Chelsea progressed to the final of the FA Cup on Saturday, as they beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 in a thrilling semifinal at Wembley.
Willian broke the deadlock just five minutes into the game with a scintillating free-kick from 25 yards out to set up an enticing encounter. Tottenham then restored parity soon after, as Christian Eriksen delivered an inch perfect cross for Harry Kane to convert from.
However, just when it looked like the two sides were going to go into half-time with the scores level at 1-1 Willian struck again, this time from the spot after Victor Moses was brought down by Son Heung-Min.
Chelsea 4-2 Spurs FT:
Chelsea are through to the FA Cup final after second half-goals from Hazard and a wonder-effort from Matic. pic.twitter.com/Mx3u8AH7pR
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) April 22, 2017
Tottenham, though, struck back yet again through another Eriksen special, as he threaded a ball through to Dele Alli, who made a late run to score past Thibaut Courtois. With the match looking likely to go into extra time, Chelsea established their lead once again, thanks to Eden Hazard who struck a sublime shot into the bottom right corner.
Nemanja Matic then settled the tie, with ten minutes left in regulation time, with a thumping drive that Hugo Lloris had no answer for, thus taking Antonio Conte’s men into the final. The Hard Tackle takes a look at some of the major talking points that emerged out of the match.
Selection Gambles – Some Pay Off, Some Backfire
Antonio Conte made quite a wave prior to the match, as the Chelsea team sheet revealed to everyone’s surprise that Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were only going to start the match from the bench.
9 – Willian has scored 9 direct free kick goals for Chelsea since the start of 2015-16; 45% of his goal tally in that period (9/20). Laser. pic.twitter.com/InONxWumgH
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 22, 2017
While Costa’s replacement Michy Batshuayi didn’t really affect the scheme of things, it was Willian, who was starting in place of Eden Hazard, who left his mark on the match, and in some style. For large parts of his stay on the pitch, he was the best player for the Blues, and he capped off a memorable performance with a well deserved brace.
The first was one of the most cleanly struck free kicks this season, while the second was a calmly taken penalty. But while, the Brazilian justified his selection ahead of Hazard, Mauricio Pochettino failed with the gamble he took.
The Tottenham boss reverted back to a back-three on Saturday, but had Kieran Trippier and Son Heung-Min as his wing-backs for the encounter, instead of Kyle Walker and Ben Davies. While Trippier was calm and composed all through the match, it was Son’s selection the ended up costing Spurs.
Sure, the Korean’s recent performance didn’t justify a position on the bench, but Conte showed that bravery comes with a prize, and a player like Ben Davies might have been more diligent in the instance when Son conceded the penalty by bringing Victor Moses down. Lessons learnt for Pochettino then.
Tottenham Defence Fails Uncharacteristically
An area where Pochettino has definitely left a mark in nearly three years as the Tottenham boss is defence. For two seasons in a row now, the North London club have boasted of arguably the best defence in England, organising themselves in a well disciplined manner, and giving little room to be exploited.
7 – Tottenham have now lost their last seven FA Cup semi-final matches, the longest such run in the competition’s history. Choke.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 22, 2017
However, that key trait was missing on Saturday, almost right from the off, as Toby Alderweireld brought Pedro down in a last-ditch attempt that subsequently led to Chelsea taking the lead in the match. The second such instance was Son bringing Moses down in the box, with Willian converting the resulting penalty.
That was not it, though, as they conceded more chances than they ever have in a game this season, and as Eden Hazard danced his way around the Tottenham defence towards the end of the match, one could just stop and wonder whatever happened to the best defence in the country.
A few months ago, Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino had given everyone a way into stopping the Chelsea juggernaut in an organisational masterclass as they halted their winning run with a comfortable 2-0 win. This time around, though, they provided us an example of just how they should not be tackled.
Christian Eriksen – A Valiant Fighter In Defeat For Tottenham
While defence may have been a big letdown for Tottenham on the night, there was one man who shone throughout the match and looked like one player who was likely to bring the game home for the North London club.
— SPORF (@Sporf) April 22, 2017
The change in formation benefitted him in particular, as he got the opportunity to play in a free role without much of a defensive burden, drifting into more central positions to exploit the spaces between the lines against Chelsea.
Clearly the best player on the field for much of the match – at least before Eden Hazard turned things around – Eriksen completed a truly impressive performance by providing two beautiful assists. The first came from his left foot that Harry Kane converted with a deft touch, while the second saw him thread the ball through the line for Dele Alli to convert from.
And as the game wore on, it was looking likely that Eriksen was going to come up with another special moment to give Tottenham a decisive advantage in the match. In the end, it wasn’t to be though, as Chelsea came out on top when the 90 minutes came to an end.
An Eden Hazard Special To End Things In Style
While Tottenham’s best player started the match right from kickoff, Chelsea’s talisman had to make do with a spot on the bench. When he did come on to the pitch though, Eden Hazard took little time to turn things around in a match that Tottenham were dominating before his arrival.
Eden Hazard has now scored 15 goals across all competitions this season for Chelsea.
Only Diego Costa has more (17). pic.twitter.com/kNraMMFQq4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 22, 2017
Taking things into his own hands, Hazard propped up with the most decisive moment of the match, as he danced his way around the much revered Tottenham defence, before unleashing a wonderful shot that Hugo Lloris’ despairing hand could not even reach.
Just five minutes after that sublime solo effort, Hazard ran circles around the same set of players to create acres of space for Nemanja Matic, who latched onto the Belgian’s laid off pass to unleash a thumping shot past Lloris, who could not even react this time around.
His ouster may have sent shock waves across Wembley and beyond, but Hazard certainly didn’t fail to make a mark when he did finally arrive on the pitch, as his cameo not only stopped the Tottenham juggernaut right in its track but also sent Chelsea through to next month’s final.
Will Conte Do The Double?
Chelsea’s progression into the final begs one important question – Can Antonio Conte deliver a very popular double in his very first campaign as the Blues boss? If you had posed that question to anyone at the start of the season, the answer would have been an emphatic no, but things have changed and how.
Full-time: Chelsea 4-2 Tottenham…
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 22, 2017
Chelsea’s rise to the top of the Premier League table is well documented, as they lead Tottenham by 4 points at the top of the table. And while the gap may have decreased since the start of April, they still remain the odds on favourites to clinch the title come May, thanks to their easier run-in.
They are now also safely through to the FA Cup final in May, with a London Derby against Arsenal set up after Sunday. Judging by the form that the two teams have been in of late, the match could well be a closely contested affair, but Chelsea will head into the final as the favourites.