The water has been a little choppy of late for Antonio Conte, a couple of defeats, a wave of illness in the squad, and a brief bout of general uncertainty for which the cure he prescribed was an afternoon at Wembley breaking the hearts of one of Chelsea’s most bitter rivals
Even the shrewd old Italian might struggle to explain how his side cruised into the FA Cup final two goals the better to Mauricio Pochettino’s bright young team who know how to control a big game but have not yet mastered the art of winning them. While Tottenham Hotspur were making their minds up how best to finish off a Chelsea team that was well off the pace for long periods, Conte’s players took the decision out of their opponents’ hands.
It helps when you can send on Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas as second half substitutes, as Pochettino ruefully reflected, but then perhaps his team should have closed the deal long before then. When the first two of that trio came on the score was 2-2 and once Hazard scored the third there was no looking back for a team that are now on for the Premier League and FA Cup double in their manager’s first season.
Conte picked a team without Costa and Hazard claiming both were rested with Tuesday’s Premier League home game against Southampton in mind and that the plan was always a second half cameo. He played Nathan Ake as a replacement for Gary Cahill, still out with an illness, and so Chelsea prevailed with the unerring certainty they have demonstrated most of the time in the Roman Abramovich years.
As for Spurs, this was the seventh straight FA Cup semi-final defeat for the club since they last won the competition in 1991 and the television pictures of Wembley Way with five minutes of the match left told their own story. It was full of Spurs fans ruminating on another day when triumph was within their grasp, when they had the game’s best player in Christian Eriksen, and yet it slipped through their fingers again.
None of this will matter if they reel in Chelsea’s four-point lead in the Premier League and win the club’s first league championship since 1961 but if one was looking for clues to the end of the season there was not that much encouragement in that regard. No doubt that the young guns in Pochettino’s team will continue to play swashbuckling, exciting football and Conte’s players will most likely continue to win matches.
Pochettino said that the burden of history does not weigh on his players and that the lessons will be learned for next season but in the rapidly emptying Spurs end of Wembley it felt that history hung heavy. Twice they had come from behind to Chelsea goals scored by Willian, the second from the penalty spot, and having done so Spurs really should have gone on to win the game.
Even Conte appeared to sense it and sent on Hazard in the reasonable belief that the best attacking player of the top-flight season might just have a trick up his sleeve to change the game and he duly did, scoring from a loose ball from the first corner Chelsea won all afternoon. By contrast, Pochettino had to turn to Georges-Kevin N’Koudou when the chips were down.
Afterwards, Pochettino said that the death of Under-23s coach Ugo Ehiogu, from a heart attack suffered at the training ground on Thursday, had been a dreadful blow to the club’s staff and players. He did not cite it as a mitigating factor and pointed out that Ehiogu’s death put the rest of their football lives into sharp perspective.
Pochettino too made some interesting selection decisions, picking a back three and no Kyle Walker in the line-up, while deploying Heung-min Son, who gave away a first half penalty, as a left wing-back. Spurs went in at half-time having controlled the first half but 2-1 behind.
Eriksen was always two paces too far from a blue shirt when he got the ball and it was the Dane’s left footed cross from the right side which Harry Kane flicked masterfully with the top of his head on 18 minutes, putting just enough on the ball to change its flight and beat Thibaut Courtois.
Spurs had fallen behind on five minutes when Ake took the ball from Kane and picked out Michy Batshuayi, starting in Costa’s place, whose lay-off to Pedro was the striker’s only really meaningful contribution in the match.
Running into the space was Pedro who got away from Toby Alderweireld rapidly and drew the foul on the edge of the area for which the Belgian was booked. The free-kick was always going to be a very dangerous situation for Spurs, made more difficult by the Chelsea players causing problems in the wall. Willian’s whipped right foot shot came round the corner quickly and beat Hugo Lloris.
Then with just three minutes of the half left, Victor Moses got a rare run on the right side of the Spurs area and Son dived in when there was no need for him to do so. Martin Atkinson awarded the penalty on the advice of his assistant and from the penalty spot, Willian beat Lloris. It had not been an entirely assured first half from the Spurs captain who handled outside his area but got away with it.
