Generous Spurs put on a party for hard-working Chelsea

Chelsea were once again much the better side, but Spurs were once again agents of their own downfall…

 

This was a curious game of football. Just like the first leg, really, it was both faintly bizarre yet also entirely predictable.

Chelsea, for the third time this season and the second time in a week, comfortably outplayed Spurs and were worthy winners thanks to a coolly professional performance in the face of clownish buffoonery from opponents apparently unaware they were attending a work event.

The only goal of the night came early, the universe deciding that Japhet Tanganga’s attempts to track Antonio Rudiger’s run and Pierluigi Gollini’s even more pitiable attempt to punch the ball clear before it reached the Chelsea man were deserving of the harshest punishment. The universe was quite right in this assessment and nobody could have any complaints as the ball was sent spinning off Rudiger’s back and in off the crossbar.

When it comes to beating Spurs, there remains no force more powerful at achieving it than Spurs themselves.

On the balance of play across these two legs, 3-0 was the barest of bare minimums that Chelsea’s inherent, sustained and often seemingly effortless superiority merited and Rudiger a worthy scorer given his imperious work at the heart of Chelsea’s defence. And yet… all three of their goals were f***ing daft. Calamitous defending was the key factor in all three, but even then it’s not like there was some expert finishing involved in capitalising on Spurs’ generous clownery. One of the goals bounced in off a Spurs player’s face after another Spurs player tried to clear it, another went in off a Chelsea player’s back and the first goal of the tie was such an all-round mess that Kai Havertz managed to break a finger in scoring it.

Chelsea have reached cup finals in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 & 2022.

— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) January 12, 2022

It’s largely moot, because without those three charitably donated goals Chelsea would surely push a bit harder to score some proper goals and, given the casual ease with which they dominated both games, would probably score them. But you never know. Spurs were second best throughout this tie barring a couple of brief spells tonight – a frantic opening five or six minutes at the start of the game and then a spell in the second half where two or three times they were just a measured final pass away from reducing the deficit. But had they managed even base-level competence at the back they could have found themselves right in the tie against a team frustrated by its inability to turn dominance into goals.

To add to the weirdness, despite being so thoroughly outplayed, Spurs also managed to find themselves the recipients of two quite absurd penalty decisions. Maybe Andre Marriner is on a one-man mission to improve VAR’s reputation as it twice stepped in to correct him, pointing out first that Rudiger’s foul on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was comfortably outside the box and then in the second half that Kepa’s “foul” on Lucas Moura was in fact nothing of the sort.

There was even time for some fun with Harry Kane scoring one of those offside goals where the keeper has gone walkabout ahead of the play and everyone – up to and including top-level strikers and even professional assistant referees – briefly forgets the rules, so hardwired are we to look for “the last defender”.

There was, in short, quite a lot of nonsense across these two games. Some from the officials, and almost all of the rest from Spurs players past and present.

The manager too must take some share of the blame. Team selections are a tricky balancing act at this stage of the season, but Antonio Conte here was guilty of producing a team that was neither nowt nor summat.

Failing to select your strongest available side – especially the keeper given the vast gulf in experience and quality between his two options – for a cup semi-final is always going to look a bit odd but once you’ve gone down that road it seems stranger still to then leave Harry Kane and Lucas Moura on for the full 98 minutes when the game was up long, long before then. Arsenal visit here on Sunday remember, in a litmus test of Conte’s impressive start in the league.

Spurs have been truly rotten in cup football under Conte, but they are still to taste defeat under his stewardship in the Premier League. We’ll soon have a clearer idea of the true picture. Has a kindly fixture list masked the problems that still exist in Conte’s Spurs side? Do the two contrasting sets of results indicate a starting XI capable of delivering Conteball to a decent level but a squad desperately short of back-up capable of maintaining those levels? And is it most likely in fact both?

As for Chelsea, this was another fine night. Not everyone makes it as easy as Spurs have in these two games of course, but Chelsea’s plans across both legs were spot on and the execution faultless until it came to actually finishing moves off.

Spurs, though, were all too happy to help them out.

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