Thomas Tuchel has taken Chelsea to an incredible three cup finals in less than a year, as his side beat Tottenham 3-0 on aggregate to reach the Carabao Cup final.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0
CHELSEA 1 (Rudiger 18)
Carabao Cup semi-final 2nd leg. Chelsea win 3-0 on aggregate
CHELSEA are on their way to Wembley, after an early Antonio Rudiger header won this game and completed an aggregate 3-0 win, but the second leg of this semi-final was far from straightforward, with Tottenham having two penalties and a goal overturned by Video Assistant Referee Mike Dean.
Andre Marriner, the on-field official made three big calls that would have given Tottenham the chances to draw level and take the game into extra-time at least, but each time he had to reverse his decisions after Dean’s intervention from Stockley Park, 25 miles away.
If it was an embarrassing night for one of England’s supposedly senior referees, it was frustrating for Antonio Conte, whose makeshift side finally showed some fighting spirit after their tame capitulation in the first leg at Stamford Bridge last week.
Thomas Tuchel will not care about the controversial circumstances, however, as he led Chelsea to their third final in less than a year in charge. The German, who has never lost any of the nine semi-finals his sides have contested, celebrates his anniversary at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time, having led the Blues to a successful Champions League final and a losing FA Cup final. Now they will face the winners of the other semi-final between Arsenal and Liverpool.
But it could have been a more nervous night if things had gone Antonio Conte’s way. It was no great shock that Italian dropped Tanguy Ndombele from the squad, given the French midfielder’s display against Morecambe at the weekend, but it was a bigger surprise to see Hugo Lloris rested in favour of Pierluigi Gollini, the Italian keeper on loan from Atalanta.
Conte’s rationale was that he was keeping his captain back for a run of three tough Premier League games in a week that could determine whether Spurs can break into the top four. But it was a change that backfired in the 18th minute when Chelsea took the lead, and effectively put the tie beyond Tottenham’s reach. Mason Mount swung in a corner from the left, Gollini went to punch the ball away but was beaten to it by Rudiger, whose header clipped the underside of the bar before nestling in the net.
Spurs had started brightly and had the best of the early chances, with Harry Kane hitting a free-kick into Chelsea’s defensive wall and then having a a fierce shot blocked in front of goal.
The Blues had their chances, too. Romelu Lukaku chested down a long pass from Rudiger, but his low shot was steered away by Gollini’s legs, and then Giovani Lo Celso had to slide in to block a low shot from Malang Sarr. Rudiger’s header in the 18th minute was their only other effort on target.
Spurs, by contrast, kept battering away in search of an equaliser and Kane was denied a further three times.
It was the England captain who set up Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for a run on goal that was brought rudely to an end by Rudiger’s clumsy foul. The German initially made contact outside the penalty area, but it continuted into the box before Hojbjerg crashed to the ground. Referee Marriner initially pointed to the penalty spot, but then changed his mind after VAR Dean intervened. Strangely Rudiger was neither booked nor sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, and added insult to injury by heading away Lo Celso’s subsequent free-kick.
Ten minutes into the second-half, it happened again. Kane burst forward from his own half, put Lucas Moura in on goal and the Brazilian went flying as Kepa Arrizabalaga stuck out a leg. Marriner pointed without hesitation to the penalty spot, but again had to overturn his decision after Dean prompted him to watch a replay on the pitchside monitor, which showed the keeper getting to the ball first.
To complete a miserable night for Spurs, and an embarrassing one for Marriner, the referee’s decision was overruled by Dean for a third time in the 63rd minute when Kane fired home but had his ‘goal’ disallowed for offside. Again it was a tight call, and Marriner may have been confused because Kepa was 15 yards from goal, leaving one of his defenders as the last man standing on the goal line.
With their luck out, Spurs were never going to score four times, but opened up Chelsea so many times that Tuchel decided to tighten things up, sending on Thiago Silva, Marcos Alonso and then N’Golo Kante to see out the game.
Arrizabalaga still had work to do tipping away a header from Emerson Royal and saving a goalbound shot from Ryan Sessegnon in the sixth minute of stoppage time after a short delay caused by a medical emergency with a supporter in the South Stand.
In the end, it was Chelsea’s night, as their fans sang loudly at the final whistle “We’re on our way to Wembley.” They lauded Rudiger as their hero, but the German defender has yet to sign a new contract and is wanted by Real Madrid. Who knows where his future lies?