Antonio Conte faces questions for first time as team selection contributes to limp Tottenham exit

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 (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
(IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)

Tottenham went down 1-0 to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-final decider, as Antonio Conte’s selections decisions backfired to leave the head coach, for the first time, facing scrutiny.

Conte’s decision to rest captain Hugo Lloris was surprising, and back-up goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini was at fault for Antonio Rudiger’s winning goal, which gave Chelsea a 3-0 lead on aggregate and effectively killed the tie as a contest.

Gollini rushed off his line but failed to connect with Mason Mount’s corner, which bounced off Rudiger into the net.

The mistake was not unpredictable given Gollini’s shaky performances so far this season and it left Conte with some explaining to do.

Conte said he chose to rest Lloris, who is currently in talks over a contract extension, ahead of a tough run of fixtures, including Sunday’s north London derby at home to Arsenal, and also suggested Gollini had been the club’s cup goalkeeper under his predecessor, Nuno Espirito Santo.

But assuming Lloris was fully fit, he did not need resting given he last played a week ago at Stamford Bridge, with Gollini also deputising in the weekend’s FA Cup win over Morecambe.

Granted, Spurs were trailing 2-0 from the first leg and facing a tall order, but this was still a semi-final at home against one of their fiercest rivals.

It was not Conte’s only odd selection of the night. Before a ball was kicked, the decision to start Japhet Tanganga and Matt Doherty, who badly struggled at Stamford Bridge last week, raised eyebrows, while there was no Oliver Skipp, one of Spurs’ outstanding players this season.

Was Conte looking ahead to Arsenal or even making a point about the strength of his squad to the club in the wake of Monday’s no-holds-barred meeting with Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici over transfers? Whatever the case, his selections, particularly the omission of Lloris, felt like miscalculations, further reducing Spurs’ already slim chances of a famous comeback.

 (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
(IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)

Conte has credit in the bank but if the same selections had been made by Nuno, Spurs fans would surely be in little doubt about where to place at least some of the blame for the defeat.

The head coach is of course the last person to blame for the level of Spurs’ squad, however, which was badly exposed by their rivals again, despite a spirited second-half.

With Heung-min Son, Eric Dier, Cristian Romero and Sergio Reguilon all absent, Spurs were likely too weak to trouble the Blues, even if Conte had played his strongest available XI, so including Lloris would have been unlikely to have made a significant difference.

VAR frustrates Spurs but no disputing the calls

The hosts were thrice thwarted by the VAR, Mike Dean, who overturned Andre Marriner’s decisions to award Spurs penalties either side of half-time and ruled out Kane’s goal for offside.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The decisions increased the jubilation in the away end but there was no disputing Dean’s calls, despite Conte’s animated reaction on the touchline.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg did well to draw a foul from Antonio Rudiger in the first half, with the score 1-0, but the initial contact was outside the box, with Hojbjerg going down inside the area only after he tripped himself.

There was also no doubting that Kepa Arrizabalaga clearly won the ball in a second-half challenge with Lucas Moura and the only mystery was why referee Andre Marriner felt compelled the give a penalty in the first place.

Kane’s goal also should not have stood because there was only one Chelsea player – Rudiger – between the striker and the goal when he accepted Lucas’ pass while behind Kepa.

It was a frustrating law to fall foul of, but a law nonetheless, ensuring a good night for VAR, without which the match may have been very different.

Another soft goal costs Spurs

The tie demonstrated the chasm in quality between the clubs, which was highlighted by Conte after the first leg, but was still decided by three soft and preventable goals.

Two Japhet Tanganga mistakes gifted Chelsea a 2-0 lead at Stamford Bridge, while Gollini was at fault for Rudiger’s winner.

 (IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)
(IKIMAGES/AFP via Getty Images)

The circumstances of the goals will leave Conte frustrated but over two legs Chelsea comfortably outplayed Spurs, holding them at arm’s length in the second half of both games.

Like Spurs, the Blues were also missing players, including wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell, prompting Tuchel to play a back four again, but every one of their substitutes would have comfortably improved Spurs’ best XI.

A third defeat to Chelsea this season piles the pressure on Sunday’s home derby against Arsenal, the first of three League games which should shape Spurs’ ambitions this season.

Away games against Leicester and Chelsea follow, after which it should be clear whether Spurs can realistically sustain a top-four challenge.

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