Chelsea beat Tottenham 4-2 at Wembley to reach the FA Cup final, as two goals from Willian, a strike from Eden Hazard and a Nemanja Matic thunderbolt was enough to see the Blues home.
Ben Pearce was on hand to see what we learned from Chelsea’s win.
Rivals unite to pay tribute to Ugo Ehiogu
While this clash between the Premier League’s top two sides had obvious importance, the tragic loss of Ugo Ehiogu has put everything into perspective.
Spurs’ Under-23 coach suffered a heart attack at the club’s training ground on Thursday and passed away in the early hours of Friday morning, aged just 44.
Respect was duly shown at Wembley this evening, and supporters of both teams laid aside their rivalries before kick-off, uniting in a minute’s applause which began without the referee needing to blow his whistle.
Mauricio Pochettino picks Heung-Min Son as a wing-back – and pays the penalty
Spurs’ manager faced a tactical dilemma – whether to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation that produced the impressive 4-0 victories over Watford and Bournemouth, or switch to the 3-4-2-1 system that helped his side to their victory over Chelsea in January.
The latter option seemingly meant dropping the in-form Heung-Min Son, who had scored eight goals in six games.
However, Pochettino thought differently. He decided to use the 3-4-2-1 set-up while also picking Son, surprisingly deploying the South Korean as the left wing-back instead of as attacking midfielder. Ben Davies was consequently left on the bench.
It was a bold and surprising call, and the results were mixed. After a slow start when Son appeared unsure where to position himself, he grew into the game and offered the pace on the left touchline that Davies lacks. On one occasion he raced in behind the Chelsea defence, latching onto a through ball from Jan Vertonghen, and forced a corner with a low cross.
The problem, though, is that Son is not a defender – and it was his error that gave Chelsea their 2-1 lead just before half time.
The 24-year-old went to ground too early in a bid to challenge Victor Moses, gifting his opponent an opportunity to prod the ball past him, draw the necessary contact and hit the deck.
Moses actually took flight prematurely, diving over Son, but in real time the referee’s decision to award the penalty was understandable and Willian duly beat Hugo Lloris from the spot.
That area continued to be a problematic one for Spurs. In the second half, Kieran Trippier – who was preferred to Kyle Walker in the starting line-up – was moved to the left flank in place of Son.
That left him on the opposite side to his usual position, and he was beaten too easily by Moses on the touchline when the Chelsea man won the corner that resulted in the Blues’ third goal.
READ MORE: Pochettino – Tottenham dominated Chelsea
Spurs’ defensive failings
Tottenham have the best defensive record in the Premier League and had only conceded once in their previous four matches. But they shipped four goals against Chelsea – their leakiest outing since the 5-1 loss at Newcastle on the final day of last season.
There were signs of vulnerability from the start. Indeed, Spurs fell behind in just the fifth minute as Pedro burst through a gap in the middle, winning a free kick which was expertly dispatched by Willian.
Spurs fought their back onto level terms, equalising as Harry Kane flicked on Christian Eriksen’s inswinging cross with a deft header – and the Lilywhites then gained control, dominating possession. But they fell behind again when Son clumsily conceded the penalty.
Again Tottenham levelled, scoring a virtually identical goal to the two they registered against the Blues at White Hart Lane in January, with Eriksen delivering a cross from the right and Dele Alli finishing at close range.
In the process, Alli scored his seventh goal in nine games for Spurs while Eriksen registered his 20th assist of the season in all competitions – more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
However, Tottenham were unable to keep the back door closed and, when they failed to properly deal with a 75th-minute corner, they were punished again, this time by Eden Hazard.
Nemanja Matic’s scorching drive, with made it 4-2, was truly unstoppable but Spurs will rue the fact that their usual defensive solidity abandoned them on such a big occasion.
The tie was in the balance before the two managers made their changes, and Antonio Conte’s substitutes undoubtedly made the bigger contributions – particularly Hazard.
There was some surprise when the Belgian was initially named on the bench, along with Diego Costa, but he still turned the game in Chelsea’s favour, firing the Blues into a 3-2 lead and then teeing up Matic for the following goal that killed off the contest once and for all. Conte was also able to introduce Cesc Fabregas in the closing stages.
By contrast, Pochettino’s options looked rather less threatening. In addition to reserve goalkeeper Pau Lopez and his three defenders, his only attacking options were Moussa Sissoko, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Vincent Janssen.
The Argentinian brought Kyle Walker and Nkoudou on but neither was able to swing the game in Spurs’ favour and improve their performance.
He will want greater strength in depth and more players who can change the game from the bench next campaign.
Spurs’ Wembley woes continue – and the decision about next season is approaching
Tottenham have now lost seven of their last nine competitive games at the national stadium, and even their draw against Gent in February was effectively a defeat as it knocked them out of the Europa League.
The Lilywhites actually performed well against the Belgians that night, having played for most of the game with 10 men, and they had beaten CSKA Moscow in their previous match under the arch, so it seemed they were finding their feet in these surroundings.
They also dominated large periods of this match against Chelsea. However, this loss will hardly help to make the arena feel like a second home as the club plan for a whole season at Wembley.
Next week Spurs’ hierarchy will decide whether the construction of their new stadium is far enough advanced to sanction the demolition of White Hart Lane this summer.
If so, Pochettino and his players will be playing all of their home games at Wembley next term.
Of course, most of their opponents will not be as tough as Monaco or Chelsea. But this afternoon’s match has given Pochettino and his players more painful memories and emotional baggage to overcome when they are next in Brent.