Eriksen made the second Spurs goal seven minutes into the second half with another ball from the right that picked out beautifully the run of Dele Alli between David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta, and the Spurs man finished for his 20th club goal of the season. For all their pressure after the hour, Spurs could not score a third and conceded when Hazard got the ball into a shooting position quickly and drilled a low shot into the left corner of Lloris’ goal.
By now, Spurs were running out of options and took off Victor Wanyama for N’Koudou. Perhaps that was why Hazard’s cut back found Nemanja Matic in plenty of space and his left foot shot was unstoppable, a sweet rising driving that clipped the underside of Lloris’ bar and went in.
Conte finished the day with a long complaint about having a day less than Spurs to recover before his team play Southampton in three days. You got the feeling he would have swapped this victory for a win on Tuesday but having won this one, Chelsea will surely believe that nothing can stop them now.
The Chelsea match-winners speak
Nemanja Matic: "Yeah it [the goal] was nice. We are very happy because we are in the final.
"Congratulations to Spurs, they made it tough, but when you score four goals you have to win the game.
"They are a great team. As I said it was very hard. They didn't give up and they play good football."
"It's always good to win this kind of game. It will be my first FA Cup final with Chelsea and I hope to win this competition.
"The manager told me yesterday [about being on the bench]. When you play football you want to play every game but he made a good choice. Willian played a good game and scored twice."
Time on ball (at full time)
More misery for Spurs
Chelsea have done it! They are through to the FA Cup final!
90 mins + 3
Alli is brought down by Kante on the edge of the box. He gets a yellow for it. Kane is over the free kick.
He drills it fiercely, low at goal. It sneaks under Courtois but backspin keeps it out as the ball comes to a halt on the line.
90 mins + 2
Eriksen shoots wide from distance. The Spurs fans are pouring out of the ground and the Chelsea contingent are in fine, fine voice.
Four minutes added on. Spurs know this one is over.
What a miss from Costa. Fabregas plants a cross on his head and he is five yards out and free, but manages to send it back the way it came and wide of the post.
Hazard gets away down the left and he's onside. Lloris comes off his line but is too slow and Hazard gets there first. He skips around the goalkeeper but the angle is too tight to shoot. He pulls back for Alonso, but his shot is blocked by Aldeweireld.
Ooooooh what a goal from Nemanja Matic! Absolutely no chance for Lloris with that one! Fabregas and Hazard link up well on the right and the Belgian gets into some space on the edge of the box, where he pulls it back for Matic who absolutely leathers it as perfectly into the top corner as you will ever see! Chelsea are 4-2 up and that goal is worthy of finishing any match off.
What has Pochettino got to change the game now? He needs a big hand, and fast.
Georges-Kevin N'Koudou replaces Wanyama. Dier goes into midfield and it's a back four for Spurs now.
Chelsea are in front and guess who it is!? They get forwards for the first time in as long as I can remember and win a corner. Walker's clearance is terrible - he mishits it when completely free on the penalty spot, and it falls to a totally unmarked Eden Hazard on the edge of the box. He takes a touch and drills an unstoppable shot into the far corner to put Chelsea ahead for a third time.
Moses brings the ball clear but Alli stops the attack cynically and gets a deserved yellow.
Cesc Fabregas comes on for Pedro for Chelsea as Conte adds another man to midfield. Spurs have been utterly dominant in there in this second half.
Wanyama has a free header at the far post but his nod down falls to a Chelsea man. They clear, but Spurs come again and Kane wins another. Chelsea scramble it half clear, though the Tottenham pressure is unrelenting for now.
20 minutes left now and Spurs are on top - Hazard and Costa are yet to make an impact. That said, Chelsea are at their most dangerous on the counter and still pose a huge threat.
Walker has just won a corner. Ninth of the game for Spurs.
Walker replaces Son. It looks like Trippier is going over to the left side.
Kane goes through down the left he looks tired as he tries to bundle his way past two Chelsea defenders.
Pochettino responds to the Chelsea subs: Kyle Walker is getting ready.
Spurs counter at pace with Alli down the left. He is caught by Azpilicueta and checks back to see Eriksen charging down the other wing. His ambitious ball is no match for that which Eriksen provided for him not long ago, and the move breaks down.
