Five things we learned as super-sub Eden Hazard saves Chelsea and seals FA Cup final place

Ben Burrows
The Independent

Eden Hazard climbed off the bench to help fire Chelsea into another FA Cup final and on their way to what could be a historic double.

The league-leaders twice led only to be pegged back by Tottenham, their nearest challengers in the Premier League, before Hazard, a surprise omission from the starting XI, scored one and made one in the final 15 minutes of the game to send the Blues fans at Wembley into raptures and seal a return to the home of football in May.

READ MORE: Full match report from Wembley

Here are 5 things we learned:

1. All change

Both Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino sprang significant surprises with their starting line-ups, both perhaps betraying where there priorities lie as the title race reaches the sharp end. While Conte’s, dropping Diego Costa and, more significantly, Hazard took the early headlines it was Pochettino’s decision to shift Heung-min Son to left wing back that proved most decisive to the outcome of the match. For such a shrewd tactical thinker it was a perplexing move and only looked more so when the South Korean, in such sparkling form in recent weeks, clumsily felled Victor Moses in the box just before half-time. It was a rash tackle and one you fear Ben Davies or a more defensive-minded player wouldn’t have made. It proved all too crucial.

Son gave away the penalty with a poor slide tackle (Getty)
Son gave away the penalty with a poor slide tackle (Getty)

2. Willian's Wembley moment

In an otherwise all-too forgettable season last term Willian could hold his head high throughout after refusing to let a lost campaign ebb away as so many of his underperforming teammates did. Conversely, under Conte, it has been the Brazilian who has oft made way this term with Pedro, also excellent here, frequently preferred. But today was Willian’s day. A brilliant free-kick set Chelsea on their way before a coolly dispatched penalty restored the Blues’ lead after Kane had equalized. With Gary Cahill injured and Costa and Hazard benched, Chelsea needed a talisman and Willian was it.

(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

3. Ake excellent

Cahill’s illness threw Nathan Ake on to the biggest stage of his young career and he took his chance with both hands with a thoroughly accomplished performance. Harry Kane got the best of him for a truly brilliant equalizing goal but he would by no means be alone there such was the class and ingenuity of the England striker’s tremendously deft headed finish. He looked at home on the left-side of Conte’s three and despite being tested throughout by the likes of Eriksen and Kieran Tripper down the flank held his own admirably. It wasn’t easy by any means but the 22-year-old can happy with his evening’s efforts.

Ake made his first start since returning from a loan spell at Bournemouth (Getty)
Ake made his first start since returning from a loan spell at Bournemouth (Getty)

4. Chelsea unable to tame the Great Dane again

The ball was given to Eriksen deep on the right; the Dane settled himself before curling an inch-perfect ball over for Dele Alli, arriving at the impeccable moment, to slam home. No, it wasn’t the equaliser here at Wembley, though you could be forgiven for thinking so. It instead describes both goals against Chelsea in this fixture just three months ago when Spurs so emphatically ended the Blues’ 13-match winning run. It appears the Chelsea backline have learned little since. Eriksen, inexplicably not amongst the PFA Team of the Year named this week, was brilliant here and was key to everything Tottenham did well including assists for both goals. Chelsea, as they did back in January, had no answer for him.

Eriksen's assist for Alli's goal was world class (Getty)
Eriksen's assist for Alli's goal was world class (Getty)

5. Hazard warning

Conte ran the risk of leaving his best player on the bench for the biggest game of the season. But with an hour gone he tapped the brilliant Belgian on the shoulder and told him to go and win it for him. And how he did. Hazard is a wonderful player and when he wants it, as he clearly did here, there are few in the world game who can live with him. Tottenham only gave him an inch for his goal but that was all he needed, rasping a fizzing left-foot shot into the corner of Hugo Lloris' net, leaving the Frenchman no chance. Five minutes later he prodded and probed a tiring Spurs back line before rolling the ball across for Nemanja Matic to spank in an unstoppable fourth to rubber stamp the win. Big games need big games to decide them and in Hazard, Chelsea have one of the biggest of all.

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