Chelsea’s counters. Mourinho had exacted his revenge for an earlier loss, and added Pochettino’s scalp to his collection. This isn’t to say the Spurs didn’t play well. They performed reasonably, but on this night it was never going to be good enough.