How Antonio Conte outsmarted Spurs as Chelsea reach FA Cup final and deal rivals heavy blow in Premier League title race

Matt Law
How Chelsea manager Antonio Conte outsmarted Spurs to reach FA Cup final and deal rivals heavy blow in Premier League title race

Conte wins first battle – by making brave selection decisions 

Once the team-sheets were released, this was always going to be a case of which manager got their big decisions right. And, however fortunate Tottenham might claim Chelsea were, Antonio Conte proved he has the Midas Touch. Starting Eden Hazard on the bench looked like madness, but his replacement Willian netted twice, before the Belgian came on for the final half-an-hour and scored the all-important third goal that pretty much killed off Spurs.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte raised eyebrows when he started with Eden Hazard on the bench Credit: REX FEATURES

Mauricio Pochettino should not be criticised for the way his side played as the dominated long periods, but the decision to play Heung-Min Son as a makeshift left-back will come under scrutiny after he conceded a penalty and was replaced. Conte can also take credit for putting his faith in Nathan Ake, who performed admirably in Gary Cahill’s absence.

Willian has always been a bitter pill to swallow for Tottenham

Perhaps Antonio Conte knew the history between Tottenham and Willian when he made the brave decision to play the Brazilian over Eden Hazard. Spurs thought they had their man in 2013 when they flew Willian to England from Russia to complete a medical. What they did not bargain on, however, was Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich making a personal call to convince Willian to head to west London instead of north London.

Willian scored twice against the club he almost joined before signing for Chelsea in 2013 Credit: REUTERS

Tottenham privately accused Chelsea of waging a vendetta against them as Jose Mourinho poked fun at the White Hart Lane club for missing out. So it will have been doubly painful for Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, sitting in the Wembley stands, to watch Willian first give Chelsea the lead and then score from the penalty spot.

Eriksen the pass-master

He trails Kevin De Bruyne by a single assist in the Premier League, but Christian Eriksen proved at Wembley that he has possessed the most deadly delivery this season.

Christian Eriksen created two more assists, though unfortunately for the Tottenham midfielder still ended up on the losing side after his side lost to Chelsea Credit: Getty Images

The Dane had already been a thorn in Chelsea’s side in January, setting up both of Dele Alli’s goals in Tottenham’s 2-0 win. And Eriksen was just as influential on Saturday as he curled in a delicious cross for Harry Kane to head Tottenham level and then split the Chelsea defence to allow Alli to equalise again for Mauricio Pochettino’s team. There has been much debate over the past week regarding whether or not Toby Alderweireld should have been in the PFA Team of the Year, but Eriksen can count himself extremely unfortunate to have been overlooked. Spurs certainly know his value.

Man of the match: Christian Eriksen

Not only did the midfielder provide two assists, for Harry Kane and Dele Alli, he also helped to dictate the pace of play and press the Chelsea defence into making errors. Kane and Alli often take the limelight for Tottenham, but Eriksen has been just as influential over the second half of the season.

Chelsea vs Tottenham player ratings

What Chelsea must do next

Hold their nerve. This could be a huge physiological blow in the title race in Chelsea’s favour. Twice they surrendered the lead and appeared vulnerable to Tottenham’s attacks, but they kept coming back. Now they must keep their calm and surely the FA Cup will be theirs.

Chelsea handed Tottenham a bitter blow at Wembley on Saturday afternoon Credit: Rex Features

What Tottenham must do next

Pochettino’s men can count themselves unfortunate to have lost this game, having dominated long spells. Now they probably need to win all their remaining Premier League games to trip Chelsea up in the title race. However unlikely, they are still capable of doing it.

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