Spurs had all the momentum but those changes might just change things. What a duo to bring on.
Time on ball (44 - 59 min)
Here they come. Hazard and Costa come on for Batshuayi and the very unlucky two-goal Willian, who has had a good game aside from his brace.
Eriksen delivers but it's poor. Dembele shoots from the edge of the box but it is deflected wide. Alli then shoots from distance from the follow up corner but skies his effort.
Hazard and Costa are stripped and ready on the touchline.
Chelsea break at pace, with Pedro twisting this way and way and that, before laying off to Willian, but his shot is well blocked by Vertonghen.
Spurs go straight up the other end with Alli winning a corner off Luiz.
Tottenham are on top again now. Dembele and Wanyama are winning everything in midfield and Chelsea, for the moment, don't have an answer.
Alli goes down in the box under Ake's challenge but it's a brilliant tackle, just getting a nudge on the ball at the vital moment.
Ooooohh wow oh wow oh wow!! What a goal that is! The combination that hurt Chelsea at White Hart Lane back in January strikes again, but this assist from Eriksen really is something else.
He whips the ball around Luiz from about 40 yards out perfectly into the path of Alli, who flings himself at the ball and catches it on the half volley to finish emphatically into the top corner. We're level again at 2-2.
Fabregas, Costa and Hazard are all warming up. Does sound pretty nice, doesn’t it?— Chelsea HQ (@Chelsea_HQ) April 22, 2017
Unbelievably so for Chelsea. Not so great for Spurs.
Alli is brought down by Luiz, the ball falls to Kane but he can't use the advantage and Spurs would rather have the free kick. The move comes to nothing.
An early foul from Azpilicueta on Kane, and he is slightly fortunate to escape a booking.
The players are back out
No subs on either side. A big 45 minutes coming up for Spurs. Can they get back into this?
It's like being asked to get the biscuits for an office meeting. Buy the shit biscuits, nobody asks you again.— Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) April 22, 2017
Chelsea go in 2-1 up and Willian has proven Conte to be even more of a genius than we already thought him. Two goals from the Brazilian give Chelsea the lead, and they just about deserve it, even though their goals have both come from dead balls.
Spurs's ineptitude has been their own downfall (we've said that before, haven't we?) with Heung-Min Son's inexplicable challenge on Moses handing Chelsea their second on a plate.
It's all to play for after the break, but Chelsea still have Costa, Hazard and Fabregas on the bench. Spurs have a lot to do.
Time on ball (first half)
Average touch positions (half time)
45 mins +2
Alonso is booked as he stops Spurs taking a quick free-kick.
Two minutes added on.
Lloris gets himself in all sorts of bother and looks like he has handled the ball outside the box there. Replays show it was outside, and Chelsea should have had a free-kick. Very, very close and difficult for the linesman in real time, but he has got that one wrong.
Willian makes no mistake! He sends Lloris the wrong way and restores Chelsea's lead!
Penalty to Chelsea! And Tottenham's left wing-back who is not a left wing-back gives the referee the easiest decision in the world, flying in on Moses completely ludicrously and scything him down. Certain pen.
The shot count is similar
Chelsea and Spurs are evenly matched in attack so far - the vistors have fired in five shots to the hosts' two.
Spurs' press bears fruit as Alli forces Azpilicueta into a mistake. His clearance falls straight to Eriksen, who lines up a decent shot but it is straight down Courtois' throat.
Spurs win a corner after Kante does well to deal with Eriksen's cross. The Dane puts in another good ball that finds its way to Wanyama, but he sees it late and can't get a proper contact on in.
The ball then finds its way to Vertonghen, who puts in a wicked cross that Kane flicks at goal, but it just flies past the far post.
Kane goes down under Luiz's challenge but he has stumbled there and is fortunate to get a free-kick. Chelsea had a chance to counter.
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
Neither side taking control of the game yet
Spurs enjoying slightly more of the ball, with 214 touches to 186 from Chelsea.
Great ball from Vertonghen inside Moses for Son to chase. Azpilicueta does brilliantly to catch up and block the cross, though. The Spurs corner comes to nothing, but not before Michy Batshuayi nearly gives away possession right on the edge of his own area.
Two potential penalty shouts there. The first comes as Dembele drags back Willian as he exits the box, which would have been harsh but it did look like a foul.
Then Spurs go up the other end and Kane goes over as he tries to barge his pway through the Chelsea defence. Barely any appeal, other than from the fans, though.
Luiz is back on, and he looks alright, spraying a wonderful 50-yarder out to Moses who is galloping down the right wing. His cross is poor, though, and Vertonghen clears.
Spurs come again with Son continuing to get forward well (and leaving a huge hole behind him in the process) but Moses does well against him one-on-one and gets the ball away.
Meanwhile, Alli has trodden on Luiz - completely accidentally, let me point out - and the Brazilian needs treatment. He'll be okay, though.
That goal has shifted momentum here. Spurs are on the up, and have another free-kick after Alonso fouls Eriksen. It's out on the right wing in a good position but Chelsea clear.
Spurs are level through Harry Kane and what a header that is! Eriksen's first cross is cleared but he gets the ball back and creates himself a yard to whip another ball in. It's not the best cross but Kane, played onside by Azpilicueta, flicks it on with his head from two feet off the floor and beyond Courtois into the far corner. Game on!
Three heavy Chelsea challenges in quick succession draw a free-kick for Spurs, who take it quickly to Kane, but Kante gets back well to block his shot. Corner Spurs.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Another decent chance for Chelsea as Pedro finds Batshuayi, who has a free header but he is offside and Lloris saved anyway. Another warning, nonetheless.
A plane flies overhead but Arsene Wenger is nowhere to be seen. It simply says "Antonio! Antonio!"
How that goal has changed things. Chelsea are confident and knocking the ball around nicely, while Spurs have yet to get going at all.
Spurs respond well enough, and win a corner, but it is cleared, and they are far too casual in possession at the other end. Vertonghen hands Aldeweireld a hospital pass and Kante nips in to steal the ball. He finds Batshuayi but he can't get his shot off.
Willian and David Luiz stand over it. Lloris steps to his right - to the side of his wall - as Willian strikes at goal, but he goes the opposite way, and with Lloris's weight on his right side, the ball flies straight into the left corner. He shouldn't have moved, and should save that. Chelsea are in front!
Great tackle by Ake and his dinked ball forwards finds Batshuayi, who flicks on into Pedro's path. The Spaniard is away here, and Aldeweireld's desperate lunge brings him down. Yellow card. And a free-kick in a dangerous position for Chelsea.
A good ball by Eriksen just evades Aldeweireld and Chelsea go charging up the other end with Willian. He nearly gets away from Dembele, but the Belgian gets back to tackle, and the ball ricochets through to Lloris.
It is indeed a 3-4-3 for Spurs, who take early control of possession, and Son is indeed at left wing-back.
Spurs come forward down the right and Kane wins a corner off Ake.
Now for the football
Spurs get us underway.
The players gather for a minute's applause in memory of Ugo Ehiogu
Chants of "Ugo" ring out around Wembley Stadium. A fitting tribute.
Here come the players
Kick off is just moments away.
Tributes to Ugo
After the terribly sad news of Ugo Ehiogu's death this week, there will be plenty of tributes at Wembley today.
"It's been a difficult time. I want to send my best wishes to all of Ugo [Ehiogu]'s family and friends. We need to use the pain and passion in our hearts.
"We base our decision [on the team selection] on the same principles as always. All the people that have watched Tottenham for a long time know the system is not important. We have an offensive set up and will do our best to win the game."
Conte on his baffling team selection
"I took these decisions about out starting eleven because at this stage of the season it is important to know the situation of your team and make the best decision."
This wasn't much of an explanation, really, but what I think he means is that he had to make his selections with Tuesday's game against Southampton in mind. Strange, really. Shouldn't a semi-final be the priority for a team that didn't even play in Europe this season?
Spurs and the Wembley hoodoo
Yes, technically Tottenham ended their Wembley woes when they beat CSKA Moscow in December but they haven't played well there for a long, long time - since the 2008 League Cup final victory over Chelsea.
Why do they struggle at Wembley so much, and can they perform today? We look into these questions here.
And onto Spurs
With Danny Rose still out injured, there would usually be more pressure on Kyle Walker to impact from right-back, or at the very least some onus on Ben Davies to perform on the left. Neither has been included today.
Kieran Trippier starts having played in every round of the FA Cup so far, but there is no left-back in the Tottenham team. It could be 4-2-3-1 with Jan Vertonghen moved out to the left, but I'd find that very strange given how superb he and Toby Alderweireld have been at centre-back this season - and also how well Spurs played in a 3-4-3 when they beat Chelsea in January.
In that case, I reckon it will be Heung-Min Son - who has also played in every round of the FA Cup so far - at left wing-back for Spurs. Interesting.
Deciphering those teams
Let's start with Chelsea, who have an absolutely unbelievable bench, and a scarcely understandable starting lineup.
Of course, Costa has been poor recently, struggling for goals and form, and Conte must be thinking about his team's shot at the Premier League title in resting Hazard, but it does seem odd that Cesc Fabregas hasn't been included and also that Nathan Ake is playing ahead of Kurt Zouma.
Cesar Azpilicueta captains the side.
The teams are in...
...and Hazard and Costa are indeed on the bench for Chelsea:
Our starting team today is Courtois; Azpilicueta (c), David Luiz, Ake; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Willian, Batshuayi, Pedro. #CHETOT— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 22, 2017
While Spurs seem to have no left-back... or Vertonghen has been moved out there?
The rumours continue...
Significant changes for Chelsea I think— Sam Matterface (@sammatterface) April 22, 2017
Some pre-match reading
First up, take a look at Matt Law on Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino's love for darts and his aims to topple Chelsea today. You can read that here.
Welcome, as we start our build up to the first of the FA Cup semi-finals, with Chelsea versus Tottenham kicking off in around an hour and a half.
Before we really get into things, there are rumours knocking around that Antonio Conte has decided to rest his two greatest attacking threats in Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.
Costa, who is apparently losing interest at Chelsea and is lacking form, I can understand. Hazard makes no sense whatsoever. We'll have the teams at around 4.15pm so we'll soon find out.
Rumour has it that Chelsea are resting Hazard and Costa.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 22, 2017
What is it?
It's the first of the FA Cup semi-finals from Wembley. This one is between Chelsea and Tottenham; the second is on Sunday, pitting Arsenal against Manchester City.
When is it?
Saturday 22nd April.
What time is kick-off?
What TV channel is it on?
BBC One. Coverage starts at 4.50pm.
Alternatively, you can follow the action on this very page. We'll have all the build up and updated team news from 4pm.
What is the team news?
Chelsea have doubts over five first-teamers, with Gary Cahill, Diego Costa, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso all struggling with the illness that hit the squad last week.
Thibaut Courtois missed the defeat at Manchester United with an ankle injury he suffered playing basketball in a promotional shoot, and he is a doubt for this match, too.
Tottenham are still without Danny Rose, Erik Lamela and Harry Winks, while Michel Vorm misses out with a knee injury. Manager Mauricio Pochettino had previously suggested Vorm may start this match ahead of Hugo Lloris.
What are they saying?
"He arrived at the training ground with a bit of fever," Conte said on Friday.
"Our doctor preferred to bring him to the hospital and to check his condition.
"Not a serious problem, but now Gary is getting better and is improving a lot."
Pochettino on Chelsea's status as favourites:
“If there’s a favourite it’s Chelsea, top of the Premier League, with experienced players and the manager they have.
“We are talking about the team who in the past five years won European competitions, World Cups, a manager who won the title in Italy, they’re more experienced.
“But we’re in a good moment too. We’re hungry and to challenge this team is important for Tottenham. We will see, but it’s important to enjoy the game. We must feel the happiness. It’s a very important competition and we are fighting the best team in England.”
What are the odds?
In 90 mins:
Chelsea win - 8/5 Draw - 21/10 Spurs win - 7/4
To make the final:
Chelsea - 5/6 Spurs - Evens
What's our prediction?
Chelsea have history on their side but Spurs are the in-form team in this country. If they can get over the whole Wembley 'thing' then they might just edge this:
Chelsea 1-2 Tottenham